It’s the end of the school year and you’re feeling pretty content. Your teenager walked across a stage, receiving honors and awards for her first successful year in high school. She’s getting ready to attend a prestigious summer orchestra camp. You’re proud and excited for her. Your husband is working on replacing the old deck out back. Your own life is trundling along pretty well – the garden is looking good, you’ve submitted work in hopes of being published, you are a training for a 5K. You read the news and get angry, but in your own world, life is pretty damned good.
The Friday before your daughter is supposed to leave for camp, you decide that you better take her to the doctor. There were a couple minor fevers earlier in the week and she’s seemed pretty tired lately. You laugh with her in the car about something silly. The sun is illuminating the day in brilliant greens and blues. You think she just might need some more iron, but other than that, her bags are packed and she’s looking forward to playing her viola with other chamber musicians.
24 hours later, your daughter is in the oncology ward of a children’s hospital, bags of blood pumping into her, a doctor saying that there’s a 95% chance the mass is malignant.
The expression “life turns on a dime” means that in a short, precise turn, one’s life changes course. Overnight, our lives have completely changed. We learn to sleep in chairs. A noisy breath wakens us immediately. We tell our stoic girl that it’s perfectly okay to cry. We cry in loud, noisy outbursts when we get stolen moments alone. We must be stoic, too, nodding understanding as nurses and doctors and radiologists and surgeons explain to us in detail the next thing and the next thing and next thing.
This is my life now. There is nothing else. Everything else is just going through the motions, playacting at writing or housework or social interaction. Shadows of life before. After writing solipsistic essays for many years, I find it difficult to think in terms of “I” at the moment. It’s all “we”, because our little family now moves in the same direction. Shift to the hospital, shift back home, and back to the hospital, like a school of fish streaming in one direction, then the next. All moves coordinated by the next set of labs, the number on the thermometer, the beeping of machines.
My writing skills are put to the test, writing updates to family and friends – calm missives that don’t reflect our primal fears. My introversion takes a back seat to communication. My independence evaporates in coordinating cat feedings with friends, passing off volunteer commitments, and taking offers of help. We call on friends we’ve been out of touch with, hold back relatives who would cause stress, and break down in front of complete strangers.
This is our life now. We turned on a dime. The 5% chance that this is a sprint and not a marathon. The 95% chance that we’re gearing up for a long haul. Numbers – those logical, strict little things now measure hope.
We are lucky. We have good health insurance. We live in a metro area with a lot of medical expertise. We have supportive friends and family. Our daughter is an amazing person who has shown us how to be in the face of calamity. The journey to her wellness is just beginning. Writing about this out loud is a way of keeping me sane – writing is how I process the world, especially when overwhelmed. However, I will be mindful of my daughter’s privacy in the upcoming weeks.
There is a tendency for people to want to give advice at times like these. We have some of the best medical resources in the country and friends who have gone through similar circumstances, so I won’t respond to advice or links or recommendations, especially for coffee enemas. Coffee goes in the mouth hole. Thank you.