Authors: Lurlene McDaniel
Dani had rehearsed the speech so many times that even she was beginning to believe it. “It’s as if you’re supposed to do this. While we don’t know who gave you the money for a wish, I think you should use it to get something you’ve always wanted. Listen, even a trillion dollars can’t make you well, but the money you’ve gotten
help you have some fun. I say let’s go for it! You deserve to see the ocean, whether Mom agrees or not. I’m going to help you make your wish come true.”
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Copyright © 1992 by Lurlene McDaniel
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RL: 5.0, age 10 and up
A Bantam Book/May 1992
you.” Dani Vanoy’s voice shook with anger and disbelief.
“I wouldn’t lie to you or your mother, Dani,” Dr. Phillips answered sadly. “Surely you know that by now.”
Dani glanced at her mother, sitting beside her in the hospital conference room. She wanted her mother to challenge Dr. Phillips and deny what Dani didn’t want to accept. Her mother’s face was chalky white and her voice shook as she asked, “Are you absolutely certain?”
“Cassie’s tumor is malignant and inoperable.
We can’t cut it out without killing her,” Dr. Phillips explained. “I’m sorry.”
Dani felt hot and cold, and sick to her stomach. Her sister, Cassie, was only seventeen, just two years older. How could she be dying? Cassie’s problems had started with headaches four months before, in January. The headaches had grown worse. Dani recalled how her sister used to lie on her bed and weep from the pain. Their family doctor, Dr. Cody, had diagnosed migraines and prescribed medication, but the drugs left Cassie feeling no better. The pain persisted.
Then, a few weeks ago, Cassie lost some feeling on her left side. Her eyelid drooped, she stumbled trying to walk, and her speech slurred. She became so dizzy, she couldn’t stand up. Dr. Cody recommended a neurologist, and Mom had taken Cassie to Dr. Nathan Phillips, whom it turned out she had dated in college.
Having Cassie’s condition diagnosed and placing her under the care of an old friend had given Dani’s mom some peace of mind. Dani had spent the last few weeks in a state of panic. How could her sister have headaches one day and then suddenly be totally incapacitated the next? Dr. Phillips had checked Cassie into the hospital. After a series of CAT scans, MRI X rays, and countless other tests, he revealed the results. Cassie had a brain tumor that could not be removed.
“So, if you cut it out, it kills her. And if you leave it alone, it kills her,” Dani said bitterly. “Some choice.”
“Isn’t there anything to be done?” Mrs. Vanoy asked.
“I’ll start her on radiation and chemo immediately, but I’ll be honest—this kind of tumor has a poor response to treatment.”
“What about that gamma knife radiation surgery you told Mom and me about?”
Dr. Phillips’s face looked weary. “Cassie’s tumor is located so deep inside her brain and so close to her brain stem that we cannot risk gamma knife surgery.”
“There must be something you can do, Nathan.” Dani’s mother’s voice was so soft, so desperate that Dani felt chilled to the bone.
Dr. Phillips reached out and took her mother’s hand. “Catherine, this is the toughest moment in a doctor’s professional life. To have to look at a patient’s family and say, ‘There’s nothing I can do.’ I’m supposed to be a healer—a fixer of the human body. I’m not supposed to be telling you that I feel helpless and defeated, but I do, and I am.”
Dani felt tears well in her eyes. Dr. Phillips’s honesty, the catch in his voice as he’d spoken left her with little doubt. Medical science had done everything it could for her sister. Dani recognized
death staring at them. She’d seen it once before, when she’d been six, when her father, a policeman, had been killed in the line of duty. She remembered being told that Daddy wasn’t ever coming home again. She’d been overwhelmed with grief and fear, but eventually had realized her mother and sister were still there for her. Now, Cassie was being taken, too. It wasn’t fair. She began to tremble.
“At the very best, all we can do is retard the tumor’s growth,” Dr. Phillips continued.
“That will give her more time,” Dani’s mother said eagerly.
