Yesterday was Steve’s and my 31st wedding anniversary.
Although January 2 has been special in our lives for a long time, ten years ago that date came to have an added meaning in our lives because it was the day that Sarah was admitted to the bone marrow transplant floor of Duke University Hospital. (She was there almost a month.)
The day of her actual transplant was January 10 so that’s when we’ll celebrate her Official Ten Year Transplant Anniversary; however, the day she was admitted sticks out in my memory almost as much as the transplant itself. As we approach her anniversary date, I’m spending some time revisiting old memories, stories, and pictures. I’d like to share some snippets from that chapter of our lives with you because I never, ever want to forget the struggles, the joys, the challenges, the tears, the giggles, the heartache, or the miracles of those days.
(These were all written in 2003 and 2004)
“I’ve never said this before, but I can’t wait to die.”
After Sarah dropped that bombshell on us in the middle of lunch today, I asked her as casually as I could, “Why would you say that, Sarah?”
She replied serenely, “Well, in Children’s Church this morning we talked about dying and we learned that you don’t have to be afraid to die because you just move to another place; you just move to heaven. And I wouldn’t mind moving to heaven.”
I said, “Sarah, I hope you’re not planning to move to heaven for a long, long time.”
She looked back at me and replied very seriously, “Well, I’m not in charge of that, you know.”
And back to her pizza she went, just as matter-of-fact as you please.
I just never know quite what conversational track Sarah will lead me down. Yesterday we were doing some errands when she piped up from the back seat, “I don’t always understand why God let me get cancer. Do you think I’ll ever understand?”
Up until that moment, my brain had been awash in random ramblings–what I was going to make for supper, how hot it was outside, how slow the traffic was going, and how soon I should schedule my next hair cut. I immediately called to a halt to all the miscellany in my mind and marshaled my powers of concentration for the important conversation at hand.
As Sarah continued to talk, she seemed very fragile emotionally; I could hear tears in her voice as she wrestled with a subject she hadn’t brought up in a long time. “Mom, what is the purpose of my cancer? What good has come out of it?”
I paused for a moment to think of things that would be meaningful to her and hopefully not sound trite or silly. The first thing that came to mind was to remind her of how many parents have told us that reading her story on her web page has helped them to be better parents; it has helped them to be more patient and loving toward their children.
I was about to go on to some other things when she said, “Wait a minute, Mom. Hold it right there. That’s good enough for me. I hate it when parents aren’t nice to their children and if my being sick has helped a parent treat their child nicer, than that makes me happy.”
And that was that. She’d been reminded again that her pain had purpose and that was good enough for her!
This past May (2003) , Steve, Sarah and I were at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Clinic in NYC for some tests and scans; Sarah and I were sitting in the lobby waiting for Steve to finish some paperwork upstairs.
As we sat and chatted, two ladies who were mother/daughter age came and sat near us. Both of them were hatless and both were bald, with just a little bit of fuzz showing. They looked so much alike I just knew they had to be related but then I thought, “What are the chances of them having cancer at the same time?”
However, since I knew it certainly wouldn’t be polite to say, “Do you both have cancer?” I just smiled and greeted them and then turned back to my conversation with Sarah.
However, Princess Groovy Chick was not about to let this opportunity pass her by and she was also not about to stand on ceremony. She leaned right past me and said, “So! Has your hair been pretty itchy while it’s been growing out? Mine has!” (The cancer connection strikes again!)
Both ladies started grinning from ear to ear as this nearly bald, cute, chipper child engaged them in conversation. It was probably a relief to them to have their situation so charmingly brought out into the open.
As they introduced themselves to Sarah and me, we found out that they were indeed mother and daughter—while the daughter was the one with the cancer, they were both bald because the Mom had shaved her head as soon as her daughter lost her hair. As you can well imagine, that story brought tears to my eyes.
For the next ten minutes, I just sat back and let Sarah carry the conversation—for once, I was the odd man out which was a good change for Sarah. Just about everywhere she went during her treatment, SHE was the one who was different but in that particular setting, she was part of the gang and I was the oddball because I was the only one with hair!
They chatted casually about treatment, chemo, baldness, and nausea; in ten minutes they went from being almost bald strangers to almost bald friends! It’s amazing to be in the middle of a huge city like New York and yet have such immediate rapport with strangers, simply because we’ve all walked the same road.
Meeting so many wonderful people whom we otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to know has turned out to be a great blessing of cancer. There is such a sense of community among families who have been touched by illness—economic, social, religious, and educational differences all fade into non-importance under the umbrella of this disease.
More snippets to come . . .
I’ll close with a few pictures from that period of time.
Hanging out with Snowy just a couple days before her transplant.
Leaving the transplant unit.
What a difference a few years make! (Picture on the left is during transplant.)