Like the first time, for the whole family and close friends, the news felt raw. Unwholesome. A recurring nightmare. Ghostly pale complexions stared them in the face as they saw their reflections in mirroring objects. It had happened again. And this time it had gotten a whole lot worse. Not just the cancer, but the full circumstances. Augustus Waters had died of this criminal of a disease. It had taken his body when it had no right to. Aunt Hazel described it as though a cancerous seed had been sown inside her body, like it was always going to happen; as though she'd never be given a chance in the first instance. This time round it felt more personal and more intimate, it felt real.
The clock ticked, its sound echoing around the house as silence oozed from the mouths of Granny, Pappy, Aunt Hazel, Uncle Isaac, Mom and Dad, apart from the odd muffle of sniffing and rustling of coats. Seconds went by and minutes were lost, the lack of conversation created an eery atmosphere. The five of them were mournful. So much had changed. Isaac and then there was Mom and Dad and me. Me. Aunt Haze couldn't bare it, this was her ultimate downfall. Life as she knew it was over, like a snake shedding its skin, almost as though she'd given up and was counting down the days until the end. Exactly 4 hours and 43 minutes had passed since the news had been broken. The morning had begun with cheer and laughter, it was just a precautionary check, the doctor had proposed. Absolutely nothing to worry about. Nothing at all.
"Miss Lancaster" the voice began as she answered the phone "this is Doctor Froiden speaking, of Indiana Central Hospital. I know we weren't due to meet for another month, though I'd like to meet with you as soon as possible. Would there be an opportunity available today?"
Aunt Hazel swallowed hard "I guess .." she began nervously.
The flickering of pages became audible "Is it viable for you to meet at 2:30 this afternoon?"
"Sure" she responded weakly. Her smile had dissolved and fizzled out to a wave of panic.
"I'll ensure you're booked in. My PA'll be waiting for you at reception, no need to dilly dally around waiting and what not."
"T-thank you Dr Froiden" she sputtered, almost choking on her words as she sensed the sound of urgency within his tone. The Doctor's goodbye was almost unheard, within the space of a minute, Hazel Grace's life had turned upside down for the first time in one day.
Aunt Hazel returned the phone to its resting position distantly. Her shoulders sagged and her breath almost became non-existant.
"Hazel?" Granny questioned, she observed her daughter's body language.
Silence. Hazel Grace began to sob silently, her body shaking up and down as she did.
"Hazel" a surge of panic was audible within her voice.
Hazel Grace turned around and fell with all kinds of anxiety in to her another's arms. That was the kind of support she’d needed all day as she uncontrollably sobbed.
The journey to the hospital had been a gruelling one. Pappy had been driving and Granny sat beside her, forcefully clasping her hand in her daughter’s; for a few moments she couldn’t help but keep her gaze held on Hazel’s, watching as she glanced out of the window. Hazel Grace loved people watching, she always had, even in the bad times. Though, Granny had been pretty sure that if Hazel Grace could close the world out just for today then she really would. It’d have been simplistic enough to close her eyes and block out the sounds by covering her ears, but she couldn’t. Hazel Grace knew she wasn’t the only one suffering. She did what people do best. Judged the passers by based on their current look.
The woman waiting by the curb of the road to cross and see a whole different side of Indiana. Dressed business like, very smartened up. Judging by the bags she had strewn across both of her forearms, Aunt Hazel had taken a wild guess and predicted that the lady had been shopping. Perhaps for Christmas, perhaps for birthdays. Maybe evening treating herself. The woman looked wealthy, her hair had subtle blonde tones mixed with large strands of fair brown. Everything about her fringe was perfect - almost as though she’d spent hundreds of dollars on hiring a stylist just for that one morning. It curled just right and it wasn’t too long, nor too short. A snug blanket wrap snaked its way around her shoulders, though with her right arm she held it across her torso for extra protection. Hazel Grace could identify the subtle vision of a white blouse which had been teamed with a pair of smart, plain black trousers and a pair of heels. Probably late twenties or early thirties. From the adoption of the sun glasses, it seemed as though the girl had probably been a little irresponsible the night before, getting rather tipsy on champagne and wine; most likely the attempt at impressing her youngish boss who she thought she’d have a chance with. Hazel longed for a life like this girls, an every day life where she could misjudge how much she’d been drinking and wake up with a slight hangover the next morning. Although she hadn’t suffered with the cancer for a while, the whole charade had made her think twice about more personal pleasures. Hazel Grace didn’t drink, she’d seen homeless men and women and drug addicts who’d managed to become so addicted to illegal substances and liquids that were strong enough to make them lose their whole lives that she hadn’t wanted to take the risk. Hazel felt fortunate. Cancer mightn't have been controllable, it might have been life destroying, but it hadn’t ever caused her to lose her house, her family or her entire life. It was true that she hadn’t been well enough to attend school or to work, but throughout her period of remission, she’d been able to pick up where she’d left off - completing school and aiming towards finishing a degree.
