August 19, 2016
There are just two men on the planet who have seen me at my worst.
These two men have seen me without makeup and with unwashed, uncombed hair. They have seen me laugh and they have seen me sob.
The first man is my husband. The second man is Dr. Tim Driscoll.
During Sarah’s bone marrow transplant, when I stayed in the hospital room with her for thirty days, Dr. Driscoll came by at all hours of the day and night. He dispensed medical care, comfort, and advice. He gallantly overlooked my tear-swollen face and poking-up hair as we discussed morphine, blood counts, high fevers and chemo doses.
Some of the times he visited, I was barely coherent: tongue-tied and brain-rattled by grief, fatigue, worry, loneliness, and the inescapable knowledge that my girl would probably die. (Stage IV Neuroblastoma, especially when diagnosed after the age of two, is one of the deadliest pediatric cancers.)
I knew that the transplant floor at Duke was not a place for the faint of heart. I knew that whenever the staff came through and closed all the blinds in the patients’ rooms, it was because another child had died. Another child was being wheeled down the hall and out the doors, leaving their cohorts behind to continue battling on. And what a horrific, body-strewn battlefield it was.
Dr. Driscoll, and the other doctors who walk those halls, go to work every day with the knowledge that many of their patients will not survive. And yet they keep at it, day after day, just to have their hearts broken over and over again.
I know it had to have broken Dr. Driscoll’s heart the day he called with the news that Sarah had relapsed–four years after finishing treatment and being declared N.E.D. (No Evidence of Disease.) He walked with our family through the heartache of the following weeks and months and saw us through to the other side.
Even though Sarah was just ten years old when she relapsed, she was well aware that the relapse could mean that the cancer would never go away or, if it did, that it could come back again. But she was not prepared to give up.
How do I know that?
Because I wandered into her room one afternoon and noticed an envelope on her desk with these words scrawled on it:
“My Calage and Car Fund. Do not tuch.”
She didn’t care that she was once again facing a largely unsurvivable pediatric cancer. She didn’t care that she was given little hope of long-term survival. She still had dreams left to chase and two of those dreams included a car and calage.
I cried over that envelope back in 2006, and I cried even more tears over the memory of that envleope when August, 2016 arrived and we prepared Sarah to leave home–driving her own car to calage.
Happy tears. Happy day.
But it gets better.
A few weeks ago, I emailed Dr. Driscoll with a question and, as is my custom, I included some non-medical news about Sarah and attached a current photo. At the last second, I also happened to mention that Sarah was going to be attending Regent University in Virginia Beach.
Dr. Driscoll wrote back to tell me that his son was also attending Regent and that they would be taking him there on August 15. I told him Sarah was moving in the same day and asked if we could meet up. He replied, “Of course!”
That email conversation (with its last-minute mentioning of Regent) turned into an amazing, tear-streaked, smile-sprinkled dorm room celebration.
Back on that Relapse Day of June 30, 2006, Steve and I could not lift our heads off the ground long enough to view any sort of future for our girl, especially one that included her living long enough to go to college.
But Sarah saw it.
And Sarah scrawled the promise of what she saw on an envelope, and she put that envelope out on her desk for everyone to see. She was buying a car. She was going to college.
What she could never have dreamed or planned or imagined was that on her very first day as a resident college student, she would have the privilege of standing next to her doctor and friend from the darkest years of her life. He was the man who had treated her disease, hugged her mom, comforted her dad, talked with her brother, and prayed for the whole family at their very lowest times.
And I got to do something I had been wanting to do for a long, long time. I got to introduce myself to Mrs. Driscoll and thank her for all the sacrifices she makes every single day so that her husband can continue to spend those long, long hours with children like Sarah.
I happened to glance over at Mrs. Driscoll while we were taking the picture and saw tears on her face as she explained to one of the other mothers, “That’s one of the children my husband treated.”
I can only imagine how often she has cried with her husband when he has said, “We lost another one.” But how often does she get to hear about the successes, let alone get to meet a patient who survived? Not often enough.
We could never have organized such a momentous day on our own; we could never have known that on that first day of Sarah’s college future, she would be standing next to the man who was so instrumental in saving her life.
So here’s to the memories we have shared–the tears, the laughter, prayers, and the hope that wouldn’t let go.
I’m thankful today for a car and for colage, and I’m thankful for a doctor who has dedicated his life so that children–so that our child–could live.
Here are a few photos going back through Sarah and Dr. Driscoll’s history together. For some reason, I do not have any pictures of them when Sarah was in active treatment, i.e., when she didn’t have any hair. I guess I was too stressed during those times to think of taking pictures while he was in the room.
Thrift stores, fuzzy socks
and conversing with my Yorkie
are all on the list of things I love.