“Your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.” ~ Abraham Lincoln, 16th U.S. President
It was the middle of the night on our first night when a doctor came into our hospital room, she said that they were still running test but that they believed it was leukemia. I stared at her dumbfounded, letting her words bounce off me. Thinking to myself that they could be wrong but also in a way grateful that they were determined to come up with answers. I denied myself the opportunity to feel anything. I didn’t want to be afraid. I didn’t want to be sad. I didn’t want to be anything……just waiting.
Sometime the next day, I stepped out of Tucker’s room to go get something to eat. I walked into the hall to find a man near the elevator. His head was pressed to the window and he was sobbing. He was a tall, black man who looked as strong and brave as ever yet he was weeping there before me. I touched him on the shoulder and hugged him. “They think my son has leukemia.” I whispered and we stood there holding each other and crying. It was the first time in nearly two days that I had showed any kind of emotion. We parted ways, I stepped into the elevator and before the doors closed he said thank you and I thanked him back. The doors closed and I never again have seen him.
It was the next day that a team of doctors came into the room adding to the team of family that was there, our little room was busting at the seams. Chris (Tucker’s Dad) sat at the end of his bed and I sat Indian style in the chair next to it. Before me were an arsenal of doctors. They lined the walls of the remaining space left in the room. One of the Fellows pulled up a chair and sat before me. The room was unspeakably quite and we waited for her to speak. Again I swallowed up any fear I had, disconnected myself from the part of you that feels any emotion and braced for what I knew was bad news.
She started off by confirming it was Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Chris’ head hung low and although I couldn’t see exactly what the other family members were doing I sensed their sadness at such devastating news. It was cancer. I found myself transfixed on her, I didn’t want to look away. “OK” I remember saying. She began by assuring me that ALL was a treatable cancer and that they would do all they could. She began to introduce the doctors in the room and what roll they would play in Tucker’s care. Plain faced I surveyed them all and looked squarely back at her and said. “What do we do next?” I didn’t want assurance, I wanted to get down to the business of savings my son’s life. And so she began to detail what the next few days would entail. The next day we learned of the T(17:19) mutation that would cause the cancer to be harder to treat than expected.
I would like to say that I was pushing down panic and desperation in an attempt to stay strong for Tucker but quite honestly I can’t recall feeling anything at all. Just a pragmatic shock. I cleared my head of any thoughts that would get in the way of me hearing what the doctors had to say. They handed me a binder detailing what his cancer was and how to care for him while he was in treatment. I would have to study it and pass a review test before being able to take Tucker out of hospital. Later that day Tucker would get a Pic Line in his arm to start his treatment and his first dose of intrathecal chemo. The next day he would begin induction treatment and everything about all of our lives, in that room, changed.
Other than the breakdown in the hall with the strange man, I still remained steadfast in my subdued emotions. I found myself angry at my ex-husband for the way he sobbed and barked at him to keep it together. To show no fear in front of Tucker, afraid that he would make our son more scared than he already was. In hindsight I feel bad for being so harsh, as I understand people process stress differently. But for me, at that moment, I needed him to be strong and his breaking down disturbed me greatly. I recognize now those few days changed my feelings a lot. I had always felt like an emotional and dependent girl but when push came to shove I had more control than I had ever realized.
It wasn’t until a few days into Tucker’s induction treatment that I stood in the dark hospital room that had become our temporary home. I stood at Tucker’s bedside and watched him as he slept. It was the middle of the night and the light from the hallway leaked into the room. I found my hand over my mouth as I first looked up to the heavens and then knelt onto the floor. Tears poured from my eyes yet no sound left my lips for fear of waking Tuck. I could hear my silent sobs echo in my head and for the first time I allowed myself to be afraid but only briefly.
There have only been a few times that I have been truly afraid as we wage war against cancer. Like the day Dr Chang took Chris and I into a small office to let us know that most kids with his type of cancer do not survive or the moments we nearly lost Tucker to septic shock and a blood clot in his brain. Yet each time I refuse to breakdown and through fear I find a bravery I never knew I had. I have never believed for a moment that Tucker wouldn’t beat cancer and as he continues through treatment he has proven to us all that he is not like most kids.
Some may think of me as cold or may even consider my stubborn emotionally controlled behavior unhealthy. But I truly do not want to be afraid, as if showing fear would be giving it the upper hand. I want to be clear and present in the moment. I want to cherish them and learn from them. The good moments and the bad ones. I do not want to get lost in the fear of loosing this battle but rather look fear in the face and visualize the victory.