More Memories. More Thanksgivings.

January 20, 2014

Eleven years ago at this time, Sarah was inpatient at Duke Medical Center following her bone marrow transplant. In honor of that chapter in our lives, I’m going to feature another Looking Back post that talks about some some of my thoughts after a routine check up  at Duke with Sarah’s oncologist, Tim Driscoll.  


(First Posted in 2007.)

Completely apart from the clinical aspect of our visit, I think Dr. Driscoll must really enjoy coming into the examining room and seeing Sarah, just because she is one of “his kids” and is doing so well.  It must be so encouraging for him to just sit with her for a few moments and feed his spirit with the sight of a healthy child.  Dr. Driscoll doesn’t just specialize in pediatric cancer (which is tough enough) but he also specializes in the pediatric cancer that has one of the worst survival rate of them all. His job involves so much heartache; I don’t know how he manages to do what he does.

But yesterday he looked at Sarah, looked at her chart, and then just sat there and  grinned for a minute. He made special note of the fact that she is already 4 ½ years past transplant and said how amazing that was. I don’t know what small percentage of Neuroblastoma kids make it that far, but it’s not very many. 

Here are a few other pictures of Sarah and Dr. Driscoll from other years and other clinic visits.






The only other appointment we had that day at Duke was a speech consult so all in all, it was an easy visit—no needles, no trauma, no scans, no bad news, no tears. In fact, there just seemed to be a sweet peace over the day, a feeling of entering back into our old world of medicine and yet not having to be a part of it anymore.

Sarah and I had  fun together, strolling down the halls hand in hand, looking at artwork and framed poetry on the walls, getting hopelessly lost (and giggling like hyenas) while trying to find our way through the maze of hallways that comprise Duke South. 

After her speech appointment, we waited for a few minutes for the underground train to take us back to Duke North where we were parked.  During our wait, I happened to glance over my shoulder and spotted the covered, glass walkway that goes to the same building as the train.

I said, “Sarah, do you want to take the walkway instead? We’ve never done that before!”

Of course, she was all for a new adventure, so off we went, commenting on this and that, talking about nothing important, enjoying the warmth of the sun-spackled hallway which felt so good after the cool halls of the hospital.  
Once we had finished our trek back to Duke North, we dropped by the cafeteria for a late lunch. We sat with our pizza on the same side of the table so that we could indulge in one of our favorite past times which is people watching. Actually, Sarah actually decided to do some shoe watching, telling me, “Mom, I love looking at the shoes people are wearing.”   

So while she sat happily, chewing her pizza and watching the shoes go by, I busied myself with watching the faces go by.  I was immediately transported back 4 ½ years ago to the many times I had sat alone in that very cafeteria, eating my solitary meals, sometimes with tears dribbling down into the green beans or the scrambled eggs.

As I ate those meals, I could never forget that four floors above my head, my daughter was fighting for life. Even while out of the room, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that Sarah was having to go for a month without eating anything by mouth. I couldn’t forget the morphine, her pain, the destruction of her immune system, her throwing up and her crying.  

In fact, I wrote a blog post about that time of life, and about those feelings of loneliness when Steve was four hours away with Nathan.  I wrote about my fear and anxiety and the many tears I cried while sitting alone in that cafeteria day after day. And would you believe that someone emailed me after that post and basically said,“Get a grip and stop whining!”

No, I couldn’t believe it either.

As far as I could tell, there were no grips to be gotten, there was no hope to be found. I was in the hospital with a daughter who was one step away from the doors of eternity and getting a grip did not seem to be one of my options.

So anyway, looking at the faces yesterday (while Sarah continued to earnestly study the parade of shoes) I easily picked out the drawn, anxious faces of mothers who had come down to grab a quick bite before running upstairs again to hold vigil beside a child they loved more than life itself.

I saw distracted doctors and worried family members, and cleaning people, and nurses, and depressed looking patients. Then, I turned and saw Miss Sunshine herself, perched there at my elbow, a study in pink cheeks and bright eyes and robust health. I was amazed at how the wan, wasted waif of almost five years ago had been spirited away, and in her place, I had been left with a child incredibly full of spirit and compassion and energy and heart and courage.

I reached over and gave her a kiss on the cheek, distracting her just one moment from a pair of pink Keds going by. She beamed at me, took a sip of her water and sighed contentedly as she said, “This is such a nice day, Mom.”

And I thought how amazing it was that Princess Groovy Chick and I could be at Duke University Medical Center, a place of great pain and great heartache for so many people, and yet be cocooned inside grace and peace and thankfulness.

I took her hand and we meandered out to the parking lot, once again turning our backs on a building that represented an excruciating chapter of Sarah’s life and turning our faces toward the big wide world that holds her whole future.

It was a good day, indeed.