It was 2:23 when the Lancaster’s arrived at the hospital. The whole ride had been contentious, fearful of her daughter’s emotions and feelings, Hazel Grace’s Mother kept quiet and her Father anxiously drove. True to his word and putting his patient first, Doctor Froiden met the trio at the main reception entrance of Indiana Central Hospital, delicately shaking hands with Pappy and Granny and a gentle greeting towards Aunt Hazel. Before delving in to the latest developments of Hazel Grace’s health, Doctor Froiden settled the family into his office, seating them in the most comfortable of chairs and providing them with a collection of both hot and cold refreshments. Over the years, the Doctor had become more like a friend to Hazel Grace. Nothing personal, but he understood her and he was sensitive to her emotions.
“Look Hazel, I’m just going to get straight to the point. I’m sorry to say, the most recent tests we carried out have resulted in a positive outcome” he paused for a moment. The look on Hazel’s face said it all, from the moment he’d phoned her, she’d known; she’d predicted the latest development. There’d been no point in dumbing it down that morning and undermining her judgements. Doctor Froiden wasn’t there to make her feel comfortable about the cancer, he was there to treat her. To give her relief - relief of the pain and relief of the cancerous molecules sat making themselves at home in HER body.”
Aunt Hazel bowed her head gracefully “What stage?” she questioned solemnly.
“Now, not to panic, we have hope. We can find you a counsellor who’ll be on hand, he or she’ll meet you regularly-”
Hazel Grace looked Doctor Froiden in the eye “I didn’t ask for the whole damn logistics!” she snapped.
“Hazel!” Granny called in surprise.
Doctor Froiden held a hand up towards Grammy “It’s perfectly ok Mrs Lancaster, I can totally understand Hazel’s frustration.” he returned to his desk and picked up some paper work “Unfortunately we’re at stage 3” he responded to his patient’s query. He saw the look of dismay in the young woman’s eyes. “Think back Hazel. This is positive news. You were diagnosed straight at stage 4 last time and look, ok you suffered tremendously, but you were given the all clear. This doesn’t mean anything. It just means that we have to be delicate with the decisions we make, just like last time. There’ll be risks along the way, but I’d say we have at least a 73% chance of successfully treating it again.” he informed the three of them, though his advice was mainly directed at Aunt Hazel.
Tears escaped from Hazel Grace’s eyes and cascaded down the grooves of her face, merging in to the material of her shirt. Gus’s shirt. The one he’d been wearing when he’d died.
“No” she whimpered “I can’t, no more risks. There’s more to lose this time. Last time was bad enough, but I’ll lose the legacy of my first love and Isaac and Gracie, poor sweet sweet little Gracie.”
Granny wrapped her arms around Aunt Hazel and pulled her close “Hazel, we’ll never ever lose the legacy of Augustus Waters. Never.” it was true. The whole family considered the Waters to be apart of the Lancaster family. Augustus was still very much a part of both families (and still is). He’s my Uncle. The Uncle I never got to meet in person. But I got to see the personal traits second hand, the ones he’d inherited through his Father and the visual looks he’d taken from his Mother. The pictures said it all. The way he adored Hazel Grace. The delicacy in which he wrapped his arms around her waist lovingly, treating her as though she was his, only his. The only two people in the world. The images of the two of them were emotional, enough to make the Giant of Jack and the Beanstalk breakdown in to a ball of emotional mess. His smile was strong enough to break hearts and the grin she possessed was enough to break your heart, realising how much she missed him. How much it’d broken her to learn of his sudden death.
Granny took hold of Aunt Hazel’s hands and inched her head closer towards the vulnerable young woman. “Hazel Grace, this is about you. Nobody else. Don’t think of us. Nor Augustus. He had his chance, he chose” she paused, a tear escaped and forced its way down the shallow paths of her thinning face “Hazel, we’ll support you in whatever you choose. This is your time.”
Hazel Grace hadn’t wanted to hear this, it only made her feel as though her mother was being somewhat unsupportive, like she couldn’t take the strain any longer. Had she and her illness become that much of a burden? Hazel Grace didn’t want to become a burden. Maybe that’s how Augustus had felt. All her memories had swooped into one big blur of a cloud. What were the circumstances in which Augustus had died? Had he felt compelled to leave the world? Had it been something she’d done? The soft breeze of the fan heater made strands of her hair dance around in the air. Glamorous was definitely something she hadn’t felt at this particular point, if ever. Apart from that one time. Augustus and that time in Amsterdam; that day she’d felt like she’d been flying. Things couldn’t’ve gotten any better. For the first time in her life since her early teen years she’d been confidently happy; despite the cancer.
