It was tough.
It was painful.
It was everything Cody hadn't expected.
Doctors constantly checked in and out of the room, constantly changed IV bags, constantly asked if he was okay. And they always received the same muffled reply: "I'm okay."
Waves of nausea rolled in to pull him under, and it took nearly all of his strength to keep from vomiting all over the place. All of this just to get rid of the leukemia cells. The chemo drugs were to attack those cells, and they would slightly damage his immune system. He would have to go through too much just to insure he wouldn't die.
Die. No wonder Eric had died. It was just too much for him.
"How are you doing?" Theresa asked as she approached him, unshed tears shining in her dark eyes.
"I'm okay," Cody said for the millionth time that day. He was sick of being asked that.
It was almost over, thankfully. But how would he continue to go through this? He'd receive the same treatments for two more days, take a break, and then get back on it for another three rounds. He was unsure he could deal with the pain much longer. It was already excruciating. He was eight years old, too young to know what it was like to go through chemotherapy, too young to suffer so much, too young to think about death. He didn't want his life to end so soon. Already, he could feel himself slowly dying on the inside, and that wasn't exactly a good thing.
Nearby, Ryan sat on a chair, watching his younger brother suffer. It pained him to see it all happen before his eyes, and he wished there was a way the cancer could disappear in a different way, one that didn't involve pain and more sickness. He knew Cody didn't have a very high pain tolerance, which meant that the treatments were going to get harder and harder. He'd have to learn to get used to it if he didn't want to end up like Eric. Cody was a fighter, and Ryan believed that he could also be a winner if he really tried. He remembered his mother telling him once, "Everyone goes through a little trouble, but it's what makes us learn." He only hoped she was right.
Ryan watched as Jodi and Shirley played around on the floor with the dolls they'd brought along, creating their own imaginary world within the hospital walls. He almost wished he could be like them; clueless as to what was really going on. If they really had an understanding, they wouldn't have been so happy. Of the two of them, Shirley looked like she was enjoying herself the most. Tossing the dolls in the air, rolling around a little on the floor, continuously making little screech noises for the dolls when they were meant to scream. "Help me!" she was saying. "I need help!"
Ryan smiled. He remembered when he used to have an active imagination at her age. Most of it was to cover up the loss of his best friend, but he never knew it at the time. He listened in to their little conversations and wondered how they had the ability to think the way they did; so out of the ordinary, but sounding cute at the same time. Being young was their excuse for it. "Thank you for saving me," Shirley squeaked.
Dr. Yelena entered the room at the moment, smiling down at the little girls on the floor and then turning her attention back to Theresa. "Alright, I guess we're done for today," she said, reaching for Cody's port to clean it. "Are you ready for tomorrow?"
Cody shook his head, sucking in a shaky breath. "No."
Dr. Yelena smiled at him. "It'll all be okay," she said.
She allowed a nurse to enter the room and unhook everything, and soon, Cody found himself running to the bathroom to vomit. He didn't know how it had happened so quickly. Theresa stood behind him, her hand on his back as he heaved multiple times until he figured he was finished. He wasn't supposed to be experiencing the harsh side effects already. "I hate this," he mumbled as he wiped his mouth.
"Oh, I know," said Theresa as she wrapped him in a gentle embrace. She walked him back to his hosiptal bed, noticing how his eyes drooped when he looked up at her. "Why don't you try to have a little nap to pass the time by?" she suggested, pointing toward the bed.
Cody didn't hesitate to climb into the bed, wishing it were his own bed rather than one provided by the hospital. The sheets felt too weird for his liking, and the setting wasn't too great, either. Surrounded by doctors and nurses, and never having a break away from them. As he drifted off to sleep, he wondered what it would be like to be alone for once. He had alone time back at home, despite the fact that he shared a room with Ryan. He wished he could have his very own bedroom in the hospital, a secluded place where he could think over his life in silence. Everyone worried about him too much now, but he was convinced he'd be fine after the chemo treatments.
