Flatline

Brielle has always been a tad bit peculiar, strange. She is twenty-eight years old and has been dancing ballet forever. However, during a routine check, something shows up. Something that isn't good. More tests are done, and the doctors can only tell her one thing; cancer. It's in her blood and her lungs, a consequence to the years of smoking that her parents went through starting the day she was born.

Her cancer doesn't only bring her morning sickness, hair loss, it also brings her friends. Old friends she used to be in contact with, but also new ones, Anthony. Anthony, a young boy visiting his sister in the hospital, the person who becomes one of her best friends in the year she has been battling at that time. The two of them get involved, knowing the risks damn well, but they fight. The harder they fight for their relationship, the more she gets confronted with her illness, that seems to be everywhere.

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2. Chapter one

27th of September, 2013

Her mother smoked her first cigarette the day Brielle was born. She stood outside of the hospital in a grey tracksuit, having only just gotten up again, pacing back and forth in pain. While her daughter was upstairs in a cot, fighting for her life, to get air into her tiny, not yet matured lungs, Catherine lit a her fist cigarette and pretty much got addicted right from the bat. Catherine still vividly remembered holding her daughter for the first time against her bare chest, after two weeks of seeing her through the incubator, her hands not bigger than her fingertip wrapped around the tip of Catherine’s ring finger. Brielle may have been premature, incredibly premature, but she fought like a champion. Brielle herself knew that it wasn’t possible that she remembered the time in the incubator, but she swore that her first time she was held by her mother, she had smelled the smoke.

                Little did she know that she was poisoning her little daughter with the cigarette smoke that seemed to be a constant reminder for Brielle that her mother was close. Her father too smoked, but for some reason, her mother had been worse for her. It had hit her with more hatred for her when she heard about the cancer in her lungs and that it would probably have been spread there because her lungs were we weaker. It was hard to blame her parents for what he was going though, at least mentally, but she couldn’t help feeling the complete rush of anger.

                "Do you want another cup of coffee dear?" her mother asked her, a smile on her face. Even though she had been through her first round of chemo now, and was about to start her second, she still hadn't told her parents about it. Something about that put her off. She was too angry with them to tell. Too scared that she might say that she blamed them in the process of doing so.

                "A cup would be nice," she said, feeling faint, needing the sugar.

                "Just pain coffee huh?”

“Two spoons of sugar,” Brielle said, tugging at the long sleeves of her blouse. Her mother brought her a light blue cup of coffee and a platter of cookies, from the smell of it, fresh baked. The smell sting clung to the furniture and the cookies itself. Before, it would have made her feel better, but she still hadn’t found her appetite again, and most things still tasted off, odd. So did cookies. She had tried one before, and it had been like eating sand.

“How's ballet going?" Her mother had never approved of her doing ballet after the age of twenty-one. Brielle never knew what to day when her parents talked to her about ballet, because they didn’t approve of it, at all. Maybe she could say thing A or B, but they would still say that she had to look for a decent job, with a decent pay and decent hours. Sometimes they would say that she had to find a job that would allow her to see them more often, because they ‘never’ saw her.
                That was of course a total lie. She called almost every week and visited every two weeks. Yes, her younger sister stopped by more often, but she was still studying, what did they expect? Her youngest sister was only sixteen, so her parents saw her every day, so she was the bad one of the three for not showing up as often.  She too had to admit that she rarely came by these days, chemo was still running free in her body and she didn’t feel all too well, but she tried to stop by, that was more than she could say she did with her original, jerk of a father.

Well, if mom and her step dad said something about it, they would just get the standard answer that they saw her more often than dad did, and that they had no reason to complain. Maybe it would even sound a bit worse, maybe not. She had been very edgy lately.

“It’s been going good,” Brielle lied to her. “Not as well as I want it to be, but you know that I always want things to be better than they are.”

