Today is the three year anniversary of Noah’s cancer diagnosis. Sometimes, often… I look back over the last three years to the beginning. It seems so so far away— a lifetime ago and yet I remember that day as if I had lived it over and over a thousand times.
The way the sun was coming in through the thrift store window…the yellow ceramic bird I turned over and over in my hand as my cell phone rang….the way everything suddenly froze and the noises around me faded as Andy said “I’m so sorry, so very sorry.” I remember trying to make sense of the words coming over the phone….lab work…abnormal….leukemia……cancer…hospital…..urgent….I remember the way the carpet felt under me as I sunk to the floor in the the middle of that sunbeam — in a crowded store — on a monday afternoon — in early March…..
I remember handing off Eli’s carseat in the parking lot – turning — the first of many times — my youngest over to loving almost strangers. I remember falling apart again as I entered our house….and the great big gulping sobs as I tried to explain to my husband how very sick our child was…….I remember climbing the stairs to Noah’s room…..he was asleep as he was so often those days…..I stood at the foot of his bed and stared as if I could burn the image of his sweet face into my mind forever. Golden tawny curls on his pillow, long lanky limbs askew tangled in his blanket, baby faced with thick eyelashes on his pale pale cheeks….I remember Tris and I gently waking him to explain things the best we could….our own tears, fears tucked away tight behind our most reassuring parent demeanor.
I remember the long quiet drive to the hospital and stopping to buy him McDonalds on the way…I remember thinking over and over this just can’t be happening..this can’t be real….I remember the long first days and nights at the hospital….the blur of faces and names….the surgeries, tests and consults…..his first chemotherapy and blood transfusion…….the tears and terror and bone deep sheer exhaustion of it all………and yet I remember the Grace too…..the Grace along the way….how our doctors steadfast optimism…our nurses compassion and tenderness….our families love and support….and the unfailing devotion and kindness of our friends carried us through those first weeks and months.
I remember bringing Noah home from the hospital ….after his first month long chemotherapy….that first time…buckled snugly into the backseat tucked under a blanket……watching him as I steered us so carefully over the river and through the woods all the way home…..I felt just like a new momma… bringing him home for the very first time…..vulnerable, scared, unsure, inadequate and a little bit in awe that I was going to get to keep him.
I remember learning how to balance a vomit bucket while driving…..how to sift through articles from medical journals to find the right questions to ask…I learned how to read bedtime stories and sing lullabies over the phone…..how to administer chemo….insulin…. to navigate pain management……to ask hard questions…..to homeschool from a hospital bed…..to restart an IV at three am in a dark room……to read lab work….to tell a doctor no…to rock the boat….to stand my ground…..to ask for help….to sleep in 10 minute intervals on a hard plastic couch….to decipher the look in his oncologist’s eye…..to read between the lines.
I remember the first time another child in our cancer community died. Shocking and tragic and heartbreaking…….we mommas cried and grieved together. I remember the small smooth stone I picked up for that child – I remember writing his name so carefully on its speckled surface -and placing it gently down next to the candle on the shelf in the kitchen. I remember when the shelf became so full of stones I had to stop…….had to put down my sharpie and walk away….look away…..no more stones for me. No more. I remember asking what does that make me? The momma who no longer has tears for other dying children? I remember when I use to have so many more tears. Three years later, I am so weary — Dodging artillery, land mines and sniper fire….. I just want to carry my son over the finish line to safety. The truth is, I have nothing left for the wounded I pass along the way. I whisper a prayer as I pass them in the hall and silently wish them well.
So much has changed — the cost has been so high – – relationships steeled, friendships lost and gained, expectations sacrificed, faith eroded but intact …Lord knows my other children have suffered too….I lie awake at night worrying that I have shortchanged them a good part of thier childhood being this cancer warrior. The hardest part is that I can never go back….never again be that momma….you know that one before cancer pulled the proverbial rug out from underneath me….forever rearranged me. Leg pain will never again just be leg pain…a bruise will never again just be a bruise. The idea that something terrible is rare, will never again be reassuring to me. Some part of me will always listen for him at night while another will always hear the beeping of that damn IV pump in my sleep…….
Whats more, Cancer has not made me a better person…..I’m not necessarily wiser, or stronger or braver or more resilient……I’m not kinder, or gentler or more patient…..If anything in some ways I am harder – quicker to sort the wheat from the chaff – quicker to walk away from those that might not understand- quieter – more insular….and though I have a much deeper well of empathy for the suffering of others, I find I have less tolerance for the subtle dramas of the non-cancer mundane… I am not more confident…. I still find myself at times vulnerable or scared or unsure …just not when it comes to Cancer or Noah…there I am fierce and unmovable. I am his protector and advocate and cheerleader….I am a cancer-momma…for better or worse. And I am tired. So so tired.
What does that make me? Who will I be when this is over? I do not know…..Maybe someday the layers of bitter and sad — the indelible marks of the suffering I’ve witnessed will wear away to the shiny once again. I suspect it will in time. I watch Noah thrive…his laughter, the music, his banter with his brothers drifting down from the kids room……my heart swells. This gift of time. Of them. I will never, could never take any of it for granted again.
I try not to look back. Except today. Three years today. One thousand and ninety five days………so many days…….so many steps forward…….and only 124 days to go. We are almost there. Almost there….And we are not alone. I wake up every day mindful that we couldn’t have made it without all the love and support from our friends, family and community….those near and far. And I wanted to take the time to say I am so eternally grateful. Thank you all —— for your prayers, and light and love and care and encouragement —-for us all. For walking with us this long road.
I will always remember.
We love you and we are almost there …….see you at the finish line.