Today began much like everyday. I got out of bed, walked down to your room, and began our morning ritual. I whispered the many hopes and dreams I have for you: some old, some new. Each at the forefront of my mind as I face the dawn of yet another day without you. I told you how much I loved and missed you, and explained yet again how I wished a million times over that we could trade places. I shared many other secrets in the spaces in between. All the while searching and scanning the world on the other side of your bedroom window – – just in case today would be the day you’re outside waiting for me to come and rescue you. Then I ambled into the shower, got myself presentable, and set out into the ‘real’ world. (Also known as my ‘fake’ world.) Though I don’t recall the commute, I arrived at BCHS: parked in the spot reserved for me 13-ish years ago, entered the set of doors I’ve pulled on a million times over, navigated the hallways in which I’ve surely worn a pathway, entered my classroom, switched on the lights, landed safely at my desk…and was met by your beautiful face smiling right at me. Then, I exhaled.
I have become very adept at eluding eye contact with the 1300 students which fill the hallways at any given time throughout the school day. I avoid looking too deeply into the eyes of babes who, despite their individual stories and struggles, do not know anything about the dark, grim, gruesome world in which I live. Part of my avoidance comes from sparing myself from the pang which stings my soul when the realization strikes that you will never be in 9th, 10th, 11th or 12th grade, worried about a test, excited about a girl, donned to the nines for prom, decorated as a stud player on the basketball team…the list goes on. The other half, is sparing the kids who should they look too closely into my eyes, will surely end up getting sick and dying. But mostly my avoidance stems from the fact that I know I live in a parallel universe. I realize that no one in that building could ever come close to understanding the aforementioned – let alone a teenage kid. None of those teenagers: with the exception of two, little, lovely Lancers.
I met the older of the lovelies three years ago when she was a freshman. She is a spicy monkey. Spicy enough to be one of my students. Spicy enough to run hurdles to boot. It was during track season that I got to know her best. At the time, I was going through IVF treatments to conceive you. She and her family were rallying around her little brother who was in the final weeks of his victorious battle with brain cancer: medulloblastoma. He endured and triumphed over 56 rounds of chemo and 28 rounds of radiation. I remember the day she brought celebratory bracelets into a team meeting. The night before, her brother “rang the bell” at CHW. (At the time, I had no idea how intimate I’d become with the notion of one day watching you reach up to tug the string on that same bell.) I recall silently sobbing in the coaches’ office as I watched the video she made of her little warrior brother ringing the bell. My tears were those of sheer joy…the sobs I blamed on the assortment of drugs surging throughout my body. In retrospect, I wonder if the world was silently trying to prepare me for matters of which I wouldn’t have understood, nor heeded, had they been emblazoned in neon, flashing lights.
Today one of my closest BCHS friends, who apparently pulled the short straw, sat me down and delivered a brutal message. The little warrior boy, who rang a bell over three years ago, just received the crushing news that his cancer is back. His cancer is back in the same spot as the original tumor…at the base of his brain. His cancer is fucking back. How is this even possible?
One of my new-world survival techniques is compartmentalization. In fact, it is the single most effective tool in my arsenal. I simply cannot allow my real world to overlap with my fake world. That being said, I don’t do “cancer-talk”, “Paxton-talk”, “personal-life talk” while I’m anywhere other than at home. On top of the collision of my two worlds, the nature of this news shoved me right down my ‘isolate to survive’ rabbit hole. The net result left me paralyzed. As tears began to push against the backs of my eyes, and vomit started to creep up my throat, I merely uttered, “This is not good. This really is not good.” Bless her heart and soul, my sweet friend gently replied, “I’m sorry, Danna. I am so sorry.” And the exchange of those two sentences continued on a loop, until I walked away…and “deep six-ed” into my rabbit hole.
Many hours later, and in the safety of my own space, I called my friend. I asked her to make sure this family knew that I will do anything I can to help them – anything at all. I am fully and wholly committed to their every last need. No matter what it is, when they need it…I am here. The offer stands infinitely. She promised she would make sure they knew. And she did.
I couldn’t allow my commitment to this little warrior boy to be my ‘something different’ on the 12th of this month. I forced myself to do something else. It ended up being horse-shit because my heart, which is smashed into 12 billion pieces, couldn’t muster up anything meaningful. Plus it was hella late in the night. For that, I apologize. For committing every last resource I personally have and that your Foundation has generated to this brave and beautiful boy, I do not.
I still have a hard time wrapping my head around my reality, which I know is also the reality for so many other parents across the land who have lost a child. It’s a reality you never get to escape from or take a break from. It’s a reality that is tremendous and cumbersome to carry around – and the load never gets any lighter. But, I don’t ever want my reality to be another parent’s reality. One blonde haired, blue-eyed boy is one too many. How many more need to be spared? What do I need to do to stop cancer from stealing another child?
Please help this little warrior boy. Please help Dr. Jogal, Dr. Firat, Nurse Renee and the other all-too familiar cast of characters at CHW who compose his Dream Team find a way for him to (once again) defy the gruesome odds. Please help him find his inner-warrior strength and reign triumphant over medulloblastoma, a PNET sarcoma, which has yet again declared war inside his sweet, innocent body.
I miss you each and every day, I truly do. But today I’d especially have done anything to have been able to rush home, scoop you into my arms, and plant a kiss atop of your innocent, beautiful head…as I thanked the angels everywhere for letting you be born healthy and happy.
I am so very sorry you got sick. I will never, ever stop asking why. I will never, ever stop fighting either.
Stay with me, sweet boy. Stay with the little warrior boy too.