“Are you sure that you won’t consider getting a job, just to get an extra jump on you income?” Her mother meant it okay, and she knew that, but it enraged her.
                “Ballet is my life mom,” she sighed. “I cannot just stop doing that.” Her mother looked at her, disappointment in her eyes, but shut up about it.
                “If I had known you came,” Patrick – the step dad – said, “we could’ve bought you a cake or something for your birthday.” He looked at her the way he always looked when she didn’t show up on her birthday, or special occasions. “We knew you couldn’t come on your birthday because of a ballet thing, but still.” Ballet. That had been a good excuse back then. If only it had been ballet, if only she hadn’t been in the hospital for a while until white blood counts had been better after chemo, and she wouldn’t get sick so soon. She had only been released a week ago, and hadn’t touched her ballet clothes in ages.
                Patrick lighted a cigarette, allowing the smoke to disappear through his nose. It was because of those things that her lungs had always been weaker, always been not the way they had to be, why they sucked at being non-cancerous lungs.
                She didn’t know how to tell them about the cancer. Not telling them about it may not have been what the doctor said to do, because ‘you can never battle cancer completely on your own, you will need your family to help you’ as they told her the day she came in alone for her first round of chemo. She was pretty sure that she could manage on her own, why wouldn’t she? She saw so many people around her in the hospital who were completely dependent on their family; they couldn’t even get home alone. Was that what was waiting for her? If that would be the case, she would be out with the chemo. She wouldn’t be dependent on them, at all.

 

When they were having coffee, her mother told her this story about Emma, her half-sister, who had come home real late one night, sneaking in a boy. It was funny, probably not for Emma, who just walked through the door after hearing  her name, and Thomas’, who apparently was her serious boyfriend she had kept for ages now – two years.
                “Mom!” she yelped, after hearing her. “You don’t tell that story! You promised.” She was clearly annoyed, her brows pulled together into a frown. When she saw me, she smiled a little, a forced little smile. Even though we differentiated so much in age, she had always loved me. Even when she was a baby and I had to babysit all the time. Her mom was exhausted and Patrick at work, so she came to Brielle, with a diaper bag, a travel crib and her formula. She had learned how to be around people she didn’t really know, learned how to enjoy piano music from her ballet lessons. Because of her, she had fully mastered caring for a baby, especially a crier, like she was. She cried for everything, all night. Sometimes she would go to sleep without crying, and she wouldn’t cry at all, but Brielle would be hovering around her crib all night, scared that she would stop breathing, because she was never as normal a baby as she was now. Never.
                “Hi Brielle,” she said, leaving it because mom and Patrick were laughing so much on her expression. She took a seat next to me, pulling her feet up. "How are you doing?"

"Good," she lied again. She sort of wondered why they didn't notice that she had dropped so much weight. It was so clear now, now that she instead of a 36, was in a 34 and the trousers sometimes hung loose around her legs, in places that they were supposed to hug her. "How are you," Brielle smiled. "And your boyfriend." She turned red as a tomato, trying everything to get away from my gaze.

"We are fine," she eventually laughed. "Better than you can ever be!" She punched me in the arm, and pain seared through it. That would be a bruise, great.

"Hey!" Brielle said, too laughing for some reason. "Patrick, where can I report being abused by my own sister? Is it with you?"

Patrick was a cop, had been ever since she knew him. He hadn't really 'climbed up the ladder' and was still a field officer, who did all the arrests, but also all the paperwork that involved around it. She remembered him coming in with a pile of work in his hands and saying that he had to be left alone, because he had so much work to do that he might actually drown in papers. Literally drown in papers, which would have been fun to clean up of course.

"That would be me," he laughed. "Let me see." I rolled up my sleeve for him, until he could see the blue bruise that had already appeared. It wasn’t just her bruise that he could see, but also the previous ones, the needle marks. "Wow, you do have a hard punch, Emma." He laughed.

Emma laughed too, "Did I really do that?" Brielle nodded, rolling her sleeve down again before anyone really paid attention to how her arm was looking.

