As the date of her first set of post treatment scans approached Emmy withdrew again. The weight of those results was heavy on her shoulders. Clean scans meant a new lease on life, even if the threat of relapse would still hang around her like a fog. Emmy could wade through that fog. What she wasn’t sure she could take was if scans came back positive.
Another round of chemo might just be more than she could handle. With the central line already in she knew that Dr. Hatcher probably wouldn’t allow her to play. An entire year of watching from the sidelines while her body withered under the assault of chemotherapy was more than she could take. She couldn’t tell the Miles’ yet but she knew that she’d already made up her mind. If the cancer was still there she wasn’t doing another round. She’d just take however long she had and live it. Live it without the chemicals robbing her of the enjoyment of the time she had left.
Emmy wasn’t alone in her worry. Stephanie and Brett both worried constantly about what the scans would bring. They knew that as her foster parents, they were the ones that would ultimately have to make a decision on the next course of treatment.
Over the last month they’d been in close contact with both her new caseworker and Dr. Brown. Both of the women had been invaluable assets as they helped Emmy recover and then try to become a kid again. Several times they’d talked about this decision and how best to handle it. Both women agreed that Emmy had to be a part of the decision.
The night before her scans she wasn’t allowed to eat. At her regular appointment two weeks earlier, as promised Dr. Hatcher, had removed the NG tube. The actually removal had been awful and Emmy had thrown up multiple times. So they had dinner early and went to watch the high school teams play. Jake was now in a walking boot and Tyler had started physical therapy but neither was allowed to play so they just sat on the sideline with the team. Brett had fallen back into the routine of coaching and his freshman boys were leading the league they played in. They hadn’t lost in their last six games.
Tonight the Varsity boys and girls teams were both playing the top ranked school in the state. The girls’ team had played great, but had lost by six. Coach was quick to point out that in the final quarter their team had missed 9 free throws. Those 9 points were enough to have put them up by three.
The boys’ team was even worse at free throws. Emmy watched as the boys missed 6 of the ten they shot in the first half. It was a good thing that they seemed to shoot three pointers much better than free throws. The boys hit six three pointers in the first half and were up by 4 on the number one team in the state at half time.
The game was close and exactly what Emmy, and Stephanie, needed to keep their minds off the morning. The gym went crazy when the point guard and one of Jake’s best friends hit a last second shot to tie the game as the buzzer sounded.
Two overtimes later they won by ten. The opposing team finally succumbed to foul trouble when four of their five starters fouled out and the boys took advantage of it.
It was after eleven when they finally made it home and Emmy was exhausted from all the excitement. Despite the gravity of tomorrow she feel asleep easily. Stephanie and Brett weren’t so lucky. They tossed and turned and talked for several hours before their minds stopped racing enough to allow sleep to overtake them.
Five o’clock came early and they were all dragging. The boys got to sleep a little longer since they were going to drive themselves to school. Brett, Stephanie and Emmy were out the door by 5:30 and at the hospital by 5:50.
Getting checked in took forever, even at this hour of the morning. Emmy was glad she was the first appointment of the day. She didn’t think she could take much more sitting around worrying. Her knees were already doing that nervous bouncing thing and there was nothing she could do to stop them.
They readied her for the scans and Brett and Stephanie stayed with her until they were ready to take her back. They were going to try to do them with her awake. She was old enough now to do it. The first time they worried about how she would react and without parents around they just knocked her out and ran the tests. She’d woken up so sick though and this time would do anything to avoid that.
While in the room waiting they gave her a little medication to just take the edge off. Brett and Stephanie quickly found it did a lot more than that. It made her hilarious. Quiet little Emmy was telling, or trying to tell jokes, she was talking to every person that walked past. Brett and Stephanie were doing their best not to laugh.
Finally the nurse came to get her. Brett gave her a high-five. Stephanie leaned down to kiss her and began to tear up. “Hey Mom, I’ll be fine.” Stephanie and Brett both stood there shocked. She’d just called her Mom. “I know you will sweetie.”
And she was gone. “You heard that right?” Stephanie looked at Brett who had tears in his eyes also.
“I did.” Brett smiled and pulled her close.
“Will she even remember saying it?” Stephanie wanted so badly for her to call her that again.
“I doubt it she’s kind of drugged out of her head.” They took a seat in the waiting room. “But you know what that means?”
“Deep down that’s how she feels”
“Exactly. We are getting there. All those fears are slowly slipping away and she’s letting us in.”
They sat there holding hands both praying that the news would be good. That all the progress she’d made, emotionally, over the last two months wouldn’t be setback by another round of chemotherapy. While they were there Holly stopped by and sat down.
