I used to be afraid of roller coasters, and their short, fast twisting, turning excitement.
Then I realized roller coasters and life have a lot in common. So I started riding them, cause really -what the heck?
If there has ever been a lesson in the unpredictable nature of life, I am confident it has played out in the last two or so years. And I am confident I have studied hard, and that I understand. I understand that just when you think you might understand – you don’t.
You see, just when you think you may even comprehend the every-changing, unpredictable nature of life around us, there will inevitably be a way to prove to you you don’t have it quite right.
There have been more funerals this year than I care to count. Maybe its always like this, and I am just noticing now that 40 is behind me. Or maybe not. But there have been funerals for friends, for the brother of friend, for my own father, for my uncle, the precious father of three beautiful adult children, and for my Grandma, and a well-loved great-uncle, and the grandparents and parents of friends… and…
As I sit here thinking about all of them I try for the umpteenth time to rationalize. And I get farther with some than others. Some will just never do.
But the ultimate realization is that it’s not really mine to figure out. It’s not mine to decide how it fits in the grand plan. And I’m trying to stop looking to figure it out. Because, boy it can be exhausting.
And as I sit here in the wee small hours of the morning, I remember – that painful Thanksgiving week last year, as Dad fought and fought, and I wonder why. But, as much as I miss him, it’s not in a pitying kind of why. It’s in a genuine curiosity for something I will likely never be allowed to understand. Very much the way he used to ask me why he made it home from Vietnam and his friend Tommy didn’t.
It’s the same kind if why when Mom asks, why after being 18 years a breast cancer survivor, why she is “clean,” and so many have lost the fight.
As I listen to the rhythmic snoring of my husband, and watch my fidgety sleeping 11-year-old, I wonder.
I wonder how we ended up here – again, on the second floor of this hospital. Today. Now.
12 hours ago I thought I was tired. HA! What did I know.
450 miles in about 30 hours to celebrate the life of a great man, my uncle. Lots of driving, lots of thinking, lots of observing. Lots of admiration for his children, grown up children, who undoubtedly will make him proud forever with their compassion and good humor. Lots of respect for his wife – living her marriage vows through all the crappy stuff with poise and dignity. Lots of awe for my other Dad Ken, and GGMa, his mom, as they stood together, their original immediate family ripped in half in just over 2 years time.
12 hours ago I thought I would go to bed early.
But I ended up picking Meghan up from swim practice on the way home from Vermont. And she walked out of the locker room and almost fell to the ground with tears.
“I can’t walk. It’s my knee.”
And I checked off the list – Did you fall? Did you bang it? Did you hurt it doing dryland? One at a time I asked the questions, even though I knew the answers.
This knee. The one we’ve been waiting for since we stopped the celebrex had finally given way.
We had had hopes of finishing swim season first. That was before we had to refocus our hopes to making it into urgi care without falling.
We were promptly told to get out, and get to an ER. Fast. The swelling was too big.
Still in my funeral clothes I raced home long enough to tell Felix to dress for work, and to get into some sweats. A quick bag for Meghan and I and we were off. This time to Lenox Hill ER. Cause that’s where they do the knee surgeries. And not that I’m trying to plan. But just in case… Maybe we should be at the right place.
They contacted her doctor. He’s sure it’s the AVM, but he’ll confirm in person in another hour or so. In the mean time nothing to eat or drink for Ms. Meghan after midnight. Just in case.
I spent the weekend with my college roommate. She was the one I lived with the longest. She was the one who introduced herself to me the first day. She held me 2 months later as I was wracked in sobs at the loss of my cousin Meghan on my 18th birthday. She learned how to drive in my Toyota. We had fun, shared friends, and life, and got to know each other in deep ways saved for long term friends – or ones you’ve lived with. We gathered enough good dirt on each other to be sure we’d be friends forever.
The last time I saw her was in December. She and her husband showed up at the wake for my Dad.
The time before that was when I made it out to the wake for her Mom.
Somehow we find each other…
And this weekend we hugged first on Friday, in that room in New Jersey, miles away from each of our homes. We cried, and hugged and pulled it together. As the scene was replaying itself again. But this time it was far worse.
