The Story Behind Better | Carey Heywood
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Cancer and Harry Potter

You wouldn’t think cancer would be the first thing someone thinks about when thinking of Harry Potter, but for me, it always will be.

I had not read the book when the first movie came out. It was just before Christmas 2001. At the time, I lived in Phoenix, but I was back home in Alexandria for a visit.

My father was ill, having had a stroke earlier that year. Being home was hard, and seeing him like that was surreal. I had an escape though—my friend, Cameron. Cameron was one of those guys that it took me too long to figure out just how wonderful he was.

We met in seventh grade French class. My mother met his mother the night before, and she made a point of telling me that Cameron and I should be friends.

When I saw him, I disagreed. While he was always handsome, he had a quirky fashion sense that I did not get. It was middle school, and I was trying so hard to fit in. He didn’t seem to mind standing out though, and he was always wearing this ridiculous trench coat. We became friends.

To this day, I’m not certain that I have ever known someone as truly sweet and generous as Cameron was. I say was because Cameron died. That’s where the cancer comes in. I’ll get back to that.

At the end of and after high school, I was in an extremely toxic and abusive relationship. During one of our breakups, I went out on a couple of dates with Cameron. Looking back, I wish I had been ready for him, but I wasn’t. My head was not in the right place to deal with accepting my attraction to the guy with the mohawk when I was still all messed-up over a guy who was nothing but a thug. Cameron was too different.

I moved away, and when I came back for a visit, we went on another date. He took me to the little Chinese place next to where the Blockbuster was. Over dinner, he told me he had cancer.

He learned this during his freshman year of college. He kept having stomach pains and went twice to the student clinic, only to be sent away with painkillers.

The next time, his mom told him to go to the emergency room. They found a tumor.

I remember being shocked over dinner but not scared. Nobody I knew had died of cancer. He would be fine.

We kept in touch while I was in Arizona, talking on the phone maybe once every couple of months. Just as I suspected, the cancer went away. He beat it. He even went back to school and worked up the nerve to ask some girl out. I was jealous.

He never got a chance to go on that date. The cancer came back, and he moved back home to Virginia.

The next time I saw him was December 2001. He looked different but not bad. We went to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. He had already seen it, but he took me anyway.

That was his way, always looking out for me. We swam together during high school. I remember my coach wanted me to join this other team. I was scared because I wouldn’t know anyone. Cameron decided to join too.

He looked at me, so serious. “We’ll carpool.”

And then, through that awful relationship, I remember him putting his hands on either side of my face, trying to convince me I deserved better, wanting to beat up my ex for hurting me.

That December in 2001, I was home one week, and I saw Cameron three times.

I was busy when I first got back to Arizona. I didn’t call him right away. When I did, it was just after New Year’s. He was in the hospital. I spoke to his younger brother. He told me Cameron overdid it when I was in town. I didn’t know.

Cameron called me when he got out of the hospital. It was the first time I actually considered that he might die. I remember saying that he couldn’t die, that I was putting my foot down, like I had any power. I made him promise me he wouldn’t die, and he did. He promised. When we hung up, I was certain he would beat it again. That was the last time I ever spoke to him.

When my caller ID flashed his name, I answered all happy and excited to talk to him. But it wasn’t him. It was his dad.

The second he said, “This is Cameron’s dad,” I knew.

We didn’t talk long, and I honestly don’t remember anything after he said, “Cameron is gone.”

At the time, I was a smoker. I went out on my front porch to cry and have a smoke. I lived in Phoenix. It never really got windy unless there was a monsoon, which between you and me, I never understood what the big deal was. It was just rain. It rained all the time in Virginia. Either way, it was windy, really windy, and there wasn’t a monsoon. It felt like Cameron was coming to say good-bye, using the wind to wipe the tears from my face.

After that night, I began to associate wind with feeling Cameron’s presence. I would lie in bed at night and turn the ceiling fan above my bed to the highest setting to imagine it was him. He was the wind.

Harry Potter helped me grieve. It gave me time to rest in my memories of Cameron. I bought each book as they came out and saw each movie.

When the second movie came out, I went by myself on opening weekend. It was packed, standing in line with little kids dressed up as wizards. I had people, strangers really, sitting on either side of me. They probably thought I was off when I sobbed through the opening credits. I just wished Cameron were there with me. That familiar opening melody broke my heart.

By the third movie’s release, I had a boyfriend. We were pretty serious, but he understood why I went to that movie alone. I told him about Cameron. When we became engaged, he started to come with me. He would hold my hand while I cried.

The last two movies were hard. The books were all out. The end was in sight. During Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, I came close to inflicting bodily harm on the people sitting behind me who were laughing during that scene at the end with Harry and Dobby on the beach. Didn’t they know? Couldn’t they understand these movies, this experience, meant so much to me? The last movie was the hardest for me.

I am now married to a wonderful man, and we have beautiful children. I understand how blessed I am. I mourn the what-if with Cameron, and even if nothing had ever come of us, I feel sad every day because the world lost such a beautiful soul.

So, for me, Harry Potter will always make me think of Cameron and the cancer that took him away.