Of the most serious things that could happen to you or someone you love, there is illness. You probably know what I’m talking about – things like cancer, heart problems, diabetes. But unfortunately, these illnesses do happen to good kids every day. When I was 14, I met a boy right before I started high school. We were both on vacation and he literally popped out of the water in front of me and said hello. He seemed nice, cute, and a bit thin. What I remember most about meeting him what that he told me, right away, that he had leukemia. Now, being that I had never had a boyfriend, I had no clue about how to get one or, once I got one, what to do. And then I got one times 10.
Tom (name changed) was 17 and had just finished his first round of chemo at Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC). He was on vacation because he’d just been released from the hospital. However, he had another round of chemo waiting for him when he returned home.
I was curious about Tom and why he chose to befriend me. Perhaps he was lonely and longing for the life he had before cancer, which seemed to be wild. Tom was not innocent, nor was he shy in telling me about where he’d been and what he’d done.
Once we both got home from vacation, I saw him a few times and talked to him in the hospital during his chemo. Tom was very sick from the treatment but still kept his spirits up and seemed happy to have me to talk to. And then I got scared… scared of his intentions, scared of his extreme personality, and scared of where the path would lead if I kept seeing him. I decided to stop communicating with him after a few months when it got to be too much – with him in the hospital throwing up, me being so darn naive and the fact that I was trying to figure out high school and life in general.
Today, I feel sad when I think about Tom. He needed me as a friend during a dark and lonely time in his life. Because I thought about “what if” now and again through the years, I decided to write A Place In This Life, a novel that explores what might have been, and could have been. The story came after I had my own scare with possible thyroid cancer; I was compelled to share the complex emotions, fears, and love that can come forward in such a relationship when you’re young and confused.
If you’re a young person who knows and loves someone with cancer, you are a brave and giving soul. Take it one day at a time, share your feelings with others, and know that you are helping someone who really, really needs you.