A Special Day

January 15 is a special day in our house. On this day in 2004, our son Adam (two years old at the time) was sent to the hospital with a possible diagnosis (later confirmed) of Acute Lymphblastic Leukemia (ALL). It was a nightmare day which blurred into a truly horrifying night.

Adam in his hospital bed that first weekend.

By January 16, a plan was in place, and we had a strange sense of relief at having some sort of protocol to follow, some way to work our way back to 'normal.' Adam would undergo a year of very intense chemotherapy, with two years additional moderate chemo after that. He had a subcutaneous port put under the skin of his chest, with a line directly to his heart. He had chemo orally, in IV form, intramuscularly, and in his spinal fluid. He had weekly spinal taps, two bone marrow draws, three transfusions, four hospital stays, untold amounts of vomit, constipation, and diarrhea. He had numerous side effects from the medications. He had constant skin rashes and infections. He had low immunity through a lot of it, and had to be isolated frequently.

It was hard.

Almost immediately, we joined a support group for parents of children with cancer, and hooked up with Camp Okizu, which provided us with family weekends at camp, and as the kids grew older, summer camps by themselves. We had great doctors and nurses and met all kinds of folks at the hospital and clinic.

And one thing became very clear: Although what we were going through was as hard as anything we could imagine, there were families going through even harder circumstances. Our focus began to shift from 'nothing could be worse' to 'we have a good chance of getting through this.'

You put blinders on, when you go through an experience like this. You make yourself see only this moment, only today. You can't plan for the future. You don't dare look three years ahead to the end of treatment, because three years seems like a slog from hell. You just appreciate what is now. You make yourself extremely present.

This was a great gift to me, personally, from cancer. I had always been the kind of person who wanted to know what was next - rushing to the next project - finding something new to clutch on to - running from my problems. I'm still like this in many ways, you may see that from the amount of projects I give myself even now! But cancer really made me focus on what was happening, right then. I'm so fortunate to have learned that lesson, and it has stayed with me ever since.

In honor of that, I took a little hike with Joe this morning in one of my favorite places in Shell Ridge Open Space, the Fossil Trail and the quarry. I wanted to be present in my memories of cancer, and of this day eleven years ago. It was particularly magical this morning, with mist hanging about, the fog clinging to the hills.

The quarry is full of fossils, from a time when this range was underwater.

There's new growth everywhere, and soon there will be wild blooms of California Poppy, California Penstemon, and Tidy Tips. Right now, the dried, dead stalks of fennel, buckwheat, and tarweed litter the meadow.

I found some Coyote Bush blooming, as well as some Milkweed seed pods. And lots and lots of moss and lichen.

The mist and fog worked on my memory and my heart, and I took courage at the thought that this area will be bright with flowers in a month or two.

We've come a long way from the days of sickness and despair, and what a pleasure to look at Adam today - a healthy, smart, kind, tall, handsome boy with long thick hair that he refuses to cut.

We are thankful.