“So still doing good I hear?”
“She is isn’t she? So what’s been going on?” Holly was so glad that Emmy had found this family. They were such a perfect fit.
“Just taking it easy one day at a time until these scans.”
“These are rough aren’t they? We call it scanxity. Every parent and child that’s been where you are has it.”
“Does it ever get easier?” Brett was pretty sure much more of this and he was going to have an ulcer himself.
“Slowly. With each clear scan you breathe a little easier. Then they get further apart and you get to forget about cancer for a little longer each time.”
A nurse approached. “Are you Mr. and Mrs. Taylor?”
They shook their heads. “No but we are Emmy Taylor’s foster parents.”
The lady smiled. “Well then you are exactly who I’m looking for. Emmy is finishing up if you want to come with me.” They both hugged Holly and followed the little nurse who reminded Stephanie of the fairy godmother from Cinderella.
They followed the nurse back to Emmy who was sitting up in the bed drinking a juice box. She got a weak smile when they walked in. “So how’d it go?”
There was another nurse with her who answered. “She did fantastic. We got everything we needed without any sedation. She was a little shaky when we got finished, probably from nerves and not eating for so long so she’s had some peanut butter and crackers and a little juice.”
“If you guys have her things. She can get dressed as soon as she’s ready. Dr. Hatcher called down and few minutes ago and said he’d like to look everything over right now so if you guys would hang around you can get some answers right now.” Stephanie and Brett were overjoyed at not having to wait and worry. Emmy wasn’t so sure.
“We get to find out now if it’s gone?” Emmy was terrified as she looked at the nurse. She wanted to know and yet if it was bad news she didn’t know if she could handle it.
“Yes. It will take about an hour for him to look at all the blood work and scans. You take your time and get dressed. I’ll get you cleared out of the system and then you can head upstairs to oncology and he’ll meet with you up there.”
Emmy nodded but didn’t move when the nurse left and Stephanie pulled her clothes out of the bag. “Emmy, are you OK?”
“If the cancer isn’t gone. I’m not doing chemo again.” Big tears began to roll from her eyes. “I’m not missing a whole season of basketball for something that may or may not work.” She looked up at Stephanie with those big blue eyes. “OK?”
Stephanie didn’t know what to say. How could she allow a child that she loved to simply give up on the possibility of a cure? But how could she deny the child the only thing she’d ever asked them for.
Brett stepped in. Taking Emmy’s hand. “Hey lets not think about that right now. Lets see what he says first. There’s a really good chance that we won’t ever have to make that decision. There’s a really good chance that he’ll come back and say you’re all clear.”
“But if he doesn’t. I get to decide whether to do chemo again, OK?”
Stephanie relented, remembering that moment this morning when she’d called her mom. “Emmy, we are your family now and it’s a decision we’ll make together, OK? We won’t make it for you.”
That seemed to appease Emmy, at least for now. She began to move off the bed and reached for her clothes. Stephanie helped her get all the strings untied on the gown, while Brett went to find some tape to tape the leads from her central line back down.
Upstairs every nurse greeted them and asked how things were going. They were all optimistic when they found out she was there for scans. Emmy couldn’t take her eyes off the picture wall. She noticed how the taken too soon side had grown since she was there. There were two new pictures. One was a much older kid she didn’t recognize, but the other was a boy about her age that she’d seen at the hospital before.
Back when she’d had her surgery she had to stay for a week since she didn’t have parents to look after her at home. Once a day during her stay the nurses would come and take her somewhere. Sometimes it would be to a room with video games and toys, or to an art room or occasionally a music room where a little old man would play all kinds of instruments. The boy from the picture had been in the music room one day when she was there. She remembered his parents being there too and them all singing along with the man.
Emmy remembered that day so clearly she had sat in her chair, alone and wished that she was him. His mother had held his hand as they sang. Emmy had wanted that so bad. Now seeing his face on the wall she knew that he’d lost his battle and that his parents had lost a child that they had clearly loved very much.
Stephanie noticed Emmy wipe away a tear, as did one of the nurses. “Did you know Alex?” Emmy shook her head.
“Just a little. He was here when I had my surgery. What happened?”
“Alex had a very different cancer from yours. He had a tumor in his brain. The doctor’s couldn’t remove all of it. He died last week at home with his parents.” Emmy nodded wondering how they were doing now.
The elevator binged down the hall and they saw Dr. Hatcher get off. Emmy’s heart began pounding and it felt like it was going to jump out of her chest. Stephanie reached down and grabbed her hand.
Dr. Hatcher smiled as he walked toward them. “Follow me Miles family.”
