Friday, August 11, 2017

Five Years Later

At 8AM on Sunday June 11th of this past year, Teddy had his 4th lacrosse game of the weekend. He also had had a playoff baseball game the Friday before, which I missed because it was the night of our annual (and quite massive) Jimmy Fund Walk fundraiser. I felt so badly to miss that baseball game, but there was no way around it. His team lost that Friday night, which ended their Little League season, but it was okay because summer baseball was just around the corner. Teddy loves summer baseball.

The Saturday morning after the big fundraiser, Brian asked me if he could play golf on Sunday. “Of course!” I responded, knowing that he really deserved this one morning of peace, away from the craziness that I had thrust him into with the 460-person conquer-cancer party.

Brian is usually Teddy’s event coordinator so with him gone for the morning, I was in charge of getting Teddy to the lacrosse game. Since it was at the field just behind our house, and since Annabel was still fast asleep at 7:15AM, I sent Teddy to walk to the game and asked his best friend’s mom let me know that he got there okay. When Annabel still wasn’t awake by the game’s start time, I decided I would just skip the game and let her sleep.

Annabel woke up around 8:30, so I had to decide whether it was worth rushing off for the very end of Teddy’s game. I asked Annabel if she wanted to go. “No!” she exclaimed. To be honest, I didn’t want to go either. Plus, we had no food in the house so I arranged for Teddy to go home from the game with his bestie. Bestie’s generous mom said I could grab him on the way back from the supermarket. It sounded like a good plan.

That morning, Annabel and I flew through Wegman’s at record pace (like under 25 minutes), so when she asked me if we could go to Target to get her new flip-flops (the dog had chewed up her old ones), I agreed.

As we were checking out at Target, I checked my phone. I had several missed calls and voicemails, and when I saw them all lined up aside the sound button on silent mode, my stomach fell to the ground. I knew something bad had happened.

I franticly returned my friend’s phone calls and learned that Teddy had seriously injured his shoulder in a collision with an opposing player. Then I shamelessly exceeded the speed limit on the ride from Target to Norwood Hospital. Brian and I both beat the ambulance there and as we waited for the ambulance, I wanted to puke. Was my little man okay? How had I not been there for him? The fear (and the guilt) were sickening.

It turned out that Teddy had a nasty break just below the shoulder. I could not believe the X-ray when I finally got up the courage to see it. 


The break itself wasn’t what got me. What got me was the fact that Teddy was not even crying or complaining of pain. What got me even more was that I hadn’t been there at the field to help him. I knew I was being so selfish, but I couldn’t help it. The mom-guilt was almost debilitating. 

* * *

It turned out to be a truly wonderful summer despite that Teddy spent most of it wrapped up in a sling and a swathe (I learned that you can’t cast a break as high on the arm as his was). He had a handful of meltdowns—mostly about missing summer baseball, a few about missing the chance to waterslide into a lake, and one about not being able to go tubing. But otherwise, he was quite adaptable to his new condition.

On July 10th, four weeks after he broke his arm, we returned to Children’s Hospital for another X-ray. We got good news that morning—the bone was healing. Teddy still had to remain in the sling and the swathe, but there was progress.

Three weeks later, we had another follow-up appointment. They didn’t take another X-ray but the physician’s assistant pulled up the X-ray from last time. I hadn't seen it before and when I saw it this time, I was confused. It still looked like the bone was completely broken. I looked and looked but I really didn’t see much healing. Do you?!?

As my untrained eye examined the X-ray, the PA took his pen up against the computer screen and pointed my attention to a part of the image that I hadn’t noticed.

“All of this is new bone,” he explained pointing to the white shading on the right side of the break. I didn’t get it but I pretended I did. “See?” he asked, tapping his pen against the relevant part of the screen. “This is bone that the body has generated since the break.”

Then I saw it—new bone! Lots of new bone!

The PA explained that the break will eventually grow down in the arm, no problem at all. The new bone was there and it was strong. Teddy could "return to all activity." I felt like we had let a caged animal free.

* * *

I have been walking a lot lately, trying to get ready for The Jimmy Fund Walk in September. On those long walks, I have thought a lot about a very significant milestone in my cancer experience—five years since my diagnosis. The day came this past Tuesday. August 8, 2017. I remember when Dr. Bunnell told me that if I reached five years, the chances of my cancer coming back were largely reduced. I remember thinking that five years was an eternity. In some ways, it was. In other ways, it was the blink of an eye. 

As I reflect on this milestone, I don't think of it as a victory. I know that anything can happen and I don't take a single day for granted. But Teddy's second X-ray taught me something about my cancer experience that I never understood before now. For me, if I look at the part of me that broke when cancer came along, I wouldn’t get very far. In many ways, that part still looks (and feels) broken. Wonderful people I know, and don't know, have died of this disease. Friends and their families continue to suffer. There are scars and sometimes, lingering pain. I get scared. I worry about how my family would cope if I wasn't here. In many ways, the break is still broken. 

But a crazy thing also happened in these five last years, without me even noticing it—somewhere else and sometime else, another part of me grew stronger. Like the new bone that formed on Teddy's arm. The break itself may still be there and may take many more years to "grow out." But on the other side of my cancer photo, there is progress. I have returned to activity, lots of beautiful activity. I am so blessed for that. And so blessed that in just a few weeks, Teddy will begin fall baseball.