Posted on December 10, 2016
The strangers in the window.
I took my son on a walk Thursday evening. Three plus weeks in the hospital and a young man needs some fresh air. His legs need to move and he needs to see more than four white walls and beeping machines.
We walked past the nurses station, through the locked doors and into the third floor lobby. He wanted to get outside, to feel some freedom, to breathe some outside air, so we pushed the heavy IV pole into the elevator and made our way to the first floor lobby. We walked slowly, taking care to not let the IV pole get too far ahead or behind so it didn’t pull on his PICC line. Walking past the reception security, through the automatic door, we went out into the cool evening air and breathed it in.
As we walked through the courtyard, I pointed to the ambulatory care center. That’s where you’ll get your chemo when you transition to outpatient care, I told him.
He sat on a bench, slightly winded from the exertion, the heavy weight of the past month of hospital rooms, tests, treatments and diagnoses visible in his slumped shoulders.
What are you most afraid of today? I asked him.
All of it. It’s all so much, he said. Is it hereditary?
I knew what he was thinking, that his baby who is safely growing in his mama’s belly might somehow catch this deplorable thing, this cancer that has taken over his body and his life. That somehow he might have ruined the poor baby before he even sets eyes on this world.
No, Jeremy, no. This isn’t hereditary and you didn’t do anything to get it. It’s random and we don’t know why it happened, but Gavin is going to be fine. This isn’t the kind of cancer that gets passed on.
Relief. Just a tiny bit of relief washed over him.
I’m ready to walk back now, he said.
We lugged the heavy IV pole up the ramp, back through the automatic door, past the security desk and waited for the elevator. As the far right elevator dinged in anticipation of the door opening, we turned toward it, and then I saw it. Our reflection in the window, dark sky on the outside made way for the light on the inside to mirror back at us what everyone else could see: a man of 23, head shaved in anticipation of losing his hair, yellow mask, yellow gown over a green gown, batman slippers, big IV pole with flashing lights and more than half a dozen bags of liquids, and his mama beside him, yellow gowned too, with purple gloves and tired eyes and a heart full of questions.
It took my breath away. And though he didn’t say so, I think it took his breath away too.
Who would ever have thought, ever even possibly imagined you’d be here, I had just minutes before said to him.
Yeah, I was just thinking the same thing, he had said, the weight of it all so much for him.
How did we get here?
We stepped in the elevator, the hard feeling of reality swirling around us. This is our new normal, I thought. He is a cancer patient.
We’re still settling in to this new normal. We’re not really fully able to comprehend yet just how sick he is, how hard or long or bumpy this road will be. It’s not denial. It’s not that we don’t really want to know. It’s just that the reflection in the window stares back at us and we don’t yet recognize the strangers mirrored there. We need some time to get to know them.
My son has cancer. Four words I’m still trying to comprehend. Four words that are changing our world in ways I’d never imagined.
There are four more words, words more powerful than cancer, that I’m holding on to: Emmanuel, God with us. That truth has more meaning this Christmas season than at any other time in my life. I know he is with my son and he is with us, his family. Sweet comfort indeed.
If you’d like to read more about Jeremy’s journey with T Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma, check out his Caring Bridge page.