Chapter Twenty

It was decided that my transfusions and chemo were not keeping my numbers where they should be, so I had a bone marrow transplant.

If you ever have to have one, be prepared to be miserable.

First they harvested my stem cells. That wasn’t so bad, that was just like a blood test.

Then they put me into the critical ward and destroyed all my marrow with high-dose chemo. I was virtually dead. If they hadn’t put the stem cells back in and got them to grow, I would simply have died.

The experience was godawful. You keep throwing up. You have constant diarrhea, every time you come back from the bathroom you have to get out of bed and go again.

There are sores inside your mouth. You feel completely empty, completely miserable.

A lot of the patients are delirious from the massive insult to their system. One girl on the ward had pulled out her IV and was watching the fluid drip onto the floor. The nurses barely got to her in time.

Another girl was sleepwalking right out of the ward to the elevator when they stopped her.

Other people died. Their stem cells couldn’t keep up with the lack of marrow. Their livers died. They died of hemorrhages. This was a truly life-threatening procedure.

But I got through it. After a week I felt a little bit more human. After two weeks I was ready to go back to the ward.

My father was in the room with me every night. He helped me to the bathroom, helped me throw up, sat watching me as I tried to sleep.

I could see it was destroying him to see me suffer this way.

“You’re a brave boy, Max,” he said. “You’re tougher than I ever was.”

And very often, “I love you, son.”

He looked exhausted. He had lost weight. There were bags under his eyes. But he was always there.

When I got back to the ward, my parents both came to visit.

“Your Mom and I are back together, Max,” Dad said.

My mother was smiling and holding my hand. But I sensed that things weren’t exactly as they seemed. My parents didn’t look natural together.

I wondered where Nancy was, and what she thought of all this.

I concentrated on being polite. I listened to their news. They told me about their conversations with the doctors. “They think you’re only a little way from remission,” my father said.

“I’ve joined a national organization, the Leukemia Foundation, Max, “ my mother said. “They’re raising a lot of money to fund new research.”

That’s my Mom, I thought. Always the organizations, always the meetings.

“There are new drugs being tested every day, Max. There are clinical trials that may find an honest-to-God cure for leukemia.”

I read between the lines of this. There were drugs being tested, there were clinical trials, because kids were dying every day. That was the reason.

I said nothing. What was there to say? They loved me, but there was nothing they could do.

In a way, though, I was glad they were back together. Some day they might have another child. They weren’t that old.

Yet, as I watched them go out the door, I thought of Nancy. It would be better if Dad had a child with Nancy.

My mother wasn’t worth much.