When I looked out the window this morning and saw a fine dusting of snow covering our cars and the top of the swing set, I shook my head and started to say, “I really thought it was over,” but didn’t quite finish that statement because what do I know about over?
I do know we’ve been making the most of our time together, before the battle begins. We went to the Natural History Museum on Saturday, let the boys climb on the dinosaur outside, watched the otters dancing playfully in the water. We took a hike around the duck pond yesterday, sat on some rocks as the geese swam by. Today we went on a “train ride,” about six stops on the RTA, and then out for a breakfast of Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes and bacon. We’ve taken lots of pictures and let the boys ham it up for the video camera. Mark and I spend a lot of our time watching them both run and jump and play, shaking our heads because it is just so unbelievable. He is so fine. Today he is so fine.
But things will change pretty quickly. We’re still waiting for the experts to report back with their suggested plans. I imagine we’ll sit down with Jeff on Thursday or Friday and lay it all out. There’s a possibility we might go to St. Jude’s in Nashville, whether for the initial surgery or for all of treatment remains to be seen. Jeff will help us sift through all the recommendations to decide if that’s necessary. As he said on Friday, there’s no competition between Rainbow and St. Jude’s (“This isn’t the Cleveland Clinic we’re talking about”) and Austin will simply go where he will get the best treatment. We really hope it doesn’t come to that though — talk about making the already-hardest thing that much harder. Without our families and friends around us, without our own house and own beds to come home to, without the familiar faces we’ve come to trust and love at the hospital. And I can’t begin to imagine how hard it would be for Braedan to have his life so flipped upside-down, as if a sibling with cancer isn’t disruptive enough. He loves his school and loves his friends, and needs every little bit of normalcy we can muster. But we’ll do what we have to.
We told him. Braedan, that is. On Saturday afternoon, while Austin was napping and I was afraid to wait any longer because I’d been walking out of the room in tears too many times already. So we sat him down on the couch between us and I started to cry and we just said, “We want you to know that Austin’s cancer has come back.” He looked at Mark and looked back at me and then Braedan, my boy with a vocabulary that puts college students to shame, who can hold a fully adult conversation with just about anybody, took a deep breath and said, “Poopy.” Mark and I laughed and wiped away our tears, “Yeah, that’s what we think too. This is definitely poopy.”
We talked about how it was okay to feel sad and scared and even mad, either at us for having to take care of Austin so much or at Austin himself for getting so much attention or just mad at nothing and everything all at once. He sat up straight and shook his head vigorously, “Nope, I’m fine. Not sad. Nope. Not scared.” My eyes met Mark’s as we were both wondering if we should push, “Hey, do you have any idea how bad this is?” but decided instead to let him protect himself in whatever way he needs to. Right now, the cancer isn’t visible and isn’t conceivable, even to us sometimes, but as we move forward and Austin’s sickness becomes painfully obvious, there will be plenty of opportunities for us to keep talking to him, for him to finally let us know how sad and scared and mad he is.
In the meantime, he told Austin! I had just warned Mark about it, and he said, “Oh Braedan’s not gonna tell him that quickly.” Well, within thirty minutes of waking up from his nap, Austin hears, “Guess what? You got your cancer back!” Oh boy. I talked to him about it then but he really doesn’t understand. He was on the swingset, I was pushing him “higher, mommy!” and he was excitedly awaiting the arrival of his favorite babysitter. So “cancer” doesn’t mean much right now. Good for him.
Mark and I are okay. We have had some truly horrible moments and some truly happy ones. I have vascillated between depths of despair and bits of pure optimism. I spent the first two days completely defeated, like we’d the lost the battle before it had even begun. My mind insisted on returning over and over again to the worst possible outcome, I envisioned scenarios that I cannot put to words for fear that might make them real. But it’s changing, I’m changing. I can feel my strength gathering, toughness and single-mindedness swirling around inside me. I am preparing. We will do this. I will be ready.
I think I must be rising. I am rising.