I still remember the day that they told me I had cancer. My mum was crying, my dad was hunched over, his fists clenched. For me, everything went blurry. The doctor’s voice seemed to slow down. I felt dizzy, and a rush of nausea came over me. I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to know how long I had to live, or if anything could be done. I thought that if I didn’t know, nothing would happen. That’s when I started to scream. Not of anger, and not of fear. I just wanted to drown out all the noise. So I wouldn’t know. I guess that’s what happens when you tell an 8 year old that they have cancer.
That was the day my parents bought me Charlie. He was a small golden retriever puppy with huge, chocolate brown eyes. I didn’t want a dog. I just wanted everything to go back to normal. But I knew it couldn’t. So I took Charlie home.
Charlie was a good puppy. Whenever I cried, he licked my tears away. He came to every hospital appointment. He even sat by my side when my mum shave my long, blonde hair. But unfortunately, Charlie couldn’t help me on my first day of school.
It was horrible. I walked through the school gates and everyone turned to look at me. People whispered, giving me sympathetic looks but making sure to stay out of my way. I remember my bag feeling heavy on my back, and my feet feeling like my shoes were made of lead. I sat down at my desk, my face red. The teacher slowly read out my name on the roll, edging away from me as she did. And that was when I left.
I ran and I ran and I ran. All the way home. Away from my small school, towards my even smaller house. I burst through the front door, tears streaming down my face. My mum dropped her cup of tea and rushed over to me. I breathed in her sweet scent as she cradled my head in her arms.
Charlie made me feel better. He let me bury my face in his long, thick, golden fur. That was how he became my therapy dog. School got easier. Kids started to get used to me. The principal even organized a fundraiser for a cure for cancer. But some days I would get teased. And I would go home and cry. But Charlie was always there. By year 6, life felt normal. I fit in. Everyone acted like I was no different from them. But high school was a whole different story.
Boys laughing, girls whispering. No empty seats in the cafeteria. No one wanting to sit next to me in class. I guess I should have expected it. But for some reason, I thought that, just once, kids would be able to accept me. But I was wrong.
Going home on the bus was no different. To the other kids, cancer was just another reason to tease me. They didn’t know about all the doctor’s appointments, or how hard it was for my parents to see me deteriorating.
I walked through my front gate, head hanging low. I could still hear the kids laughing as the bus drove away. Mum was standing in the doorway, her face sorry and sad. I clapped my hands 3 times, my signal for Charlie to come. But I didn’t hear the gentle padding of his paws, and his cute bark. I looked to my mum, searching her face for answers. Her eyes were red and puffy, and when she spoke, her voice was hoarse, as if she had been crying.
“I’m so, so sorry.”
So it turns out that Charlie died of blood cancer- the same disease that I have. The day after he passed away, I didn’t go to school. I just lay on my bed, wondering ‘why me?’ I wanted to know why I had been chosen to have cancer. After Charlie died, everything changed. The world seemed dimmer, darker. The bright, green parks that surrounded my house seemed grey, dead. It seemed that the whole world was working against me. I found it so easy to drown our people’s voices so that all I could hear was white noise.
My parents bought me another puppy. She was a poodle, and her name was Daisy. But she wasn’t the same as Charlie. She would yap all night, and whenever I tried to pat her, she would bite me. Eventually, my parents sold her. My mum started to home school me. Doctor’s appointments started to clash with mainstream school, but my parents still wanted me to get an education. Secretly, I was relieved when my parents pulled me out of school. I wouldn’t get started at as much, and I wouldn’t have to face the cafeteria, where everyone had a seat at a table but me.
2 months after we sold Daisy, we were contacted by the owners of the house behind us. The doorbell rung halfway through my mum teaching me history, so I was grateful for the interruption. At the door was a middle aged man, a golden retriever by his side. My mind immediately flashed back to Charlie. His golden fur, and his chocolate brown eyes sparkling in the sun. I flashed back to reality when the man started talking about Charlie. My Charlie.
The man explained that Charlie had ‘visited’ his dog, Molly, several times. He gestured to the golden retriever beside him. The man then told us that 6 weeks ago, Molly had given birth to puppies.
And from behind his back, he pulled out a tiny, golden retriever puppy. I gasped, tears in my eyes. He handed the dog to me and I gazed into it’s chocolate brown eyes and buried my face in it’s golden fur.
“She’s all yours.” The man said gently.
I called the puppy Jessie. She was as sweet natured as Charlie, and I’d sort of forgotten how cute puppies were. Sometimes I would think that Charlie had puppies to leave me a piece of him. And sometimes, when I look into Jessie’s eyes, I see Charlie looking back at me, telling me to never give up hope and reminding me that he will always be in my heart.