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On this day, every one of us still thinks back to where we were on that morning fourteen years ago; what we were doing, how we learned the news, who we called first. Everyone has their 9/11 story, just like everyone of older generations has their Pearl Harbor story or their JFK and MLK and RFK assassinations stories. But I always think, as we mark this day anew with each passing year, about the other meanings of this date. Lots and lots of things have happened on September 11ths, good things and bad things, big things and little things. People have gotten married, people – several that I know — celebrate their birthdays, people have died in ways completely unrelated to terrorist attacks.
We have our own September 11th story, one very different from the national story. It starts on Tuesday, September 4, 2007, the day I called the oncology department to ask them maybe, just maybe, could it possible that Austin’s tumor was growing. We had just been in the out-patient clinic the Friday before, his doctors had all looked at his belly during a super long day of chemo. But over the weekend, it seemed to be magically growing, something I didn’t really believe was possible (he had four weeks’ worth of chemo pumping through his small body after all), something I didn’t want to believe could be possible. But by the Tuesday after Labor Day, it was hard to deny any longer, so I called and brought him in and they all looked and asked questions and quietly consulted with each other in the hallway before admitting us to the in-patient floor.
The next morning, Austin had another CT scan and then there was that moment. A moment I’ve described in many previous writings because, well, because it was a pretty significant moment. In they marched, six of them — oncologists, surgeons, nurses — to break the news that Austin’s tumor was indeed growing; in fact, it had grown by a whooping 50% and was now the outrageous and hard to fathom size of a butternut squash.
That was September 5. Not a very good day. Then Friday September 7, the tumor and the right kidney were removed. That actually was a good day, a day we breathed deeply and allowed ourselves to rest for a brief moment. But the news we needed, the pathology results that would explain why the tumor had grown so terrifyingly quickly, and that would determine the rest of Austin’s cancer treatment and that might determine the rest of our lives, wouldn’t come back until the following Tuesday.
I do not have the writing skills to begin to describe how excruciatingly slowly each second ticks by when you are waiting to hear whether your child will live or die. Those six days, between when we learned of the growth on September 5 and when the results were finally returned to us on September 11, were likely the longest and most stressful days of our lives. We just needed to know. Good or bad — and we fully expected bad because that was the more reasonable thing to expect at that point — we just had to know. Waiting was almost unbearable.
And then Tuesday, September 11 was upon us. This was the day and it happened to be one with a date synonymous with tragedy. I actually considered calling our oncologist and telling him to wait, wait until Wednesday, a day with an ordinary date, to share this news with us. But I knew that was silly; the facts would be the same no matter what the calendar said. And we just couldn’t wait any longer.
And then Dr. Jeff appeared, bouncing like a child, excitement, relief, joy spilling over his professional doctor persona. Austin would be fine. Austin, as you know today, eight September 11ths later, is fine. But it changed the day for us. Changed the meaning of an already significant date.
Alongside our sorrow for all that was lost on this day fourteen years ago, we celebrate all that was saved on this day eight years ago. Alongside public commemorations, we have private ones. Alongside paying our respects, we pay our gratitude. In our house, this day is a good one. A very good one.