My work in progress is a YA novel about a teenager with leukaemia. Having survived childhood leukaemia, she is devastated when she finds she has relapsed and faces the grim battle of beating the odds all over again. Her illness is one of her many problems. She finds herself tangled in the world of gangs and falls for a boy who leads her astray. The memories of her childhood are significant to the story and I have to admit, I have been having trouble trying to visualise my young Meredith back in the days when she was fighting her childhood disease. I worked for years as a paediatric oncology nurse, in Australia and in the Middle East. I have memories of beautiful children who battled their way through cancer. But still I haven’t been able to unleash what I need to express in this story. The years gone by have clouded my view.
As a writer, I marvel at how timely the universe can be when I ask for help. The other day I was walking through a crowded shopping mall and I looked up and saw a young child about five years of age being carried by her mother. At a glance I recognized the unmistakable trademarks of chemo. She clung to her mother with arms pale and thin. Her face, rounded from steroids, rested gently in the crook of her mother’s neck. A silastic feeding tube swung down from her left nostril, and tracked its way beneath sticky adhesive fixed to her cheek. It disappeared over her ear like an errant strand of loose hair. Her brow pushed together in misery over dark troubled eyes and the sight of her brought me to tears that fell right there and then as I watched them together. The mother turned her head and softly planted a kiss on her daughter’s cheek. The little girl’s face lit up like the sun had just slipped out from behind a dark cloud. Here was real life before me, jolting my memory.
This beautiful exchange led me down that dark lane of recollection where I arrived with emotions reeling, recalling the detail. I remembered what a privilege it was to look after these beautiful kids – to share in their lives and the lives of their families day after day. The outcomes weren’t always good but more often than not they were nothing short of extraordinary. Recalling this part of my life has renewed my determination to tell Meredith’s story and to reveal the ripple effect that a potentially terminal illness can have on people’s lives.
When I witnessed that mother kissing her child, I realised the thing I want to reveal most of all is the power of love and the strength and resilience of human spirit. Especially where cancer resides as an unwelcome guest in the life of a child. Somewhere between experiencing that moment in the shopping mall and remembering the children of my past lays my story still forming. I am fuelled with the emotional drive to get it on paper. To show people a glimpse of real life within fiction.