It’s not right that we don’t see each other. And it’s no one’s “fault.” And I have a few dear friends I am in the same situation with – whose kids I’d barely recognize if it weren’t for Facebook and Instagram.
We stood together for a while, just the two of us. Interrupted only by people trickling by. We spoke about his fight. His strength. His battle. I told her how much I respected all he did to fight. I told her I was so privileged to have shared a few email exchanges after he took to this blog.
But, from where we stood, in the out of the way corner that defined her comfort zone, we might have even forgotten why we were there.
Although the reality became apparent through the greetings, and the hugs, and the “I’m so sorry…” sincerely sent in her direction, over and over.
Her little brother had died. Her “little” brother was little in age, not in height or spirit. He had a presence about him 20 years ago when I greeted him in our dorm room. When he spent time with us. His charm, and sincerity, and personality resonated even then.
Her “little” brother was 36. Diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer months ago, he fought with every fiber of his soul, through every treatment and surgery presented. He fought for his family, for his wife of 10 years, and for his two handsome young sons. He fought out of zest and a love of life. He fought for his siblings and his Dad.
I remember when she and I spoke this summer. I remember the conversation because she asked me a question I didn’t want to answer, but one I had needed to ask myself months earlier. She asked how long it had been for my Dad, from the time he was diagnosed until the end. And as I choked over 10 weeks, I instinctively tried to fill that statement with stupid things… “he’s young, there are things he can do…” But, she had heard a number. Just as I had when I had asked the question months earlier.
And I kept an eye on the calendar as I checked in on my friend. And every day I thought of her. I prayed often for her brother, and the family.
Sunday came the text that he wouldn’t make the week.
Tuesday came the one that said he was no longer suffering.
Friday rolled into today, and we sat. Side by side in a standing room only funeral parlor. We hung onto each other’s hands and friends and family alike shared stories, and memories of a guy who seemed to have been larger than life. And my favorite story of the day came when they said he went back to college after he had his boys. And he got his Master’s Degree too. Not for financial gain, but because, “How can I hold my boys to a higher standard than I hold myself to?” Class. His spirit filled the room. There was an abundance of support, and love.
And then we were at this backyard party at her brother’s house. And to the naked eye it could have seemed like any end of summer gathering. But it wasn’t. People were eating, and sharing stories, and passing time together. And two handsome blond boys ran about with their friends.
And then there will be tomorrow. And this young woman, now a widow, will need to press on for her boys. And those boys will slowly come to the realization that Daddy is never coming home. And his sisters to the reality that he won’t be at the next gathering, and his Dad to the realization that his son and his wife have now gone on before him – leaving him with lots to take care of.
36 years old. Father of 2. Dead from Pancreatic Cancer. Illogical. Incomprehensible. Insidious, painful, horror show of a disease. It just doesn’t make sense.
And there have been so many things that don’t make sense. Ever. They pale in comparison to the horror of a son and a brother, and a father dying out of order, yet still they are the things that keep me wondering about all things.
I think it was Wednesday at work.
I had a first grade class. And the loudspeaker went something like this, “This is a soft lock down drill. Please take all proper steps.”
And just like that 28 first grade students instinctively went to the back corner of my room. The stayed low and quiet as I shut the lights and the smart board and locked the door. They got themselves out of sight of the glass window on my door. And they sat. Silently. And I was stunned. I think it was the 10th day of school. They range from 5 to 6 years in age. And they never moved. They looked to me for a reassuring face. I faked it.
Truth is as necessary as I know they are – I HATE those things. And in this post 9/11 world, littered with countless nonsensical school shootings, and deaths, I get it. And I take it seriously. And the reality that one day we COULD be a target of chaos doesn’t escape me. But that doesn’t mean I have to LIKE it. I don’t like that we need to scare the crap out of these little ones just in case. They are growing up in a wild world.
So wild that when Meghan’s Social Studies homework became to be aware of the news every day, (something we actively have tried to hide her from because there is just enough CRAP in her life) one of the first stories to come across was terror threats in Times Square. She gets things very quickly. And she is stellar at context clues. Dad’s in Times Square every day.
These kids are growing up in a tough world. Grown up worries. Grown up realities. Young minds. It’s so hard to make any sense of it at all.
