If Ryan had thought watching Cody after the surgery was brutal, it was a treat compared to today.
Today marked day one of chemotherapy. If Cody wasn't throwing up, he was doubled over and trying not to. Ryan couldn't blame him though; there was poison flowing through his body now, trying to kill all of those evil cancer cells. And poison, from what he knew, made people puke.
Doctors constantly checked in and out of the room, constantly changed IV bags, constantly asked Cody if he was okay. And they always received the same muffled reply: "I'm okay.”
And, as if he hadn't already had enough of it, Theresa came to his side, placed her hand on his shoulder, and asked, "How are you doing?" There were unshed tears shining in her dark eyes as the question rolled off her tongue.
"I'm okay," Cody said for the millionth time that day. He was probably sick of being asked that.
Ryan took a seat in a nearby chair, trying not to stare at his brother as he scrunched up his face in pain. He knew Cody didn't have a very high pain tolerance, which meant that the treatments weren't going to be getting any easier with time. Cody would have to learn to get used to it if he didn't want to end up like Eric. Cody was a fighter, and Ryan knew that somewhere inside him, he had the courage to be a winner if he really tried. He remembered Theresa telling him once, "Everyone goes through a little trouble, but it's what makes us learn." What they would learn from this, Ryan could not fathom, but it had better be worthwhile.
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. Some of it was to cover up the loss of his friend Eric, but he never knew it at the time, and besides, every kid had a weird imagination. 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 so innocent at the same time. If he could be young enough to think that playing with toys and pretending to be different things would get him through life, he would have lunged for that opportunity in a heartbeat. Anything to get him out of this situation.
Dr. Yelena entered the room, smiling down at Jodi and Shirley on the floor as she passed by. "All right, 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 vigorously, looking like he would much rather play in a swamp full of alligators than go through another day of chemotherapy. “No.”
Dr. Yelena looked sympathetic. “You know, I've seen so many kids go through this sort of thing, and you know what?” She paused to smile at him. “I don't think any of them have taken this as well as you have on your first try. You're a very brave young man.”
Cody's face lit up. “Really?”
“Really.” Dr. Yelena took some stickers from out of her pocket. “And just for that, you can have a sticker. We have Superman, Spiderman, –”
“You have Spiderman stickers?” Cody nearly fell out of his chair, and Ryan had to stifle a laugh. He couldn't imagine how Cody would have reacted if the real Spiderman appeared before him. He'd literally have a heart attack.
“We do,” Dr. Yelena said, laughing. “So because I know you want that one, here you go.” She stripped off the sticker and gently placed it on the back of his hand. “Good job today, Cody. You're a tough cookie.”
Cody's smile stretched from ear to ear now as he stared at the new sticker on his hand. A nurse came to unhook everything, and although Cody ended up bolting to the bathroom almost immediately afterwards to throw up, he still seemed in a better mood than before. When he emerged a few minutes later, Theresa wiping his mouth with a Kleenex, he was still looking down at his hand, stroking the sticker with his finger. There was even a hint of a smile on his face.
Theresa walked him back to his hospital bed. “Why don't you try to have a nap to pass the time by,” she suggested. “It'll make you feel better.”
Cody never hesitated. As Ryan watched his brother crawl into the bed, he wondered how it must feel to sleep surrounded by so many people. Back at home, at least he had privacy, although they'd both shared their room. Here, there were doctors, nurses, family, and so many others who would just hover over him, checking to see if he was okay. It must have been really annoying, but then again, they were all just doing their jobs.
Ryan took a seat next to his mother on one of the chairs, watching as Cody drifted off to sleep. 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. We went swimming and we played the Shark Game and my mom got me new Barbies.”
Dr. Yelena patted her head. “That's so cool! Did you pick out their names yet?”
Shirley nodded. “One of them is Mommy, because she's the mommy of all of the other Barbies, and one of them is 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. “Geez, it's like the whole world has to know about your birthday.”
Dr. Yelena laughed. “Well it does sound like it was a very interesting day,” she said. “I mean, my birthday is in the winter, so I can't go to the beach to celebrate unless it's in Florida or something.”
"My birthday's in the winter, too," said Theresa, finally setting down the book she'd been reading for the last two hours and deciding to be social. “February. I get the struggle. It's like she enjoys showing it off.”
“You know, I would too, honestly,” said Dr. Yelena. “Oh, and speaking of summer, do any of your kids play summer sports? I've got these spare registration forms from some sports teams starting within the next week or so. They were passed around in the hospital, and I guess for us they're geared towards siblings who want something to do besides stay in the hospital.”
Ryan got up from his chair, and nearly fell over with relief. “I will literally do anything to get out of here. Even if it's egg toss or three-legged racing.”
Both Theresa and Dr. Yelena laughed. “So far, I've only gotten word of soccer and baseball, but I'm sure there's more,” said the oncologist.
"I'll do baseball," Ryan said non-hesitantly. Why not; he'd been playing since he was six. Plus, soccer got old after a while.
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 – they were always on the same team, whether it was baseball, soccer, or hockey – but this time around, for the first time in forever, Ryan was on his own. The chemo was going to affect Cody's overall ability to do anything normal again. He wouldn't be able to run for long, which was kind of the point in sports, so for now, the only sport Cody could master was sleeping.
“Shirley, do you want to try soccer this year?” Theresa asked, finally putting an end to the boring conversation. “I know you like watching it.”
Shirley nodded and jumped up from her spot on the floor. “Yeah! I wanna try soccer!”
Theresa smiled. “Jodi?”
Jodi looked up and shrugged.
“Okay,” said Jodi. She placed her Barbie on the floor. “I'm gonna try soccer too.”