Once he'd fallen asleep, which didn't take too long at all, Theresa sat on one of the chairs, picking up a book from one of her bags, turning to the first page and bringing herself into another world as she found herself getting lost in the words. The sounds in the background were muffled, and she was glad to be focusing on something else for once. For the next few months, it would be the same ritual -- get Cody's treatments, watch him get sicker and weaker, get worried, go get food, go to bed, repeat. And hopefully there would come a time where it would end.
"My mom gave me a birthday party," said Shirley, stopping Dr. Yelena as she headed for the door.
"Did she?" Dr. Yelena smiled as her eyes wandered down to little Shirley. "Was it fun?"
"Yeah," she responded. "We went swimming, and we played The Shark Game, and then we did fun stuff. I got new Barbies."
"That's cool. Did you give them names yet?"
"One is Mommy," Shirley said proudly. "She's nice. And the other is named Jodi, because she's my sister."
"Great names." Dr. Yelena was still smiling. "How old did you turn?"
"Shirley, what are you doing?" Ryan chuckled, listening to her recall the events of the week earlier to the busy oncologist. "Does the whole world have to know about your birthday party?"
Shirley's stare was blank for a second, and then she slightly nodded. Ryan laughed. "I don't think Dr. Yelena has time to hear the whole thing."
"Oh, it's by all means fine," said Dr. Yelena. "I'm used to it. Working with kids is a pleasure."
"She's pretty talkative," said Theresa as she set the book down at last, deciding that joining a conversation with the oncologist was better than pretending everything was okay. "And she's always been that way."
"I see." Dr. Yelena turned her focus to the clipboard tucked under her arm. "Oh, I forgot to mention something. I have some forms for you, and I wasn't sure if you'd be interested in them, but there's some sports teams starting within the next week, and I have some registration forms, in case your kids want an escape from the hospital."
Theresa gazed down at Ryan, who nodded, and then brought her eyes back to the oncologist. "That sounds perfect," she said. "I'm sure Ryan would love it. Which sports do they offer?"
"So far, I've only gotten word of soccer and baseball, but I'm sure there's more."
"I'll do baseball," said Ryan non-hesitantly.
He listened as his mother and Dr. Yelena launched into a lengthy conversation about sports and how being athletic is a good thing, how the Wheldons had always been involved with sports, etc. Ryan was used to playing sports with Cody, but at the moment, he was pretty sick, and would never be able to finish a game due to lack of energy. Chemo was sometimes worse than the disease itself, and had far too many side effects that would basically affect Cody's overall ability to do anything normal again. He'd never be capable of running that much, which was kind of the point in sports. From the looks of it, Ryan was really the only one with hope.
Aunt Mimi arrived with her crew moments later, dragging her six children in the small room while visiting hours were still available. "How are my favourite people doing?" she said enthusiastically as she provided each family member with a welcoming hug.
Ryan gave her a thumbs-up, and then pointed at a napping Cody, signaling for her to be quiet. Her voice dropped to barely a whisper as she said, "Oh," and followed by saying, "Chemo treatments a little harsh?"
"Well no shit," said Uncle Scott from behind her, grinning. "Cancer isn't all butterflies and rainbows, you know."
"Oh, I know that. Just thought I'd say something to break the silence. It's awfully quiet in here, isn't it?"
Scott shrugged. "We can't all be screaming at the top of our lungs while there's a sleeping kid in the room."
The oldest of their children, Derek, stepped between the two and wandered aimlessly around the room before finally stepping up to Cody's bedside, his blue eyes wandering all over Cody's sickened body. "Why is he so pale?" he observed.
"He's sick, dummie," the second kid, Rebekah, said with a voice full of attitude. "Why else would he be in a hospital?"
Derek shrugged, and Ryan sighed. He really disliked Rebekah, although she was his cousin and he wasn't supposed to. But she was nine and acted nineteen. He just couldn't allow himself to like her personality one bit, and now that they were in the same town, they'd have to put up with each other for a long time. Start school together, too. Thankfully, she wasn't in his grade, and neither was Derek, because he was eleven and a grade ahead. He'd heard that apparently not too many people liked Rebekah at school because of her vicious attitude, and he understood why. People usually liked having friends who were nice, not who would judge right away like Rebekah.