Here are a few additional pictures from other Duke visits and other Duke days.




The entrance to the BMT unit.


Standing in front of the door of the room where she spent thirty days in January, 2003.












So many memories. 



So many thanksgivings.


29 responses to More Memories. More Thanksgivings.

  1. I love seeing these pictures!! And I love working with Dr. Driscoll… he has such a passion for helping these kids, and helping more and more kids make it through researching, and trying new protocols! The success rate has risen, thankfully! Hopefully one day in the future, a cure will be found, and no other children will lose their life to neuroblastoma! So glad Sarah is doing so well,and I love, love, love reading the old posts just to remember how far she has come! God is definitely great!! 🙂

    • Tiffany,

      You and Dr. Driscoll are some of the Smith family’s heroes!

      THANK YOU for going to work every day and dealing with families who are in crisis and scared and overwhelmed. I know you made OUR family feel so special and well cared for during apheresis; you’ll never know how much that meant.

      If you run into Dr. Driscoll, tell him the Smith family says hello and that we think he’s the greatest! 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing these post again. Brings back tears and prayers. Couldn’t even listen to my favorite music without crying (the Smiths, of course.) Remember “Vomit Girl”? She was so brave!!

  3. Amen, AGAIN and Praise God and Dr. Driscoll!

  4. On another note — I love Dr. Driscoll’s tie collection!

  5. Hooray for Sarah!

    I’m so sorry, though it’s now many years ago, that someone sent you a “stop whining” email. It seems to happen often, in blog-world, that people comment or email harsh thoughts and criticisms. I’ve never understood it — what a sad life it must be, for someone to feel the need to take time out of their own day to send negative, destructive comments across the internet.

    • Kristina,

      I hadn’t even paid much attention to Dr. Driscoll’s ties until you mentioned them. They are well suited to a someone working with kids! 🙂

      As for the “stop whining” email, I agree that it is sad to think that people would invest a piece of their lives into sending an unkind email to a cancer mom. I would rather be the one receiving it than the one sending it!

  6. Just thinking it would be interesting to see a retrospective of your blogs…because along with the vast improvement in Sarah’s appearance (from sick to healthy…she’s always been adorable!), the tone of your writing perked up over the years, too. I can remember when you were so fearful of the future. (I guess I’m still thinking in the “Sarah as poster child for HOPE” frame of mind. 😉

    • Jan,

      Yes, it was definitely a fearful season in our lives with such dreadful statistics staring us in the face all the time. I’m thankful that I got to make that scary journey with a girl named Hope! 🙂

  7. Beautiful young lady. Many memories and many tears ago. So glad we could share the journey. Love to all. God is so good.

    • Sarah’s remission is such a blessing! She’s a beautiful young lady w/ such a bright future ahead of her! I remember those posts from those days! It had to be such a lonely time! I’m grateful it’s all behind your family!

      Love, Jodi

      • Jodi,

        I remember when I wrote those long and lonely posts how wonderful it felt to know that there were caring people out there somewhere in cyber world reading those posts, and praying and caring and sending their love. What a difference it made!

    • Ann,

      Yes, you and Jim have certainly shared the journey in so many ways–thank you!

  8. always beautiful, always groovy, that precious princess… no matter what she was going through.

  9. It’s so great that Sarah continues to do so well and I love reading these posts. She will always be the Princess Groovy Chick to us 🙂 All the best….

  10. :big sigh: a beautiful post, so very very lucky you all are…..i cannot believe she is graduating high school soon!

  11. Thanks for sharing this post again. I wept the first time I read and again now. What a miracle Sarah is!
    Hope things are getting better for your health. Thoughts and prayers!

    • Liz,

      Thank you for crying with us–then and now. I am always so touched to know that the Smithellaneous family is so compassionate!

      And I’m doing much better health-wise; thanks for checking. Just about back to normal! (Whatever normal is.) 🙂

  12. Beautiful, beautiful, precious Sarah…. What a HERO she is to go through all that…. I tear up looking at those memories. She is truly a MIRACLE. You are a HERO too Becky having to go through all that with her. Wow…….
    Do you keep in contact with Dr. Driscoll still? I love seeing his pictures as well. What a dear man he is.
    Sending many loving XOX to you both!

    • Bea,

      Yes, I’m in touch with Dr. Driscoll several times a year. He would actually like Sarah to come into Duke once a year for late side effect tests and studies, but our insurance doesn’t cover that so we haven’t been doing it. It would be nice to go back there just for a visit!

  13. I don’t hear you refer to her as princess groovy chick anymore. Why not did she outgrow it? I loved that nickname for her.

    • Amy,

      That’s a good question! 🙂 I guess as she got older, she sort of just grew out of that and into another identity. That nickname carries a lot of fond and happy memories with it though. It always makes me smile just to hear it.