Fiction Coming of Age Drama

[Trigger warning: illness]

‘This is dope. I’m going to meet Jim Jackson next week’ I tweet and watch the replies: “pass on my hopes for his recovery.” “UR soooo lucky.” “jim is an inspiration.”

Jim hasn’t replied to me at all, despite me being his greatest fan. I’ve been with him since the beginning. I know, he’s grown his follower base, maybe sometimes he’s too sick to type replies, but he could at least have sent an emoji once in a while.

My Mom, on the other hand, is too much information. She worries the trip to New York might affect my emotional balance. But I also have followers, and doing this for them is more important than any issues I’m having.

The cancer charity says I’ll get at least 15 minutes, depending on his condition that day.


New York is different from Orlando. My hotel room on the 38th floor should have a great view, but the clouds and drizzle have turned things into a gray misty afternoon. 

Once I’m connected to the WIFI I see Jim has posted a new video:

I’m feeling dizzy after starting the new treatment protocol, but I’m sending love to all my followers. Without you, I wouldn’t have made it this far. Hit up the comment section and let me know what you are struggling with today. Jim.

Breaking my usual habit, I skip leaving a comment despite being his biggest fan. What’s it like being a fan? It’s like having a friend. When everyone else in your life lets you down, you can always count on them and their fandom to be there for you.  

I watch the comment section now streaming with replies. Disappointing that my visit tomorrow isn’t mentioned. I replay Jim’s video, and notice taped to his hospital wall is a portrait of decaying fruit. Google Lens shows it's a famous oil painting by Abraham Mignon. I get it. We are all decaying fruit. Clever. As the number one leukemia YouTuber, Jim must have people coming up with ideas for him.

The next morning, the noise of the hotel gets me out of bed early. Jim has already posted.

Hi Everyone. It’s 5am in the morning. They woke me to take my blood test. It's day 4 of my 5+2. The bag you see there drips Gilteritinib into me 24 hours a day. Targeted therapy they call it, but my hair is falling out just like it did on the first round of chemo. Jim

Cancer sucks. After having a bite to eat, I walk the five blocks to Sloan-Kettering to get the lay of the land before my 10am visit. I sign in on the 8th floor and the nurse at reception enters my name into a visitor log. Sitting in the waiting room, I recognize Jim’s parents from the videos. I scroll my mobile while keeping an eye on the activities of the nurses and doctors.

“Dan?” A nurse is standing in front of me. “Jim has time for you now.”

“Thank you,” I say, studying her name tag. “Shannon.”

We walk to Jim’s room, she opens the door. “Hope you two have a nice chat.” 

Jim watches her close the door and winks at me. “She’s been all over me since I put her on my channel.”

I chuckle at his ironic humor. He hasn’t even introduced himself yet guess I’ll start.“As you know, I’m Dan. It’s great to finally meet you.”

“Same here.” He grins slyly. “You’re not going to pull any tubes out on me or anything, are you buddy?”

“No, of course not.”

“Because, I read some of your comments. Bro, I’m sorry I can’t respond to everyone.”

“No problem. It’s fine.” I imagine the dog in the house on fire gif.

“That’s good to hear. In life, we’re all on the same journey.”

“Yes, we are.” I study the picture of decaying fruit on the wall. “Need to make the best use of our time here on the planet.”

“It’s great to meet up with someone real my age. Who doesn’t say things like how courageous I am with tears in their eyes. Or fake laugh at my jokes. I’m just doing the same thing anyone else would in my condition.”

“I hear you. Fake laugh?” I am laughing. “No risk of that with me.” Even my parents have said I should try to lighten up sometimes.

We look both look around the room, not knowing where to take the conversation. I remember the gift. I take the package out of my backpack. “I brought you something. A piece of Florida sunshine”

He opens it. There’s a little ceramic sculpture of two dolphins jumping out of the water.

“Let’s get a selfie.” I move over next to Jim, hold the camera as far away as I can with one arm, and snap a few pics.

The ceramic dolphins join the other gifts on the window ledge. We talk through the usual “how’s the treatment going” medical info, and after ten minutes he's running out of energy, and I say my goodbyes. 

