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.