Saturday, September 12, 2015

If only we had wings

I was sitting at a stoplight on my drive to work one day this week and I noticed something. It was one of those lights that takes an unusual amount of time to change, so I was watching two very small birds navigate the long, gray pole hanging over the lane. One bird ran without hesitation to the end of the pole and stopped. The second bird was more hesitant. It ran a few steps then stopped and looked around, ran a few more, stopped a little longer. When the second bird found itself behind a sign that was attached to the pole, it hopped up to the top of the sign and perched itself on the thin metal.

I was a little surprised by the choice the bird had made. While it had been hesitant to run along the pole, which was quite wide from its perspective as a tiny being, it seemingly had no concerns about jumping and perching on a much thinner support. Why, I wondered, was it not afraid of that slender sign.

My morning brain came a little out of its fog and thought, duh ... it has wings! What would happen if it miscalculated the hop? It would have to fly a bit. No biggie.

The light turned green and I continued thinking about the bird. When we are very young, we approach our world like that bird does. We don't know anything about gravity. We haven't learned that it might be dangerous to run along that fencepost. We are daring, perhaps fearless, in our exploration of the world.

Then something happens.

We find out that we don't have wings and the superhero cape attached to our shoulders with safety pins hold only the love with which our mothers or fathers placed them there. Our balance falters. Knees get skinned. Salty tears wash the dirt from our cheeks.

We learn that we have limits.

That bird I saw is one of the least intelligent organisms on the planet. Its brain is so tiny, once it has directed the bird's heart to beat, lungs to breathe, wings to flap, and metabolic processes to occur, the only thoughts that could possibly run through it is to eat and to reproduce. Why, then, does this little creature get wings while human beings, who have such a capacity for thought and learning that we have not even begun to use our entire brain, get wobbly legs and frequent injury?

But what if we did have wings? What would be our limit? Where would we go? What would we do? Would we be as sedentary as we are? Would we spend our free time joyfully flying, free to explore wherever we wished to go? Would we take more risks?

I'm not sure the answer is yes. Because the real truth is that we have been made with beautiful and miraculous capabilities, yet we squander them. We let our knowledge of gravity and our experiences of hurt and discomfort keep us from pursuing what is "thin". We go for the "thick things" - eating, sleeping, entertainment, watching TV, and shopping. We avoid the exposure we may experience by pursuing the "thin" - knowledge, exploration, exercise, and love.

If only we could see our wings.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Forever changed

"I'm so sorry."

The words coming out of the surgeon's mouth three hours after my infant son went in for a surgery that was supposed to last less than an hour struck me as you would imagine. The next words would change me forever,

"It's cancer."

His apologies were not about my son having cancer, but rather about him assuring me days earlier that I shouldn't worry. That the likelihood of him having cancer was so rare, it wasn't even something to concern myself about.

The next two weeks are a blur. There are memories of dark hospital rooms before being moved to a pediatric oncology unit. There are memories of well-meaning friends and family saying all the wrong things. Memories of his oncologist telling me how to prepare myself for what was to come. 

I do remember, vividly, a conversation with the surgeon the day after the surgery. "We haven't gotten the results back from the lab, but the chances this is rhabdomyosarcoma is so rare, I am sure that isn't it."

And the visit the next day from the oncologist, "it's alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma." In those two days, I had the time to read the information packets the hospital had given me and I knew this was one of the worst pieces of news I could get, but I had already prepared myself for that being the news I would get.

The first day we returned home is still surreal to me. I can remember driving into my driveway, getting the kids out, walking to the porch and thinking. "Oncologist". "Oncologist". "Oncologist."

The sound of the word became very odd to me. "Your son has cancer" began repeating in my head.

"This is the home where your child has cancer." This thought stopped me in my tracks. I didn't want to go in. I was fearful that walking into that house would acknowledge or in some way make true that my son was entering into a fight for his life.

While you have been reading this, a family has been changed with a diagnosis. One out of 285 children will be diagnosed with cancer. Of those, one in five will not survive. Those who do survive often deal with long-term effects, hassles with insurance companies, and an always-present, heightened sense of awareness of changes in their body. For the families of all of the children fortunate not to go through this, it is hard to imagine the reality of childhood cancer. Please seek to learn more about childhood cancer and what you can do to support the research that can help to keep families from being forever changed.