Going back to the waiting room, I sit alone on the opposite side from his parents, and process everything.

As I’m waiting, I see Jim’s nurse Shannon click out and walk into the elevator. It's heading to a lower floor.

It’s time to get started with what I came here for.

I grab my things, and take the next elevator down. On the first floor, I walk to the cafeteria and sure enough, Shannon is already sitting down eating. Nurses don’t have time to waste. 

From the refrigerated display case, I pick up a shrink-wrapped Turkey sandwich and pay for it at the register. 

Two seats over from Shannon, I unwrap it.  

“Hi, I recognize you from upstairs.” 

“Hi?” she says, with a blank look of a customer service person who is frequently asked questions.

“The eighth floor. I was visiting Jim.”

“Oh, our famous patient.”

“The treatments for leukemia have been changing so quickly…” I say. “You must have to do a lot of hard work to keep up with everything.”

“Yes, they have. The new protocols for chemo, radiation, marrow transplants…”

“CAR T cell therapy?”

“For special cases.”

“Like Jim’s?”

Shannon narrows her eyes. “How do you know so much about leukemia?”

“I’m studying pre-med at Ohio State.” I segue into my pitch. “I’m doing a research project on the history of AML treatments.”

The adrenalin rush of lying is exhilarating. My ex-girlfriend disagreed with my decision to drop out of medical school. But even though it’s been over a year, I still remember much of the medical jargon.

“Ah, so you’re a future medical professional. Jim tried CAR T at his previous hospital, but it wasn’t effective”

I ask general questions about the other treatments for Acute Myeloid Leukemia, but I’ve already received the information I was looking for. Shannon soon needs to rush off, and we say goodbye as if talking about leukemia treatments was a normal conversation, which in a hospital cafeteria, it very well could be.

The next day, I make up an excuse there’s something I forgot to give Jim, and go back up to oncology. Same as yesterday, Jim’s parents sit in the waiting room. 

I settle into a chair two seats over. “Hi, I’m Dan.”

His parents smile politely. People seeking camaraderie often talk to strangers in waiting rooms like this.

“A friend of Jim’s,” I add, “Hey, can I buy you two a coffee?”

“No thanks,” his dad says, not showing interest in talking. They’ve been through a lot.

I nod and sit in silence for a while, “It’s a shame to see Jim suffering like this, when he hasn’t tried CAR T.”

The dad turns toward me, now focused on what I’m saying.

“I didn’t want to get involved, but it’s hard to watch a man drowning and do nothing about it,” I mumble apologetically.

Over the last two months, I’ve been digging into Jim’s medical history, searching for anything to help him. His previous hospital sent his medical records to a prestigious sounding fake email address of mine. The records show he never tried CAR T cell therapy. The reason why, however, is not shown.

“What’s that thing you mentioned?” the dad asks.

I tell him again. He pulls out a notebook and writes it down and starts discussing it with his wife, whether she knows anything about it.

“I brought these for Jim.” I place the gift wrapped box of cookies on the chair next to Jim’s dad. He gives a tiny shrug as I stand up. Mission accomplished. I leave the hospital and go back to the hotel to catch up on sleep.

 A week later, I’m back in Orlando.

14 March 2023

Hi Everyone. I want to ask all of my followers to block long time group member Dan. I graciously accepted the make-a-wish meeting in New York, but Dan talked to my family without my consent and interfered with my treatment.

We don’t get to decide our cancer. But we do get to decide our own treatment. 


16 March 2023

Hi everyone, the online community has been questioning how I have been in treatment this long without being given one of the main new therapies. I’d like to remind everyone patient privacy laws exist for a reason. 


7 April 2023

Today I’m receiving CAR T cell therapy. Even though I’ve researched this and know it won’t work in cases like mine, I have agreed with my doctors that this is the best course of action.

21 April 2003

After weeks of treatment, this is the first day in months I’ve been able to walk the hospital garden. 


10 May 2023

Good news everyone, attached is a video update from girlfriend Kate, who I love dearly. 


