Three years ago today Austin was diagnosed with cancer. The whole thing started on July 30, 2007 when we were admitted to the hospital. We were staying on the pediatric oncology floor, so you would think I have known my child had cancer, but I swear nobody actually said that word until Wednesday August 1.
Well, there’s no point in reinventing the wheel, so here are the first few pages of my original manuscript:
Monday, July 30, 2007
Dead calm. That is what I felt. Absolute calm. Although I was aware of a buzzing swirl of movement around me, a whirring, as if something was happening that I couldn’t yet put my finger on. Clarity hovering just outside my reach. Was that really this morning? Just ten hours ago? Here was this doctor, whom I’d only just met, who was supposed to look for something small and minor and instead found something huge and major. Huge and major. A tumor. Or did he call it a mass? My mom has assured me there is no difference and yet to say my baby has a mass in his belly seems a lot more palatable than “a tumor.” And still I was calm. No tears, no questions even. I never mentioned the C word. Still haven’t, ten hours later. And yet here we are, on the Pediatric Oncology floor. I guess that puts the C word debate to rest, huh?
Not sure what’s going on. Not sure where our lives derailed or where we’ll end up. We have no definitive answers, although the doctors all seem to have a pretty clear expectation of what this thing, this tumor, is. Not me. I’m waiting. Need to sleep.
But wait . . . where’s Braedan? My other child, in danger of getting lost in this mess. Ah yes, Mark dropped him off at his parents’ house, a sleepover with Grandma and Grandpa. And now it’s too late to call and say goodnight. I’m sure he’s fine. He is not the child I will worry about tonight.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
I walked around the floor this morning while Mark held Austin, venturing left and then right from our room. I peeked timidly through some of the open doors, not sure what I’d find. And not liking what I did: cards and construction paper artwork covering every inch of wall space, balloons and stuffed animals in every nook and cranny. Like they live here, their names in flowery letters on the doors: Ariana, Brandon, Judi, Ashley. Oh no. Not us. Give me a plain sterile tan room. This will not become our second home.
I stopped in front of a display case that had baseball caps in it, “Lids for Kids” or something like that, signed by Browns and Cavs and Tribe players, and I vaguely thought, “Oh, that’s nice. They do that for kids with cancer.” And then it hit me, like a slug to the stomach: kids with cancer. Is that us? Is that Austin? Does he need a cap signed by LeBron James?
This afternoon, following a quick recovery from his morning CT scan, Austin just wanted to move, move, move. So we left the confines of our room and he took off crawling down the hallway, happily looking up at all the people attached to the feet that moved past him, so curious about the carts of food and wheelchairs—things that go! (He is such a boy.) He made his way over to the nurses’ station where the doctor was sitting at a computer talking on the phone. Our oncologist. How official sounding, how terrifying. He glanced at us, lowered his voice mid-sentence and mumbled into the receiver, “I can’t really talk right now.” I scooped Austin up and headed quickly in the opposite direction. I am slowly starting to understand that this is serious. Not just to us, his parents, but to the doctors too. This is big.
Yeah, big. The news came a few hours later. Mark had returned with Braedan, who was trying out all the toys in the playroom (oh, the bliss of ignorance—his life is about to change too). My mom held Austin in the room and offered to watch Braedan but he quickly abandoned the new toys and insisted on going with us for our conversation with the doctors—not exactly a fabulous afternoon activity for a three-and-a-half-year old. We were ushered into the cramped Family Meeting Room, Mark and I on a half-couch with Braedan climbing all over us, our oncologist, our nurse practitioner, and our surgeon. Yes, we even have a surgeon. This morning’s CT scan showed that the tumor on the right kidney is seven-by-seven-by-fourteen centimeters and, as if that isn’t enough information on its own, there are five smaller tumors (“lesions” they call them because it sounds so much nicer) on the left kidney. This changes things. Both sides, both kidneys. Biopsy tomorrow morning, that will give us more answers but they think it’s something called Wilms’ tumor, a pediatric cancer of the kidney. Treatable, they say, still treatable.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
D-Day. Diagnosis Day. Austin has cancer. My child, my baby, has cancer. I mean, we’ve known, right? We’ve known for forty-eight hours. But there was a part of me holding out hope that it was all a mistake, a terrible misunderstanding. Not now. Now it’s official.