"You totally did." Brielle tried to laugh, but smelled the all too familiar smell of blood in her nose. Fumbling for her handkerchief, she felt a slight drop of blood run down her lips, tasting the blood in her mouth, her so sick blood, filled with leukemia, run down her body.

This was one of those nosebleeds that were so heavy that could last forever. Forever and ever. She pressed it against her nose, the blood staining the piece of cloth completely red. Because of the chemo, they had gotten worse and more frequent, and Brielle often cursed them for the timing, the intensity.
                "Do you have maybe paper towels for me?" Brielle asked, a little ashamed that this would happen in front of her parents, and her sister. If this would keep happening, she may be forced to tell the reason after a while, because she couldn’t hide it forever if the nosebleeds and bruises kept happening.

They would connect the dots, and especially her mother, since she had medical training, she knew how to take care of patients. She actually worked at the clinic Brielle went to for her chemo. It was a miracle that they hadn't bumped into each other yet. Maybe that would happen soon, a little too soon probably.

                "Sure," her mother said, giving her an actual towel. "We'll just throw it in the wash later. We always have to wash out the ones at the clinic too." Her mom's smile was almost heart breaking. How could she keep this from them? How could she be such a bad daughter, a cruel daughter.

Patrick got a call from work, and got up, ready to leave, excusing for the fact that he had to leave. Mom stood up to find his uniform for him upstairs, and told that she would be back in no time. Her sister turned on the TV and watched some show that she had always been in love with. Criminal Minds was having reruns, showing season two on television, and even though she had watched the episodes like a million times growing up, she never got sick of them, always mesmerized by them.

"Sorry," she said, pointing at the TV, "but Criminal Minds is on."

"Its fine," Brielle said, starting to feel warm again. She felt faint and dizzy, sick, and knew that this had actually happened. An infection had caught up with her even though she had now a white cell count in her blood that was okay, or at least, she had, it may have been dropping again. She didn't know, a lot could happen. She stood up, about to walk to the kitchen for a lemonade to keep the sugar in her blood up, but regretted it a she slumped back into the sofa. Her legs were unstable, the world was spinning.

Now, she knew that she shouldn't have ignored that almost fever. Now she knew that this was way ore serious that everybody always thought that it would be.

 

As the world spun around her, and then disappeared, she remembered looking for her sister and squeezing her shoulder hard. She couldn't get her mouth to cooperate with her, she couldn't speak. Her lips wouldn't move, her voice wouldn't come out. She felt the blood rush out her nose even harder and totally blacked out.

Emma swiftly turned to her sister, annoyed by the fact that she had to stop her watching now, that she had to pay her back for the bruise now, but quickly changed her mind as she saw that her sister hung loosely in the couch, not moving at all, her breathing very faint, and the blood not only rushing through her nose, but also through the sockets of her eyes. She panicked, freaked out.

                "Mom!" she yelled, picking up her body, which weighed nothing. "Mom!" A set of footsteps thundered down the stairs, two pairs, and when her mother saw Brielle laying in her arms, she too yelped. She took her out of her arms.

                "What happened?" she stayed quite calm actually, to see her own daughter lying her in her hands like that, lifeless, limp.

                "I don't know. I was watching Criminal Minds on TV, when she suddenly squeezed my arm, real hard. When I looked around, she was like this.

                "Put her in the car, I'll drive."

 

The hospital room was quite cold, even though Emma knew the heating was turned up high. The doctor had come to check up on Brielle, and noted something on a piece of paper. They wouldn't say what was going on with her, but mom wasn't too happy when she was transported to the ICU and they wouldn't allow them to come and see her for at least three hours. Now, she was moved to a room where the doctors would still come in every so many minutes, but they at least could come and see her.