His girlfriend appears on the screen with tears in her eyes. “Hello to all of Jim’s followers. The doctors say with today’s lab results, Jim is officially out of the woods and on the road to recovery!” 

Great news. I haven’t heard a word of gratitude from Jim, but I should thank him, following him has made my own journey easier.

My energy is running low. I close the laptop, having finished my last post of the day. I’m about to doze off, when the nurse enters my room and says it’s time to take the next blood sample.

March 23, 2023 09:21

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Amanda Lieser
14:45 Apr 15, 2023

Hey Scott, What an interesting twist on this story. I loved the way you got into these characters’ minds and motives. I thought the use of social media as a tool to propel the story was really cool. I also enjoyed the way you wrote Jim’s parts. This was an interesting one and left plenty to muse on. Nice work!!


15:18 Apr 15, 2023

Thanks so much for reading! Some heavy topics in that one, I think I cried a few times watching youtube videos on the topic. Just woundering can you see my new story, The Brand Ambassador at the End of the Universe ? Would so much like to hear any comments or suggestion you have for it. sometimes people can't see it until its been accepted into the contest.


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Martin Ross
17:46 Apr 05, 2023

Beautiful story, and extremely timely. I’ve long said the only reason to do something compassionate and/or ethically right is because it is the right thing. To expect gratitude, friendship, or acknowledgment for it is a mistake that often leads to depression or anger. Dan’s act may raise questions about privacy and propriety, but the protagonist’s concern for and effort to help a faceless icon on such a personal level is touching and, given his own battle, painfully, hopefully poignant. Lots of soul here without the schmaltz some might be te...


07:32 Apr 06, 2023

Thanks so much for reading, yes exploring the theme of gratitude and the complexity of doing things for others was the subplot/theme I had in mind when trying to attempt to write a story in this YA genre.


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Glenda Toews
01:12 Mar 28, 2023

It left me wondering if Jim liked the fame that came with his illness. I appreciate a writer who can leave something that nags at me after I've finished reading. Well done in that respect Scott!


01:44 Mar 28, 2023

Thanks for reading and commenting, Glenda! Really appreciate it after putting a lot of energy into this story.


Glenda Toews
01:49 Mar 28, 2023

You are welcome! Those who don't read stories have no clue as to the effort it actually is. To pull from your mind and get it out successfully is amazing :D I quite like to read the stories from the prompt I used to see how different minds moved in it. It's truly amazing how very different they can be.


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Laurel Hanson
12:17 Mar 27, 2023

An incredible amount of tension in this story. We're following an MC around without knowing what his motives are, moving from kind of geeky fanboy to devious manipulation (but why?) to victim of fan culture who in the end was trying to help. Unless I missed something. Not remotely fluent on influencer/fan culture personally, but your story was easy to follow and engage with. The great curse of the Greeks associated with Cassandra, who can tell the future but no one believes her, resonates here. The person trying to help and not be believed o...


01:43 Mar 28, 2023

Thanks for reading. I've been exploring that concept in fiction, people trying to help, being misunderstood or underappreciated. I think the MC might feel he's being altruistic, but underneath it, he is driven by more of an impulse to feel important and share about it on his own social media. Thanks again for the kind comment.


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Zack Powell
17:01 Mar 26, 2023

Leukemia Youtubers, huh? Now there's a concept I wish I'd thought of. Lots of interesting directions to take that premise - sad, funny, suspenseful (even horror, because I had a brief moment of wondering whether Dan was going to kill Jim "for his own good," so his fanbase didn't have to see him suffer anymore - yeah, my mind went to a dark place). Love the creativity of the plot here. The thing about this story is that it mainly hinges on the last two paragraphs (i.e. the twist ending). That's what contextualizes Dan's actions, beyond just...


01:44 Mar 27, 2023

Thanks for reading Zack. I really wish I knew more about healthcare issues like the HIPAA you mentioned and how nurses might discuss patient details to have made some parts more realistic. I did want to explore the moral ambiguities of an outsider trying to help someone (he wanted to help cure his online idol) while at the same time, crossing a lot of ethical boundaries to do that. There's also the issue of whether he is also doing this to gain fame among his own followers. Doing anything like this is definitely not something I would recomm...


