I pushed open the door to the spare bedroom and the hinges groaned in complaint. After flipping on the light, I dumped Cara’s duffle bag on the wooden floor next to the end of the bed. Then, I sat down on the mattress and the springs squeaked louder than the door. As I took a deep breath of stale air, I looked around at the empty space. This was technically Cara’s bedroom, but since she spent so much time at the hospital it hardly looked lived in at all.
Nothing about the room reminded me of my sister, unlike her one back in New York where the walls had been painted scarlet red and plastered with posters of a certain boy band, an armoire was covered in mounds of jewelry and bottles of perfume, candles were always burning, and lacy gold pillows covered the window seat.
The thought of Cara having to sleep in this gloom made me wish we were back in New York. It doesn’t matter, I told myself as memories of our old home and the better times that had gone along with it flickered through my mind. Cara can stay with me in my room tonight.
We had only just turned fourteen when my sister was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic. ALL for short, Acute Lymphoblastic is most common type of childhood leukemia.
At first the doctors had been optimistic about Cara’s recovery. Even though she had developed ALL way past when most children do, which in itself was a bad sign, the cancer had been caught early.
Cara started her treatment as a freshman in high school. By the start of senior year, after three long years of suffering through chemotherapy, Cara’s leukemia was in remission. Finally Drew, Cara, and I got to spend one perfect semester together enjoying life like normal teenagers should. However, during one of Cara’s routine check ups over Christmas break, it was discovered that her cancer was back again and stronger than before.
Her doctor recommended that Cara see a leukemia specialist named Dr. Mankey at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. For the rest of senior year and the summer that followed, my parents traveled between Minnesota and New York. But then the school year started again and it was time for Drew and I to go to college. My brother had been recruited to play football for LSU and I received a scholarship to the School of Visual Arts in New York. Once we were gone, my parents sold the house and permanently moved out to the Midwest to be with Cara.
Nothing about Cara’s disease had been easy growing up. Not only did I have to watch my best friend suffer daily, but also I had to let go of my childhood much faster than normal children. While most teens partied and went to high school dances, I spent time at the hospital holding my sister’s hair back as she puked. Other kids had parents who cheered them on at sporting events or school plays, but my parents didn't have the time because of Cara's sickness. Drew and I only had each other.
But while high school had been hard, nothing prepared me for the separation and loneliness I felt away at college. Becoming a photographer had been my dream since before I could remember. If I wasn’t spending time with Cara, I was with my camera trying to freeze every perfect moment of life on film.
As it turns out, Cara was the reason that I received my scholarship to go the School of Visual Arts. When it came to her disease, Cara was the most positive, hopeful person in the world. When the doctors told her that she had cancer, she smiled, nodded her head and told them that she would get better before her first prom.
One of the only times I had ever seen Cara truly angry at the horrible situation that fate had handed to her, was when she first lost her hair during chemotherapy. I remember walking into Cara’s hospital room to see her staring at herself in a handheld mirror. She was no longer crying, but one look at her red-rimmed eyes told me she had been bawling all night. When she saw my standing in the door, she smashed the mirror against the bedside table, and silver shards rained down onto the floor.
Cara’s grief was so upsetting that it inspired me to start a new project. My sister needed to understand that just because she was sick, didn’t mean she wasn’t beautiful. Her struggles with leukemia and determination to get better only made her a stronger person. And there is so much beauty in strength.
So I photographed everything that made Cara a tough person on the inside: the amount of pills that she had to take each day, the bruises she would get just from banging her shin, the needles and tubes that sprouted from her body every time she got sick. The pictures I took turned into the portfolio that got me into school. The board of admissions sent me a letter to congratulate me on eye opening experience I had created for them. My photographs were entered into a national photography contest and although I didn’t win, it was still one of the most fulfilling moments in my life.
|Lucy Hale||as Stella (and Cara) Walter|
|See 1st Author's Note!||as Oliver Perry|
|Steven R. McQueen||as Drew Walter|
|Dylan O'Brien||as JJ Moris|
|Alexander Ludwig||as Alec Williams|
|Cameron Mitchell||as Xander Jones|
|Holland Roden||as Felicity Jole|
|Maddie Hasson||as Lucy Walter|
|Nick Roux||as Emmy Rutler|
|Matt Lanter||as Bill Walter|