He took them into the same conference room where Stephanie had first met him, the night she’d learned about Emmy’s cancer. She sat in the same chair and an odd feeling of life coming full circle overcame her.
Dr. Hatcher sat down and opened the folder he was carrying. Emmy was sitting between Brett and Stephanie. She slid her hands into theirs unable to take the waiting anymore.
“Well Miss Emmy. I have good news. ”Emmy let out the breath that she’d been holding Brett and Stephanie both squeezed her hands. “Your blood work was completely clean. On the CT scan we did today and there is no sign of cancer.” Stephanie’s eyes erupted. Brett and she both grabbed Emmy who put her head down on the table and cried. She cried a body wracking kind of cry.
Dr. Hatcher even wiped away a tear. This patient had touched him in a way that no other patient ever had. He had known that her scans were today and last night even he found it impossible to sleep.
“Emmy.” He waited for her to look up. “I am classifying you as NED, no evidence of disease. That means we just keep an eye on things. But right now you are cancer free.” No words had ever meant more to her.
She reigned in her emotions “Dr. Hatcher, when can I play again?”
He laughed and shook his head. “Somehow I knew that was going to be the first question out of your mouth.” He pulled out his iPad and opened up his calendar. “Well Miss Emmy, lets see. I have an opening on Friday to do the outpatient surgery to removed the central line. Once its out lets give everything a month to heal completely and your good to go.”
Today was February 17 and Emmy quickly did the math “So on April 21st I can play basketball again. Without any restrictions?” Two weeks ago when he’d taken out the NG tube he’d given her the OK to run and shoot again. But there was absolutely no contact of any kind.
“The only restriction is that you ease back into it, and listen to your body. It’s going to take you a while to get the endurance back that you used to have.”
“Coach you’ll have to keep an eye on that.” Stephanie nodded.
Brett got up the courage to ask. “So when are the next scans?”
“Yes, we’ll go every month for the first three. Then if those are all clear, we move to three months for three cycles then 6 months for three and then a once a year for the next five years. Once she turns 18 we’ll reassess. Usually if there have been no further signs of the cancer recurring we can stop.”
“How do you feel Emmy?”
“What do you say we go outside and tell the nurses who are no doubt lined up at this door trying to listen?” Emmy smiled. She couldn’t wait to tell Holly. She opened the door and stuck her head out looking for Holly. Sure enough there were five nurses all standing at the station watching for this door to open. Holly walked around the edge toward her. “So?”
“NED!” Emmy whispered. Holly ran toward her and lifted her up.
“Oh Emmy. I am so happy for you.” She put her down. Hugging Brett and Stephanie too.
Dr. Hatcher joined them in the hallway. “You know there’s something you need to do.” He motioned to the photo wall.
“Yes.” Stephanie and Brett took her hands and led her to the wall. She reached up and pulled her photo down. Looking over at Dr. Hatcher and Holly she moved the photo over to the Survivor side. As she did the nurses all began clapping. Several of the parents and patients stepped out into the hall to see what the commotion was about. When they realized what was happening they all clapped too.
When they finally left the hospital Brett immediately called the school and asked to speak with the boys. It took a couple of minutes for them to go get them from class. “Guys, I just wanted to let you know that Emmy’s scans came back clear. The cancer is gone.” Brett immediately pulled the phone away from his ear and the whole car could hear the boys screaming. He had a pretty good idea that the whole school could hear it too.
The next call was to Aunt Kim. Emmy was the one to tell her. She didn’t scream, but cried, like they had. Over the last month she’d called almost every day to check on Emmy and they’d gotten pretty close. Two weeks ago Kim had even come up and taken Emmy out for dinner and a movie. She and Emmy could talk through things that Stephanie had no idea about.
With the important phone calls made Brett looked to the backseat. “So what do you want to do?”
“I just want to go home and shoot. If that’s OK?”
“Sure.” He was so grateful that she had begun to call their house home.
At home Emmy changed and went out back. Brett and Stephanie stood in the kitchen and watched her. She went in the separate garage and found the ball and came back to the makeshift court. Standing on the block she shot a few times and then moved to the other side.
After those she stopped, took the ball and sat down. With her head on her knees Brett and Stephanie watched as began to cry. Stephanie started to go out to her but Brett grabbed her hand. “Wait. She needs time to process everything. What better place for her to do than the court?”
“Its kind of cool out there.”
“She’ll come in when she gets cold. At this point she understands that a setback will delay returning to the team.” After several minutes like that, Emmy stood up and began to dribble again. Hitting every shot she took Brett and Stephanie smiled. Their player, their daughter, was back.