Some weeks after Augustus death, a member of the support group Hazel Grace, Augustus and Isaac had been attending had introduced them to an online teen cancer support group. A place where they could either outrightly vocalise their feelings or anonymously do so. It hadn’t occurred to Hazel Grace to join an online community before. Full of teens, real teens with the same stemmed illness as her. That very same night, Aunt Hazel returned home and scrambled for the website, typing in each letter with precision and each symbol correctly.
Delicately thinking for the appropriate username, she gently typed in GreenEyedHaze. Hazel Grace didn’t want to give the game away with such ease, but she felt that a name in relation to her was just enough.
Before delving into a heavy hearted and lengthy post about her situation, she read some the threads fellow members had posted. Each and individual story sharing an emotional journey throughout. Not looking for sympathy, but looking for a friend. Advice. Someone they could relate to.
Hazel Grace opened a new thread and went by the title of Now He’s Gone.
GreenEyedHaze: GreenEyedHaze here. Introduced to the forum by a support mentor. Thought I’d check it out. Come say hey :)
BradleyBroken: What’s up GEH. Welcome to the forums! Title seems interesting. Care to share?
GreenEyedHaze: Wow BradleyBroken. Fast responses huh. Oh, that. That’s my boyfriend, Gus. Or was. Unfortunately my Gus died a month ago. Didn’t tell me his body had relapsed back to being cancerous - if that makes sense? I have no friends to understand and the only friend I have is moving away next month ... oh apart from Isaac; a mutual friend of Gus’ and mine. He’s taking it pretty hard too! So I thought maybe I could use some more friends who understand what’s going on.
BradleyBroken: Sounds like you’ve had a rough time. Rewind: You’ve HAD a rough time. I get it, you’re in the right place, we all get you! That’s kinda harsh that Gus didn’t tell you he’d become ill again. Any reason for it, you think?
GreenEyedHaze: I guess it wasn’t out of selfishness. Gus was the most selfless person I’ve ever known. I think he did it to protect us, so we weren’t going through anything else, worse than we already were. It’s still pretty raw though, hurts.
Chessie: Hey GEH! I’m Chessie! Welcome to the forums! Sorry, don’t want to sound nosy, just here to help, why would Gus keep it from you?
GreenEyedHaze: Thanks Chessie! Uh, well. We met at a support group. A local one at a Church a few blocks away. I’ve suffered with cancer of the thyroid since I was 14 now and Isaac, he’s pretty much suffered with it since he was 8 years old. The guy is completely blind. Lost both eyes, though I guess the main thing is he’s cancer free now.
Chessie: Oh man! So sorry to hear that! So I’m guessing the support group has been a curse but a blessing too?
GreenEyedHaze: Ha, you could say that! I’m not here for sympathy, so don’t be sorry, please. Funny thing, I never wanted to join the support group. My Mom kinda forced me into it. I couldn’t ever regret it though, I met the love of my life. I mean, I’m only 17 now, but, I’m confident that Gus was my soulmate.
Chessie: I guess kids like you and Brad don’t take these kinda feelings lightly.
GreenEyedHaze: Brad has cancer too? What’s your story, Chessie?
BrokenBradley: Did. Thank the Lord. I lost a limb in the process, but I’m cancer free!
Chessie: That’s why he’s BrokenBradley! My younger sister has cancer. Aged 4. She’s currently an inpatient at the children’s hospital. Strange story. I was 15 when she was born, it was way uncool for my Mom to be giving birth to a kid 15 years younger. But now, I’d do anything to give my sister her health back.
GreenEyedHaze: Oh Chessie! Brad, that must be kind of hard to be reminded of the scars everyday. How did you find friendships when you were going through it? Were people there for you?
Aunt Hazel scurried her way to her room, leaving Granny and Pappy in silence. Too sick to eat and too hurt to move, they sat in darkness and the cold, almost waiting for someone to revive the power and their motivation and relieve them of this crushing situation.
Hazel Grace anxiously typed the address for the online community, she was fearful and felt like she’d let the friends she’d made down. Once the news had been broken that she was now in the remission period, she’d somewhat forgotten about her online journey, the friends she’d made and the fun as well as depressing conversations they’d shared.
As she scrolled through the threads and topics of the forums, it became apparent that this particular online group of supportive friends had become wilted. Whether friendships had formed outside of the forums, she wasn’t sure. It seemed like Chessie and Brad had formed an unbreakable bond and she’d often become jealous at their online flirtatious exchanges. Brad had been good looking, kind, gracious. Exactly like Gus, though with a different body, the opposite style and lived miles away. Where as Gus had been relatively sporty, Brad had always been smart casual and the general boys boy, where as Gus generally threw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt with converse sneakers.
Aunt Hazel hadn't been prepared to give up her search for her long lost friends just yet though, she had more conversations to exchange with them, the people who'd always support her.