And so when the ones who are supposed to help -just don’t, well that seems to make things worse.
In the middle of the renovations that swallowed the end of August, Meghan broke her foot. A stress fracture to one of the superficial top bones. I am absolutely not getting “Mother of the Year”” for this, because I was in full on “suck it up we have things to do” mode for the first 36 hours after she banged the foot hard into a misplaced shelf in the basement. That was a Thursday night. And by Saturday of Labor Day weekend, we found ourselves in Urgent Care with a “suspicion of fracture.” Of course being a holiday that simply meant ice, rest and elevate till Tuesday when we could get to the podiatrist.
And we brought the X-ray, and the report. And everyone was very pleasant and we were told that the X-ray abnormality didn’t exactly line up with the point of severe pain. So, clinically it was appropriate to diagnose a stress fracture, put her in a boot, and have her repeat the X-ray in 2 weeks.
So she began middle school days after getting her braces off, with this giant black boot on her leg. And she plugged along for two weeks, and we got the X-ray repeated as we were told to. So, when we returned to the office for the recheck we gave them the disk and the report.
There was some grumbling about the radiology place we went to writing the “worst” reports (but no one told us where to go,) and some discussion in the other room about things on the film that were “probably nothing.” (Doctors should learn some moms have rabbit ears.)
So he came into the room after having had Meghan take off the boot. There was a surgical resident in tow.
“How does the foot feel?”
Meghan, “Much better.”
“Great, there’s no evidence of fracture on the x-ray. You must have healed. Let’s transition you off the boot.”
Please know during this whole exchange he NEVER EXAMINED HER FOOT!
Me, having already read the X-ray report, ” What about the report talking about “bony bridging and bordering sclerosis.?” Does that mean anything?”
“Well, it’s not causing her pain is it?”
Me,”Well she doesn’t have foot pain, per se, but, there is chronic joint/muscle/bone pain that we work on. Could things being out of order in the foot trigger some of this?”
Me,”I guess really what I’m asking is, is anything on that X-Ray consistent with Cowden’s Syndrome?”
“Well does Cowden’s Syndrome cause bony overgrowth?”
Me, “You’re the doctor, I am asking you.”
“But you are far more familiar with the syndrome than I am.”
Me, in my own brain, Thanks to Google University, and then out loud, “Are you seeing this? (pointing to the extra bone that juts out of her left (and right) feet) on the X-ray?”
(THAT IS A PAGE FROM A WEBSITE, reviewed by a doctor at the cutting edge of PTEN research. It took me less than 10 seconds to find. It verifies bone cysts connected to Cowden’s Syndrome, and had anyone asked I would have been able to tell them about the “non-ossifying fibroma” in the left femur that scared the crap out of us when she was 2.)
“I don’t think so, but you should probably have a specialist look at that. I don’t need to see her again.”
And I turn to see the tiniest tear in the corner of Meghan’s eye…. “Mom, he never even touched my foot. He has no idea what the problem really is. What’s the point of wearing the boot? I have to trust my own body cause they don’t know anything. I think its healed and the boot is hurting my knee.”
She’s the closest I have to a doctor, and the thing that has made the most sense all week.
When you have a diagnosis that leaves you prepped for cancers of all types at all ages and in all places, there are things that rock you to your core.
Sometimes living with PTEN Hamartoma Tumor Syndrome is like living under the constant threat of a terrorist attack. But the terrorist is cancer.
You get to live in fear, or live your life.
You get to try and make sense of things, or run with them anyway.
With the motivation of those – not connected to us by Cowden’s, but connected to us by life – who have fought the good fight, I try to stay focused. To live life instead of hiding in a corner, or some days under the bed with the lights off…
So many things, so many tragedies will never make sense.
But it’s less about making sense, and more about being sensible. It’s about instinct. And love, and compassion. And cures. I am a big fan of cures.
Tonight, wherever you are in your life. Whatever is rattling your world, I ask you to stop for a minute.
Say a prayer for those two little boys who will begin to know that Daddy is never coming home.
Say a prayer for a family who lost a 36 year old high quality man too soon.
And please. In this world that makes no sense. Do something logical. And kind. For someone. Cause we ALL need it.