The Dime and the 5% Chance

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 canstockphoto18514868better 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.

canstockphoto21982117This 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.

52 thoughts on “The Dime and the 5% Chance

  1. There are just some situations in which words fail us. This is one of those times. I have no words that fit the scope of this awful news. I struggle to make your words fit or make sense. Words like “child” and “cancer” should never be allowed in the same sentence. Ever. I never want them to. I don’t want to believe it’s possible. Doent want it to be true. Denial isn’t pretty, but it’s where I want to be until the test results come back. Sadly, that is not an option when it’s your child facing the cruelest word. I want different words for you: benign, or in remission, and cancer-free. Let’s hope for better words soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh my goodness Michelle. I have my arms around you, I am sending positive thoughts and I am hoping for the best possible outcome. xx


  3. Dammit. I’m so sorry, Michelle. Keeping you and yours in my thoughts and prayers. Thank you for letting us know, and continuing to write about this for us as you are able.


  4. I really kept hoping this was a fictional piece, even when I knew it wasn’t. Hoping all those numbers change for the better and you all are on the other side of this soon – the other good side


  5. O dear Lord, good woman. Worst news for a parent ever. I’m sending my best wishes and pleading for the best outcome.


  6. Michelle,
    Sending vibes for healing and peace in all realms. Wish there were more we, your admiring readers, could do to help.
    May you feel held up and fortified by all whose support you need.
    🙏🏼❤️ Cathy


  7. Oh, hell. I’m sorry. I send my love and my thoughts.

    When my mother was in the hospital, a nurse had one piece of advice to me: “Take care of yourself. Drink water. Eat.” It was good advice, but more than that, it was caring. I’ve remembered him ever since. Eat. Drink water. Take care of yourself too.


    1. Thanks Ellen. I am the first to always remind people of self-care in these kinds of situations, but I now understand how easy it is to let it all go in the laser focus on one’s child. On the other hand, I’m writing in the spaces between and that is definitely some self-care for my psyche.


    1. Humor is not the best medicine, since actual medicine is, but it is a balm for the soul. That my family can still sit in a hospital room amid beeping machines and a lot of dread and crack jokes, is a great blessing. Thanks for the good wishes.


  8. Michelle
    I am not even sure how i came to follow your blog but – I do .
    I am so sorry for your family’s news.
    I wish your daughter all the best and you- strength and resilience .
    My prayers are with you.
    Lynsay Clark

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m overwhelmed with your going through it is a difficult time for your family I Pray that you will be rejoicing again with your awesome daughter when she overcomes this test it will be your testimony “Weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning” God bless your family in Jesus name

    Liked by 2 people

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