One City One Story 2017 Writing Contest

2nd place

Middle School category

Rhea Calva-Despard

Grade 7, Blair Middle School


Summary:  A thirteen year old with ARMS disease recalls the difficulty and pleasures of traveling—both for fun and for treatments.


Sometimes I feel like my life is one of those inspiring movies, with the kid that gets sick or injured, and then at the end, some miracle happens, and they’re better. The only difference: in this movie, I don’t get better. I look at the white walls around me, covered in pictures and get-well letters. The cards on my desk look so cheery and colorful in contrast to my mood and physical feeling. I feel like crud, which is not surprising, considering my condition. I look at the needles and tubes in my body and wish I could just go home. Permanently. When I get the rare occasion to stay home for a few weeks or months at a time, my friends ask me a lot of things. Like, Do I enjoy traveling? My answer: No.

There’s more than a one-word answer, same as my condition. I have Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma, or ARMS if you prefer. Basically to summarize it, I have cancer in my muscles surrounding my bones, which is painful, and that’s putting it simply. Do I travel for fun? No. I travel for treatments, which, let me tell you, is no party. My survival chances: I have no idea. Everyone just tells me that this will make me better, or this will kill that stupid disease, but they don’t like to mention it might also kill me. For kids my age—ages 15 and younger, the survival chances are 53% to 67%. I’m thirteen, and I’ve been stuck with ARMS for a year and a half.

I wish that when I travel, my hair could grow back. Then the pictures mom took of me wouldn’t be pictures that I look back on and automatically think, “That sucked.” I remember when I got a treatment from a specialist in Italy, Mom and I detoured before we went home and visited the leaning tower of Pisa. That was honestly a bad move on both my mom’s part and mine. That treatment felt like knives digging into my joints. Every time I moved or took a step forward, Mom was there, holding my weight so I didn’t collapse. I don’t think she enjoyed the trip anymore than I did. If I hadn’t been sick, it would have been fun. If I hadn’t been sick, we probably wouldn’t have been anywhere near Italy.

Before I was diagnosed with ARMS, my parents were saving up for a trip to Bora Bora. It was my dad’s dream to take the family there, because that’s where he and Mom went for their honeymoon. The whole plan was scrapped when Dr. Todd announced my cancer. Now all the money is wasted on treatments that so far haven’t helped. I asked Mom if I could please use the Make A Wish program to get our vacation to Bora Bora as an apology for wasting their money. But of course, Mom and Dad told me, “Use the wish for yourself, honey,” and “You’re not wasting our money!” Somehow, they believe this will convince me that traveling to different states and countries doesn’t cost much.

Doctors always ask me if my flight was okay, and Mom always tells me to be polite; in other words, be dishonest. The one part of traveling I enjoy is when I get back home and crash on my bed. I also like when we fly over the ocean and go to tropical places. I enjoy having a hotel room on the beach. I enjoy every morning waking up, then walking out and dipping my toes in the water. When my family travels for fun, I seem to enjoy everything so much more.

“Maddie,” Mom’s voice interrupts my thoughts. “We can leave now. They finished the treatment.” I don’t remember getting any injection surgery, therapy, or a heavy dose of drugs. “But I didn’t get a treatment,” I say. “I know,” Mom says. “We’re leaving right now because we have to go home.” YES!!! No offense to Texas, but I was not looking forward to any treatments. Suddenly it strikes me. “Why?” I ask. “Because Dr. Todd believes your ARMS has transformed into arthritis!!!” Only Mom can say that with a smile “Arthritis?” I ask. “Yes, but with physical therapy, the doctors think that it can recede to only joint discomfort when your body needs rest.”

“How long will that take?” I ask cautiously. “About a year, max. At least, that’s what Todd thinks.” Okay, only a year. This is crazy. Wait. Wait. What? “Wait, did Todd mean I don’t have ARMS anymore? It’s just arthritis?” I realize this was not clarified. “Yes,” Mom replies. “According to most recent blood tests, ARMS is gone.” “Wait. Really!?” Tears stream down my face. I realize this is the day that I, Maddie Owens, am free from alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma.

The plane ride home goes smoothly until the airport loses my luggage, but I’m so happy, I don’t mind. My coffee colored hair is going to grow back, and I’m going to take really good care of it. I might even dye my tips a bright color! My whole family is at the airport when we arrive with a sign that says, “Congratulations!” Once we get home, there’s a voicemail from Dr. Todd saying he’s very proud of me, and that it’s unlikely I will ever get sick again. I don’t need Make A Wish anymore and I would like to stay at home for a million years. Traveling is overrated.

I wake up to realize I’m alone, and that it’s almost noon. My family arrives a few minutes later with takeout. Later, after I brush my teeth, I look in the mirror, I see a strong person, someone who has looked death directly in the eye and survived. Traveling has left me a little jetlagged but I don’t mind. I survived. And right now, that is enough for me.

To view the list of the contest winners:  OCOS 2017 The Traveler Contest Winners

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.