By Charlotte Ainsworth, Year 11
Stage 1: Ripples
“Her cancer is currently quite small, and we need to run some tests to make sure it hasn’t spread.”
The enchanting movement of the waves hypnotises, perpetually catching in the motion of the barrelling water; the ripples and light dancing upon the turbulent surface.
Sliding back and catching onto a wave, she rises. Blonde hair glinting in the sunlight as she moves down the wave face, she drops into the barrel opening before her. She controls her balance and finds herself immersed in the green room: water pulsing above her, beside her, below her. Viridescent light clouding her vision, she tumbles forward as the air is knocked out of her lungs, the board ripped from beneath her feet.
* * *
Blinking, Frankie emerges from the waves and returns to the uncomfortable plastic chair on which she had been sitting for the past few minutes. The dull drone of the doctor’s voice had ceased, the remnants of words spoken rippling through the white, bleak room. A single window lay on the eastern wall, sprawled suburbia within view.
Swallowing hard and trying to talk, yet finding her mouth too parched to put together a coherent syllable, she closes her mouth and leaves the words for the frantic woman in the seat beside her.
Stage 2: Shoaling
“Your cancer hasn’t spread into surrounding tissues, but we have noticed that cancer cells have appeared in lymph nodes. Unfortunately, the tumour has also grown.”
The world outside the window, like her skin, had paled over the past few months. She couldn’t recall how many times she had sat in this chair, the awkwardness of the hard plastic becoming as familiar as her own bed. The only difference this time was the person beside her. In lieu of her mother (now too upset with Frankie’s condition to visit the hospital for regular updates), her stoic father was to be the supporting rock on which her mother told her to base her comfortability.
There’s nothing comfortable about finding out that the tumour harboured in your body for the past few months had grown.
Blinking, she breathes in before speaking gently.
“Do you know what shoaling is?”
Looking utterly nonplussed, the doctor replies: “I’m afraid I don’t.”
“It’s what happens when a wave enters shallow water and changes height,” she stated matter-of-factly, “is that what’s happening in my body?”
Breaking eye contact with the doctor, she feels a pressure on her arm. Her father leans forward adjusting his tie, and speaks.
“Frankie loves surfing; we’ve never been able to keep her out of the water.”
The doctor simply continues with his speech, detailing the various options available to treat her illness, her father nodding gravely all the while.
“When would we start the chemotherapy?”
Frankie, leaning forward, makes a noise of indignation. “But that means I can’t…”
Her father abruptly interjects: “Frankie there is no other option. You can surf again once we beat this.”
Sighing inaudibly, Frankie slowly moves her head to the window. Momentarily she thought she could see a spot of blue on the horizon. The illusion calmed her as she thought of her illness, something she had been trying to tell her parents wasn’t going to get any better, something she felt was impossible to come back from.
Frankie’s thoughts leave the bleak whiteness of the hospital, only seeing green, blue, and gold; a vision of light dancing upon a swaying sea.
Stage 3: Spilling
“Her cancer has grown. It’s spread into surrounding tissues and there are cancer cells still present in the lymph nodes.”
Frankie ignores the fierce wind blowing against her face as she pulls a grey hood further over her bare scalp. Exhaling, she sits deeper into the dune underneath her, palms spreading and contracting, feeling the coarse grains move between her fingers.
As the churning ocean pounds, she notices a collection of black figures duck dive under a wave. The water then spills over itself, changing from blue, to green, to white as it folds over, pounding upon the yellow sand.
A noise alerts Frankie to the approach of her mother, a solitary figure amongst the spinifex.
“Frankie, I’m so sorry,” her mother lightly speaks, “I wouldn’t make you do this if I didn’t think it was for your own good.”
Frankie, momentarily pausing to examine her mother’s sharp profile and billowing hair, sighs.
“I’ve told you that I want to stop this. I’m tired all the time, my hair is gone, and you’ve confiscated my boards and flippers.”
“It’s for your own health! You will get better, and everyone agrees this is the best option.”.
“I’m not going to get better,” Frankie quietly murmured, “I’ve told you, but you don’t listen. Nobody listens.”
Stage 4: White
“I am very sorry to tell you this, but the cancer is terminal.”
Sitting in the familiar plastic chair, very little surprise washes over Frankie; this was something that she had been expecting for quite some time. However, for the individuals sitting beside her, it is apparent that this is not news that was expected.
A sharp sob breaks the silence, her mother’s eyes and mouth widening as she begins to cry, tears pooling and spilling. Watching as her father’s arms move in automated response to embrace the woman beside him, Frankie rises slowly to her feet.
Moving out of the white, wooden door before anyone has a chance to say anything, Frankie’s frantic parents scramble out after her, speaking her name in panicked tones.
Coming to a halt in the reception of the ward, she turns to her parents, the world around them falling still. The beeping of heart monitors dim, the chatter amongst waiting patients become static.
Three words fall out of her cracked lips: “Take me home.”
Her parents, for the first time, were looking at her with clear eyes. Her parents, for the first time, were listening.
Upon returning to the ocean, she embraces the water. Diving under a wave, she turns her body and opens her eyes to watch the wall of white foam move over her. Breaking the surface, she breathes more deeply than she has in months. Her heart beats in time with the ebb and flow of the tide.