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00:25 Mar 26, 2023

Scott - What a sobering story - I have had cancer, and reading this truly put me back in the hospital, experiencing all that cancer has to offer. The ending was superb. I never expected Dan to be sick as well. Great job.


01:40 Mar 28, 2023

Thanks for reading. Happy to hear you've recovered, that must have been a very tough experience.


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Delbert Griffith
12:48 Mar 24, 2023

Damn! What a twist at the end! I never saw it coming - not even close. THAT made the story stupendous; it's almost a story within a story. The ramifications of Dan's actions can be seen as sinister or benign, even after the big reveal. This was an amazing piece, Scott. The depth of the story is almost unfathomable. Nicely done, my friend. Nicely done indeed.


14:24 Mar 24, 2023

Thanks Delbert, it's a heavy topic that's been on my mind as someone close to me has been diagnosed with something similar recently, and I wanted to learn about what other people have been through, and look at this through the prism of the amazing openness I've seen from young people on social media.


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Marty B
01:06 Mar 24, 2023

Good work showing the impact of the nurses, and how cancer recovery is often luck, and trial and error.


14:27 Mar 24, 2023

Thanks Marty, yes, from what I've heard from my cousin in the field, I know nurses do much of the day to day work of treatment and its a tough job indeed.


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Michał Przywara
20:39 Mar 23, 2023

I am astounded at the creativity here. The whole premise of the fandom, of being a… I don't even know what, a leukemia influencer? That's wild. Gods, I hope that's not where GoFundMe medicine is going. Though, at the same time, I can see the appeal of following, and it might even dispel some fear around getting treatment. Then we get a shifty MC, who has no problem lying and meddling with medical procedures. Frankly, it all came across as sinister, well within crazed fan territory, and my mind went to Annie Wilkes. But then, it turns out...


14:34 Mar 24, 2023

Thanks for reading Michal, I was listening to the enimen song about fandom and had the idea to look at fandom in a much more serious area. After doing some searching, there are indeed influencers in medical issues such as this. The ethical boundaries between privacy/ freedom/ control/ advice / responsibility is definitely an interesting area to explore in fiction.


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Richard E. Gower
20:10 Mar 23, 2023

You dragged my heart around the block with this one. A bittersweet story, beautifully told. 👍 Sadly, we don't always get thanked for our good deeds, but it's worse to be ostracized for them. Excellent! -:) RG


14:40 Mar 24, 2023

Thx for reading Richard. yeah, advice giving and crossing boundaries is an area I've put a lot of thought into lately, nice to hear the irony of the bittersweet ending came through in this story for you.


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Lily Finch
17:20 Mar 23, 2023

Scott, I found this story very profound on numerous levels. Leukemia is never easy. Living with cancer for anyone is a nightmare, as I've witnessed many times. Your rendition here was masterfully done. Sobering yet effective. Thanks for the good read. It is an interesting take on the prompt of Fandom too. LF6.


14:45 Mar 24, 2023

Hi Lily, thanks for reading and commenting. Sorry to hear you've experienced this in people around you, I know its very hard.. A heavy topic, but I wanted to shift gear this week and confront something I didn't really know much about. Heartbreaking when I listened to stories from teenagers dealing with these types of issues.


Lily Finch
14:46 Mar 24, 2023

Yes. It is heartbreaking and an eye-opener at the same time. People should be grateful for each day of health. Especially the health of their children. LF6.


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09:38 Mar 23, 2023

This story began as a satire of the sicklit genre, but after doing background research, shifted direction into a more serious story. I understand the details of cancer are far more complicated than I could learn about properly and include in this short story. For those that want to know more what a patient goes through, I found young leukemia survivor Michele's story particularly powerful to listen to on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5j3F2sCDTOY


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Philip Ebuluofor
11:42 Mar 30, 2023

Hope bad news did not follow the last test. They had this way of being joy killers. Fine work.


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