Cody awoke soon after, his tired eyes focused mainly on the white ceiling on his hospital. He turned to call for Theresa, and almost fell out of the bed when his eyes landed on Derek, who was watching over him. Cody jumped, clutching his chest first, and then allowing himself to draw in a deep, relieved breath. "Hi Derek," he managed.
"You feeling okay?" He didn't even bother to greet him back.
Cody nodded a bit. "I guess," he said. "But not really."
Maggie, six, and Skye, four, were off playing with Jodi and Shirley the moment their eyes caught sight of each other, leaving the two youngest to wander around the room as if it were a playroom, Jackson grabbing hold of the IV pole and giving it a little shake before asking, "What is this?" The quiet room had transformed into a zoo in only a few seconds, and Ryan could clearly see Theresa growing more and more frustrated as the minutes edged by slowly. It felt like years had gone by before Mimi suggested they give the family a break and stop at the park on the way home, and Theresa could almost feel the stress lifting off her shoulders as the room fell quiet and they left. Not that she didn't want them there -- she adored her sister's family -- but at the moment it was just too much to handle. Cody's illness was her main focus.
Cody usually went to bed at around eight o'clock to prepare for the day ahead, but he spent nearly forever tossing and turning, sweating and feeling like he needed to throw up. Ryan hadn't left with his sisters yet -- they usually left around nine, and it was actually just about that time -- but Ryan didn't want to leave yet. He wanted to make sure everything was okay.
"Mommy, I can't sleep," Cody groaned, rolling over for the umpteenth time.
Theresa rose to her feet from the leather chair next to him. "I know," she said. "It's just another side effect. It's completely normal. You'll fall asleep soon."
"But I feel like I'm gonna throw up."
"That feeling will pass," Theresa assured him. "But if you feel like you need to, the bathroom's right over there." She pointed in the direction of the small bathroom situated across from them.
Cody nodded, his eyes drooping once more. "I hate this," he repeated over and over. "I wanna go home."
"You've got six more days of chemo ahead of you," Theresa reminded him, her hand finding its way over to his forehead, which had slightly cooled. "You're in the process of getting better. In the end, you won't hate it, I promise."
Cody attempted to get up, but was too weak to move anywhere, and he ended up vomiting all over the sheets. Ryan stepped outside to catch a nurse as she casually walked on by, and she came in and helped clean everything up. She replaced the sheets and wiped his mouth with a tissue, patting him on the head as she said, "Do you feel better now?"
Cody nodded, and a wave of relief washed over Ryan as he heard the words. Lately he'd found himself getting too worked up over Cody's sickness, and he only wanted Cody to be okay. He didn't want him to die. He used to see a future ahead of the two of them, but now he was unsure if Cody would still be around when they grew up. In addition to the cancer he had now, there was an even higher chance of relapsing as an adult, and the outcomes usually weren't too great in adults. Ryan was truly worried, and it kept him from sleeping well at night.
He could see Jodi and Shirley's eyes start to droop and blink constantly, and he knew they were tired. "So, I guess we've gotta go," Ryan said slowly as he headed for the door.
"Wait." Theresa suddenly rushed away from Cody's bedside for a moment to stand next to her other three children. "You can't just leave without your goodnight kisses."
Ryan smiled as he watched his mother's face light up, and she gave the three of them a little peck on their cheeks followed by a tight hug. "Be careful, I swear," she told him just before they left. "That road isn't quiet. Look both ways before you cross, and don't try to beat the cars if there's one coming. Got it?"
Ryan knew she was serious, and he nodded in agreement. "Yeah," he said quietly. "I don't think we'll be turning into roadkill any time soon."
A smile crept across her face, but then she turned serious. "Don't put that image in my mind. You be careful, okay?"
Ryan nodded, and she gave the three of them one last kiss and hug before saying "Goodnight. I love you."
"Love you too," they all said in unison, and Ryan opened the door.
The door closed, and Theresa was glad Ryan wasn't in the room when Cody said, "Am I gonna die?"