Ryan didn't really think Jodi was into sports as much as the rest of his family was, but whatever. At least she was keeping herself busy. While he waited for Aunt Mimi to come visit, Ryan wondered if any of his cousins were doing anything this summer other than video games or swimming in their pool. Maybe the oldest, Derek, would join baseball with Ryan so he wouldn't have to be alone, but then again, Derek wasn't exactly athletic. He didn't understand how people could hate sports; they were so fun. And better yet, it was something to do to pass the time. Especially during a time like this, Ryan was going to need that time to pass as quickly as possible. He had his skateboard, but other than the hospital hallways, there was nowhere to ride it.
Aunt Mimi arrived with her crew a few minutes later, as if reading Ryan's mind. "How are my favourite people doing?" she said enthusiastically as dropped everything to provide everyone with a welcoming hug.
Ryan gave her a thumbs-up, and then pointed at a napping Cody, signalling for her to be quiet. Her voice dropped to barely a whisper as she said, "Oh," and followed by saying, "I guess I came at the wrong time then. Chemo's looking a little harsh.”
"Well no shit," said Uncle Scott from behind her. "It's not all butterflies and rainbows, you know."
"Oh, I know that. Just thought I'd say something to break the silence. It's kind of quiet in here.”
“It has to be quiet,” Ryan said, chuckling. He gestured toward Cody again. “He would kill us if we woke him up.”
Derek stepped between Ryan and Aunt Mimi, away from the cluster of people at the door, and wandered aimlessly around the room before he ended up at Cody's bedside. Ryan watched his eyes scan Cody's sickened body. "Why is he so pale?" he observed.
"He's sick, dummie," the second oldest, Rebekah, snapped. "Why else would he be in a hospital?"
Derek shrugged. Ryan didn't know how he put up with her; he didn't like Rebekah, even though she was his cousin and he wasn't supposed to. But she was nine and acted nineteen. A diva. Thankfully, she wasn't in his grade in school, because Ryan didn't think he would survive in a classroom with her when school started. He'd heard that apparently not too many people liked Rebekah at school because of her vicious attitude, and now he understood why. People usually liked having friends who were nice, not who would get angry at everything like Rebekah.
The room, now filled with so many people, became chaos. As much as Theresa reminded them to be quiet, nobody seemed to understand her, and it wasn't long before Cody awoke with a start. It was mostly Derek; he couldn't stop hanging out by Cody's bedside and talking very loudly to no one in particular. It was driving Ryan nuts.
“Hi, Derek,” Cody greeted weakly, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
"You feeling okay?" said Derek. He didn't even greet him back.
Cody nodded a bit. "I guess, but not really.”
Maggie, six, and Skye, four, were off playing with Jodi and Shirley the moment their eyes caught sight of each other, and as Ryan had imagined, they kept pushing through the crowd in an attempt to play tag. Three-year-old Jackson had hold of the IV pole like it was a toy, and he was giving it a little shake, keeping his eyes on the fluid-filled baggie. The quiet room had transformed into a zoo in only a few seconds, and Ryan could clearly see his mother growing more and more frustrated as the minutes edged by slowly. It felt like years had gone by before Mimi dragged Jackson away, suggesting they give the family a break and stop at the park on the way home. Ryan could feel the stress lifting off his shoulders as the family left the room. Maybe next time they met up, it would be outside of the hospital instead. For now, Cody needed to relax.
Bedtime was usually around eight or nine o'clock, and even though Cody went to bed early, it was almost nine now and he was still tossing and turning. Ryan still hadn't left to walk to Grandma and Grandpa's yet, even though he should have by now, but he was surprised to find himself wanting to stay with Cody. “Ryan, I don't want you guys walking out too late,” Theresa reminded him as she felt Cody's forehead. “You're gonna want to head out soon. Jodi and Shirley look exhausted.”
Ryan groaned. The thought of walking on a somewhat busy road in the dark was unpleasant. He was surprised his mother was going to let him, considering the parking lot/death trap was on the way. “I don't wanna go yet,” he said. “Just a few more minutes.”
"Mommy, I can't sleep," Cody said from his millionth attempted sleeping position, rolling over for the umpteenth time.
Theresa's hand was back on his forehead. “I know,” she said sympathetically. "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. I wanna go home.”
“Don't we all,” Ryan muttered.
"You've got a few more days left of chemo ahead of you,” Theresa continued, ignoring Ryan. “I know it feels bad now, but it'll be worth it in the end. I promise.”
As luck would have it, just as Cody had predicted earlier, he ended up vomiting all over the sheets. A nurse in the room came over to help clean everything up as Ryan stood off to the side with his sisters, trying to get them to stop shrieking “Ew!” The nurse 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 it sent a wave of relief through Ryan. He needed Cody to keep feeling better, because that meant less time in the hospital. That was always a good thing. But right now, he was practically dying. Ryan used to see a future ahead of the two of them, but now he didn't know if Cody would still be around when they grew up. Even if he did get over it, it could always come back and bite him when he was older. Dr. Hiru had said so.
Ryan could see that Jodi and Shirley's eyes were beginning to droop, which meant he should get going now. “So...I guess we have to leave,” he said slowly, turning to face the door.
"Wait." Theresa suddenly rushed away from Cody's bedside for a moment to stand next to the other three. "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. "Yeah. I never planned on becoming roadkill anyway."
A smile crept across her face, but it only lasted a few seconds. "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.
As soon as the door closed behind him, Ryan's chest began to ache at the thought of leaving them, because he'd heard Cody's statement to Theresa: “Mommy, I think I'm dying.”
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