“How much more?” Dani asked.
“Maybe a month or two,” the doctor said.
“Is that all? What kind of help is that?” Dani’s voice was full of anger.
“Every hour she
is a help,” her mother declared. “Who knows, maybe Nathan will think of something else to try. Maybe some new drug or surgical technique will come along. As far as I’m concerned, time means hope.”
Dr. Phillips was still holding Dani’s mother’s hand. Her mom looked up and asked, “Will we be able to bring Cassie home again?”
“Yes, but not until she finishes up initial radiation and chemo.” Dr. Phillips paused as if to choose his next words carefully. “Once she returns home, it won’t be easy for the two of you to care
for her by yourselves. Of course, there’s Cincinnati’s hospice group. Or if you want, you can hire a private-duty nurse.”
“I can take care of my sister,” Dani was insistent. In less than three weeks, school would be out for the summer, and she could stay with Cassie full-time.
Her mother nodded. “Dani and I can handle it. My boss understands, and he’ll let me work flexible hours. We want to do this for Cassie. I don’t want strangers caring for her.”
“As the tumor grows, she’ll experience some severe symptoms,” Dr. Phillips said, his voice level and professional. “She’ll lose her faculties, her memory. She may go blind. As she deteriorates, you’ll have to have help with her. The hospice people are professionally trained and very caring, very sensitive.”
“If she starts downhill, I’ll bring her right back to the hospital,” Mom replied. “But as long as we can keep her at home, we will.”
Dani tried to tune out the doctor’s voice. She wanted to detach herself from the conversation. If only she could pretend that she was watching a TV show, that it was some make-believe character they were talking about and not her sister. “She should know, Mom. You should tell Cassie she’s going to die.”
“No.” Her mother’s expression looked deter
mined. “She doesn’t need this burden while she’s going through all the therapies. Dani, you must promise me you won’t tell her, or even hint that we know her chances are so slim. Please, Dani, promise me.”
Dr. Phillips interrupted. “Catherine, it might be wisest to level with Cassie. She’s not a little kid. Sooner or later, she’ll surmise the truth.”
Dani’s mother shook her head stubbornly. “When she has to know, I’ll tell her. But as long as she’s in treatment, I don’t want her told.”
“No.” She cut off Dani’s protest. “Positive mental attitude is important—that’s a fact. If she thinks the treatments are useless, then she really will have no chance.”
Dani understood her mother’s point of view, but still thought she was wrong. Dani was certain Cassie would want to know. She realized that now wasn’t the time to try and persuade her mother to level with Cassie.
“Now, you’ll promise me?” her mother asked.
“I promise not to tell her,” Dani said.
“Not even a hint of negativity.”
“Not a hint.” Dani pressed her lips together and rose. The room had grown stuffy. “I want to go see Cassie now. She’s expecting me.”
Her mom reached out for her, and Dani slipped into her arms. They clung tightly for a
moment. “Tell her I’ll be up in a while. I want to talk more with Dr. Phillips.”
Dani nodded, her throat so clogged with tears that she couldn’t speak. She left the conference room and stepped into the busy flow of medical personnel hurrying through the halls. She spun, slipped into a bathroom, and started sobbing. The doctor’s news hit her hard. She hadn’t expected anything so hopeless. Obviously, Dr. Phillips cared for Cassie. He seemed to care for their mother, too. But still, he was only human—only a doctor with limitations. Dani washed her face and tried to pull herself together. She had to go face her sister with no hint of negativity.
her sister’s room, she heard excited giggles and realized some of Cassie’s friends from school were visiting. Dani leaned against the wall outside the room and waited. She heard their chatter about the trip Cassie’s senior class had just made to Florida and felt even sorrier for her sister. Since Disney World, Cape Canaveral, and the beach were only twenty hours away from Cincinnati, it had been the perfect choice for Westview High’s senior class. Cassie had primed their mother about her going ever since she’d been a junior, but she’d been in the hospital when the class had left.