A Candle for Suki A Child's Struggle with Cancer
I don’t remember when the doctor told me I had to go to the hospital. I do remember being excited about buying new pajamas and riding my bike down the best hill in town. School was out summer had started. I remember the wind in my hair and the sun on my cheeks. My pedals flew so fast I had to lift my feet. Smells of honeysuckle and cut grass blew through my nose. I was free no backpack on my shoulders no worries in my brain. It feels like forever since I’ve felt the sun on my skin or the wind in my hair. There are only fake lights here. I hate the plastic smells of the hospital, but worst of all I hate the look on my sisters face when she visits me. I don’t like people feeling sad. It scares me. “Suki don’t be afraid.” I tell her. She doesn’t listen. I see her cry and get angry when the nurses give me medicine.
Suki and I came from Cambodia when we were little. I can’t remember Cambodia. I only imagine it from my mother’s stories. I can remember climbing trees, making forts, riding bikes, and exploring with our friends here in America. I miss the outside sounds like the swishing of leaves or the crickets in summer. There aren’t any sounds like that here in the hospital. There is just the noise of beeps and buzzes that keep me awake when I want to sleep. Sleeping is great when I have a good dream like the one I had the other night. I dreamt my grandmother came to see me. She held out her hand and told me to come with her. I flew out of my bed and away we went. She took me through a forest that was green and smelled of dirt. We sang old Cambodian songs and laughed. Suddenly we were in a meadow full of flowers of many colors; pinks, and oranges, and yellows ones that looked like the sun. She told me to lie down and look up at the clouds awhile. I began to see dragons, and pigs, and angel’s wings. Then it was time to go. She told me she would see me soon. I began to cry but she hugged me tight and whispered “do not to be afraid.” She said she would be waiting for me in the meadow. And then I woke up. When I told mom about my dream she smiled and said grandmother was saying hello.
My mom worries about me too, even though I tell her not to. I can tell when she wants to cry, she always says she has to go to the bathroom. When she comes back her eyes are red and her nose is stuffy. Suki is a year younger than me. We did everything together. Everything but get cancer. I am glad Suki is not the one who is sick. She would be angry if she were sick. Suki has a really bad temper. If she were the one with cancer she would probably yell at the nurses and not take her medicine. One time when she couldn’t hit any of the pitches I threw her, she started screaming at me. Then she slugged me on the arm. It hurt but I didn’t hit her back. After a few seconds we both started laughing about how silly she looked trying to whack the ball. I spent the rest of the afternoon teaching her how to swing. Now she’s one of the best hitters on her team.
I miss playing ball. I miss the sound of grass squeaking under my cleats. I miss my glove. Mom says it stinks. I like the smell. I miss hearing mom yell, “run Georgie run”. And I miss the sound of the ice cream truck. I haven’t had any ice cream in a while. The cancer medicine gives me stomachaches and I think my taste buds disappeared. I hope they will come back.
Lately I have been getting a little scared at night so one of my favorite nurses, Jenny, gave me in a short white candle. She said I could light it at night when I was afraid. I didn’t think you were allowed to have candles in the hospital but Jenny said,
“These are special. They’re angel candles.”
“What are angel candles?” I asked.
“Angel candles melt away your worries and take you wherever you want to go."
“No worries?” I was suddenly excited.
“Yes. And even better, you can run free in a meadow or swim in the ocean. All you have to do is look into the light, think about where you want to visit, close your eyes, and away you go!” Jenny said.
“Can I ride my bike down my favorite hill?”
“You can ride your bike anywhere you like.” Jenny laughed.
I told my mom about my candle and she bought me a new helmet. It had a light on it for my “night rides.” Suki laughed and started wearing her helmet when she came to see me. We would talk about our best riding places. I began to feel pretty crummy. When I lit my angel candle, I left my body behind on the bed and away I went. Usually I went riding with Suki. We’d go to our favorite spot…a huge hill covered in leaves just past the creek behind our school. There were wide oak trees, green moss, and blankets of wild clover. Suki and I were going to start an explorer club with our friends but I got cancer so we had to wait.
I don’t remember feeling bad enough to have cancer. I don’t really understand what happened. I thought at first, maybe I got cancer because I didn’t eat enough vegetables. Mom said that had nothing to do with it. Then I thought maybe I got cancer because we didn’t go to church and maybe God was mad at me. My doctor told me God didn’t give me cancer no one did. It just happened.
When spring came the doctors decided to stop my cancer medicine for a little while. I was tired. I think they wanted to give me a rest. One night, it was late and Jenny came to check on me. As she left, she lit my candle and the room was alive with light. I blinked and there was a beautiful angel. She had big white wings and long black hair. She spoke to me in Cambodian. I told her I was tired and she said she knew and that it was okay. She told me I would see my grandmother and the others soon. When Jenny came back to blow out the light she asked;
“Where is your mom?”
“Mom’s at home.” I said.
“Oh. I thought I saw someone in your room.”
“It was my angel.” I explained.
“Ah.” Jenny sighed. She listened as I told her what the angel said. Jenny told me she was glad I had such a special visitor. Then she kissed me goodnight.
That was the last time my brother lit his candle. Before he left, he gave me his candle. My name is Suki. I am really mad. I’m mad my brother was taken away from me. How will I grow up with out him? I wanted to slug someone, the doctors, and the nurses, anyone who was walking around like nothing happened. After many months I decided to light the candle. The room lit up and I stared into the flame. I closed my eyes and there before me stood the angel. She had big white wings and long black hair just as Georgie described her. She spoke to me in Cambodian about my brother. She told me he would visit me. That night Georgie did visit me in a dream. He held out his hand and said “Suki come ride with me to the meadow.” The meadow where my Grandmother waited. I hopped on my bike and went with him. The wind in our hair, the sun on our cheeks, and our pedals flying so fast we had to lift our feet. I felt happy to see my brother again. It has been a while now since Georgie passed on and I still miss him. Sometimes I miss him so much I can‘t breath. I light my candle and feel better. I know he is safe and one day we will be together again. He is in the meadow with Grandmother exploring his new world. When I see him again we can play ball. One thing I know for sure…Georgie doesn’t have cancer anymore. He doesn’t have to hear the beeps and buzzes of the hospital, or taste the awful cancer medicine, or smell the plastic hallways. Georgie is free. And for that I am happy. The End
Author’s Note: The names in this story have been changed but the inspiration came from when I worked as a nurse for children with cancer; often they would have spiritual experiences and visitations such as the one that Georgie had. Their courage was breath taking. *There are hospitals that allowed under certain circumstances to have candles lit.
Causes Karen Devaney Supports
Eve Ensler and any organization that deals with issues supporting women and children and the advancement of their education.