But I could tell from the look on her face that my daughter was not open to this idea at all.
I listened as the nurse continued, "Every time you get the shots that help rebuild your bone marrow we can add a white bead to your necklace. Blue beads are for individual chemo treatments. The gold beads are for biopsies and your port surgeries. The red ones are for when you have to have a transfusion. . ."
Like a pair of tweezers Imara used her thumb and forefinger to grasp a tiny green bead. Politely, and with only a smidge of sarcasm she said, " Let me guess, the green ones are for when I puke and the black ones are for when I lose my hair."
The nurse smiled at her and cheerfully said, "You got it."
After she left the room my daughter looked at me and said, "I got it all right, a front row ticket to my own personal Dr. Death match. I am not doing that bead thing. It is so creepy. I don't want a cancer abacus. I want to do this, get well and never look back."
I shrugged my shoulders and said, "Maybe other people look at it as a way to see how far they have come."
She frowned at me and then continued, " While we're on the subject of this stuff, I don't want any social media posts and sympathetic gushy yuck. I am not dying. The doctors said this kind of cancer has an eighty percent chance of remission without coming back later."
I watched her. My strong willed, fiercely independent daughter was telling me what she needed.
She wanted me to stay strong, unflinching, optimistic and as normal as possible.
"And one more thing. The first time my hairbrush looks gross I am shaving my head. I am not going to brush and brush and watch myself turn into a weird cross between Kermit the Frog and Gollum."
Oh dear god I loved this girl. I started laughing then she started laughing.
I rasped, "Of course not precious, my precious." She let me hug her.
Later that day we went shopping.
"This one looks so natural and with the right cut I'll look like my favorite anime character. Plus the blue undertones in this black will help balance the color changes that the chemo will cause in my skin."
She had done her homework and knew what she wanted. I wanted to cry. I wanted to make it go away. Instead I followed her lead.
"We should pick up a smokey eye pallet at the next store then."
She smiled and nodded then admitted, "I'm glad you had today off work so we could enjoy shopping together before we start chemo."
That shopping trip was the beginning of a larger journey that led us down a path no one wants to travel. Three days later Imara sat in a hospital bed watching the chemo drip hanging from her IV pole.
"Mom, I'm not really hungry today."
I shook my head at her and waved my finger. "Nope. You have to eat at least a little bit to stay strong."
"I don't want to puke."
"Crackers then. That is what I ate when I was pregnant with you. It worked every time."
"Would mashed potatoes do the same?"
"Okay, I'll try that."
And that is how Imara became addicted to mashed potatoes. It was all she could eat for the next four months.
That night we listened as a baby down the hall cried. When the nurse came into our room Imara asked about him. With tears in her eyes the nurse told us that he was in a lot of pain and the only way he could relax enough to sleep was if someone were holding him. The nurses took turns throughout the night.
Imara quietly asked, "Mom, will you come lay down beside me while I fall asleep?"
I did and fought back my tears. I refused to cry because I knew if I started crying I wouldn't be able to stop.
The next morning sunlight streamed through the window and warmed the foot of the bed. Imara sat surrounded by her art supplies lost in drawing anime characters while listening to music on her earbuds. It was a good day. And so was the next day and the one after that, and the one after that. For the next two months, test after test, treatment after treatment she was better and better until the last treatment. And then things weren't so great.
I was working night shift when I got the call.
"Mom, my fever spiked."
I rushed home in the dark winter night. I helped her into the car, piling blankets around her. She shivered from the fever. I shivered from the fear. We called the hospital and let them know we were on our way while we made a forty-five minute drive within twenty-five minutes. It took two days and a round of antibiotics to shake whatever it was.
Imara wanted me as close as possible during that time. This my courage was feeding hers. At one point she handed me a slip of paper.
"What's this baby?" I asked.
"Something I wrote last night when I couldn't sleep."
She snuggled closer and closed her eyes. Yes, there was a single tear dammed up on the corner of her eyelashes. I started to read.
"I'm going to kiss Peter Pan
Because I want to fly off to Neverland.
Please don't try to catch me even if you can.
I'm going to kiss Peter Pan.
No growing old, no disillusioned dreams.
Not if i pack up now and leave
No more heartache. No more pain.
I could soar free without these chains.
I'm kissing Peter Pan.
Please don't try to catch me even if you can.
I'm ready now for my Neverland.
I'm kissing Peter Pan."
I folded the paper, held her tight and watched the line on her heart monitor dance across the screen. Her lab results that day showed that all her blood cells were gone. My Imara was going to earn the red beads for a necklace she didn't want. I wrapped her listless hands in mine as we the watched the nurse hang the blood bags on her IV pole.
Imara whispered, "Hey mom, I'm a vampire now."
She smiled a little, laughing at her own joke. I watched as she closed her eyes to rest. A few minutes later she squeezed my hand and whispered, "This is so weird. I can feel it traveling through my body. I feel so much better already."
She looked better. There was color in her lips and under her nails again. She slept like a baby all night long and ate cornflakes for breakfast.
Life turned on a dime.
The cancer was gone and while Imara was dying we learned how to live.
Accept things for what they are so you can move forward. Keep your sense of humor. Be compassionate. Be brave. Hold onto your dreams and don't ever kiss Peter Pan.