She was still burning up, but the bleeding had stopped eventually. She had lost so much blood that they had to give her extra, and nobody wanted to say what a wrong. There was one doctor, who had apparently seen her before and said that she knew that this would happen, but that she couldn't tell yet, because Brielle didn't want them to know, and it wasn’t her place to say it in the first place. This was what got Emma seriously confused. What could be so bad that had happened to her that she didn't want them to know? What? There was no clue that could tell them what was going on with her, nothing.

Mom had said that she suspected something, but seriously hoped that it wasn't what had happened. She said that if that was the case, she would personally kill Brielle for not telling.

"Patrick," she heard her mom whisper in the hallway, where they had been walking for at least a half an hour now, not telling Emma anything. "How am I supposed to know what she had been up to? For all I know, this is anorexia. I've seen it before so many times, and the bleeding? They don't usually give them an infuse with something to help her gain weight. She is skin and bones." Emma turned her head back to Brielle, looking at her closely. This couldn't be anorexia, she knew that, but something was wrong, something very serious, but it wasn't that. It couldn't be that. Her sister had never been the kind to lose weight, just because she had already been so skinny

There was one word on her mind, a thing that she had seen before in the mother of one of her friends, but she was too scared to think, to say: cancer. But could it be? Could it be that? She never knew, she never knew a thing about her sister. She was so secretive, she never told anyone she was hurting, never told anyone about bruises and cuts, or anything. Not even if something infected. She didn't complain about the swelling in her feet after a long day of dancing, but that was who Brielle was, and the way ballet had formed her into the person she was now, but whether that was a good thing, she didn't know. If she had never danced ballet, would things have been better? Would she be more of a bubbly person?

Her eyelids fluttered a little, still streaked with blood. It was still all over her, every inch of her body that had been touched by the blood was still stained. They hadn't thought about removing it all, because of some reason she didn't know.

                "Let's get you a little cleaner," she said softly, taking a paper towel and a little bit of water from the bottle on her nightstand and gently wiped the blood away. It looked like she was a figurant for a Halloween movie, a zombie, and had come to life.

Brielle woke up and hour after, when everybody had went downstairs to eat something, and her head was pounding. They had managed to stop the bleeding, she noticed, but the dizziness wasn't gone completely, it was still there, somewhere, and when she turned her head, it punished her for doing so. She felt like she was burning up, like there was a fire inside of here that couldn't be stopped by anything, and the cancer was roaring free in her body like a fire spreading through a wooden house that isn't treated for it. The cancer had everything to eat, a whole body, but it only seemed to spread to her lungs, her weakest organ, which she felt complaining slightly in her body, with each breath she took. Each time she stopped to take a gasp of air. She knew that something gave her extra air, and that food was pumped into her slowly. Her body had reached its breaking point. She felt so tired, so utterly tired that she closed her eyes gain, to drift away into sleep again, hoping that her body would allow her to fall asleep.
 

She was awoken when a doctor came in again, but this time it was night. Nobody else was in the room, only the doctor in the white coat, who held a clipboard, the one that fitted into the bed that was ever so uncomfortable.

                "Hi Brielle," Dr. Dre said, her usual oncology doctor, a serious frown on his face. "How are you feeling now?" She wanted to say that she felt better, and she did slightly, but she still felt awful because of the fever, her head was spinning, her lungs fighting for air.

                "Awful," she said, her voice sounding raspy. "Like I am a flame, burning up." The doctor smile slightly, sat down on the end of her bed and looked at his watch.

                "Your blood results are awful," he said, "you have a very low amount of white blood cells, and your platelet count is going back up, but was very low when you arrived in the hospital." He took a deep breath. "Your parents and sister still don't know what is wrong with you, and we haven't told them, because I think that you wanted to tell them yourself. From what I heard them saying, they think that you have anorexia." A slight smile covered his face.

If only. She wanted to punish herself for thinking that, but it was true. If she had anorexia, she would have better chances on surviving. Leukemia which has spread to the lungs had worse numbers. Especially the lung part was awful. Those would probably never fully go away, that they had already told her.

