The Cold That Leads To Cancer
A rather uneventful weekend here, which is so very unusual, given that we are who we are. What I mean is, something is always happening around here, whether it be a car accident, someone getting a finger caught in the basement door, or having to throw the children into the dungeon for bad behaviour yet again. The reason for such uneventfulness this past weekend: the kids were sick.
Our daughter, "Milly", came down with a nasty cold last week that seemed to eat the inside of her throat and nasal passages, creating raw patches that made her cry. So she's been home for most of the week lying on the couch with Kleenex stuffed up her nostrils and the remote in her hand, a creamsicle in the other.
Pretty awful virus, I must say. Knocked her out for days, which is a bigger deal now that she's in Grade 8. Missing a couple of days is much harder to make up for than it was when she was in Grade 4. I felt for her as she lay there, comatose on the couch, which is so unlike her. I can judge the severity of Milly's illness by the amount of speaking she does. No speaking, just moaning and some tears = very ill; rare words = quite ill; the odd sentence and some laughter = she's coming around; no speaking, only moaning until school lets out = she's fine and going to school tomorrow.
I think all mothers are alike in that we would take the illness and suffer for our children in a millisecond if we were able. Unless, that is, it involved any form of projectile vomiting or required a suppository. Then they're on their own, as far as I'm concerned.
I am glad to report that Milly is finally on the mend and back at school, but now "Dennis" has come down with a version of it, replete with snot and fever and ugly moods. He too has raw patches in his throat that make him nasty when the cold air hits. I'm just waiting for it to hit me hard. I've had twinges, but nothing substantial yet, apart from some snot-horking and phlegm-hurling, which is part of the norm with me anyway.
As all children do, my children get sick. I'd worry if they didn't get sick once in a while. Some years they get sick a lot, other years not so much. All in all, nothing new, nothing to write home about.
We are also far enough away from the whole cancer thing with Dennis to not freak out at the first sign of illness. It used to be, everytime he came down with a fever, or he threw up, or he complained of pain, the first thing we would think is, 'Has the cancer come back?' This thought goes through the mind of every parent who has ever had a child with cancer. It's inevitable. Expected. Part of the norm in the My Kid Has Cancer World. But, given enough time and space to heal, those fears dissipate, float away to a place that is hidden, behind a veil -- an opaque, yet extremely fragile veil that can quickly be snatched up and ripped away, once again exposing those fears we thought we had hidden so well so long ago. Those fears we thought had long vanished are as fresh as the day we first heard the words, "Your child has cancer."
This past weekend, I found myself thinking about cancer a lot. With the passing of Tuesday Whitt last Friday evening, all those terrible memories and feelings that I thought I had buried quite deeply were right back there at the forefront, popping up in front of my eyes every time I moved, like one of those nightmares you have that keeps making itself known to you at the most unexpected and inopportune moment during the next few days. Always a shock. Like the first crocus of the year, coming out of the cold snow when you least expect it. Except that my memories are anything but beautiful.
Normally, when "Dennis" comes down with a bug, it's business as usual. He doesn't often get very ill, which is a blessing in itself. I owe that to breastfeeding him for three years. Yes, three years. It almost killed me, and you should see my breasts now (look up the word "saggy" in the dictionary and there you will find a picture of my breasts), but really, I honestly believe he's a much healthier person now for it. So, when he's sick, we take care of him, give him lots of fluids, toast, take his temperature, and pat his head now and then to let him know we're here and we care. That is, when I'm not in bed myself, eating bonbons and reading the latest People magazine. When that's the case, I send the dog in my place.
However, this weekend, because of little Tuesday's passing from the same cancer as our Dennis had, it hit close to home, and it hit hard. Too hard. And it took me completely by surprise. Simply because we are about 9 1/2 years out from having gone through all the surgeries, and the chemo, and the vomiting, the tubes and the endless needles, and the fear. The fear. I will never forget the fear. We lived with it for years. And apparently, we still do.
You see, when you've gone through something like having a child with cancer, you never really get over it. It becomes part of you and changes you forever. A little bit of the cancer sits in your cells, dormant, nudging you once in a while just to make sure you don't forget about it. It remains alive in your soul, not visible or apparent to anyone but yourself.
So, as Dennis lay on the couch this past weekend, moaning because he felt like absolute crap, my mind traveled back without me realizing it, and I was suddenly gripped by the same feelings I had so many years ago, when I didn't know if we would have our baby boy for another day. I remembered lying in the hospital bed with Dennis just before his third surgery at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, wondering if he would again hemorrhage. Would he survive this time? What would they find? More tumour? Had it spread and they just didn't know it? I remember planning his funeral, down to the music that would be played. "You Are My Sunshine". I even pictured walking down the aisle in the church behind his tiny casket.
And I think, 'This is what Tuesday's poor family is doing right now. Planning that poor baby's funeral.' They will never see their baby again. Never see her smile, and laugh, and be silly, and grow up, and live a good life.
And despite the fact that it could have been us, it wasn't us. We have been spared that nightmare, that unspeakable horror. I am forever thankful for this. Every day, I am thankful that I have both my children, and that they're both healthy, and alive. After all, how could they not be? They're just children.
But it's a double-edged sword. Everytime he complains of some strange pain, some odd symptom, Mr. Handsome and I look at each other silently. And I call my best friend and tell her, and wait for her to tell me it's probably nothing.
Every year, for the rest of his life, Dennis has to go for an oncology check-up, just to make sure everything's okay, that his blood is not doing something wonky, that there aren't any strange lumps or pains or other odd symptoms that might worry the doctors and make them go into overdrive with tests and scans and other extremely invasive things. He is at risk for a recurrence of the neuroblastoma, as well as secondary cancers like leukemia and skin cancer. As well, we have to worry about things like heart failure because of some of the chemotherapy drugs he was on as an infant. Poison that he needed, but that could also have killed him, or maimed him.
I don't like going to the hospital for these appointments. Neither does Dennis. That old friend Fear pokes its head out from behind that veil again, just to remind us of what was, and what could again be. Although Dennis doesn't remember anything from those dark days (thank god), he is old enough now to understand the severity of what he had, and he gets very worried that it may some day return, because he knows that it can, and it does, just not to him. And he knows he's very fortunate. But he doesn't understand why. And that scares him. And me. I will forever be asking myself, 'So, when does our luck run out? Will it run out, or will we be spared?'
This week, Dennis is due at the hospital for his annual oncology check-up. It's going to be even more difficult than usual going to the medical day unit floor where the oncology patients all go, some for chemo, some for regular bloodwork, others for follow-up appointments. This time, I will be thinking about Tuesday, and wondering if maybe our luck has finally run out. After all, we've never won any other lottery. Why would we win this one?