                The doctor gave her the glass, so she could drink a little before she spoke again. "How late is it?"

                "Six in the morning," he said, "So I would suggest getting a little bit more sleep before they come with the food." Her stomach turned with the thought of food. She still had no appetite, she hadn't had it before treatment, during, or after, and even though she tried to eat something small, that would fill her up a little, she still couldn't gain weight; nothing. "We've put you on an infuse that helps you with gaining a little weight, since you are in need of it. You have dropped again, if you hadn’t noticed, 105lbs.” Brielle nodded painfully.

                “I know,” she croaked, taking a deep breath, but almost coughing her lungs up in the process. “I had gained it back for a while.” Her eyes fluttered and she had to fight hard to keep them open. She managed to as the doctor gave her an examination and then left her alone in her room, with the soft buzzing of the lights and the exploding pain in her lungs.

 

Brielle drifted back to sleep as soon as the door had closed after him and she was alone again. The dream wasn't pleasant, but wasn't too bad either, even though it woke her up a few times too many. By the time that the door opened at ten o'clock and her mother came in, she was more or less awake, still sleepy, but already feeling a little bit better. There was no headache anymore, a little less fever, or she had grown used to it. She felt better, sort of. Her lungs were still awful, speaking and breathing hurt.

                "Hi," her mother said, a worried frown on her eyes. "How are you feeling?"

                "Better," she lied, "still not good, but a little better." Her mother sat at the foot of her bed, and put her hand on her leg. Brielle got teary eyed, when she noticed what her mother was doing.

"Brielle," she started, coughing slightly, "I and Patrick are worried about you, do you know that? I want you to know that you can tell us anything you need to tell, no matter how bad it is. If you don't feel comfortable in your skin and if you think that you have to be skinnier to fit in at the ballet school. If you don't like yourself, you can tell us, you can tell us anything and we will not judge you. We raised you; we love you, no matter what happens and what you do to yourself. We love you, okay? You can tell us anything you want." Her mother went silent, waiting for Brielle to start speaking, but Brielle was too caught up in her thoughts that she had to take a moment to get her thoughts together.

"Mom," she eventually said, "the doctor was here earlier today." She took a deep gasp of air, "and he told me what you think that I have. I know that you think. I do not have anorexia." She heard her mother breathe a sigh of relief. "But I do not have anything that is any better than it, what I have is quite serious."

"Why didn't you tell us before? We could have helped you."

"Mom," Brielle said. "I wanted to, but I couldn't. I couldn't tell you what I have without worrying you too much. I had to come to terms with it myself first, before I could share it with anybody. Even though I've already had a part of my treatment. If it makes you feel any better, you are the first to really know, I didn't tell anyone at ballet. Only the one in my group who have the same know." Her mother looked even more worried than she did before. "Mom, what I'm trying to say is, well, mom. I have cancer." She started coughing like a maniac, her lungs gaspy.

The silence that hung in the room weighed on Brielle and her mother. Catherine didn't know what to say, and knew that her daughter didn't know either. Cancer. Of all things that she could have, she had cancer.

"I have an infection right now," Brielle said, toying with the IV line, "that's why you saw me like that, because the infection is roaring free in my body. Chemo got my blood counts quite down." She smiled, as if that was the way of saying sorry for her. "I'm really sorry that I couldn't tell you earlier, but I was in the hospital for quite a while, and, I don't know. It was difficult." She nodded, allowing her daughter that freedom.

"Okay," she said, still quite unsure how to behave around her daughter now that she had become so much more fragile. "Do you want to tell everybody yourself? I could help with that you know. I'm still your mother."

"I'll do it myself mom," she said, smiling slightly. "I want to be the one explaining people why I cannot do a lot of things anymore, why I am like this. Especially Emma and Alex."

"They won't take it good girl," she said. "Emma adores you. And you know what happened when grandpa died." Brielle only nodded.

"I know mom. I know. I wish I didn't, but I know."

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