United we stand.

 

The past few two months have been very busy. Martin mentioned a little while back that it seemed I hadn’t written anything for quite a while. Actually, what he said was “Hey, how come you never write anymore”. (“Hey” is our nickname for each other. You know, like some people say “honey” or “babe” ? We say “hey”. It’s all really quite romantic over here.)

Well, he has a point, but his question is not entirely accurate. I write a lot. In fact, I’m writing all the time.

I’m writing applications and letters to request funding, emails to request information, articles and emails and letters to raise awareness.

I’m writing posts for other blogs, like zoe4life.org, in French and English, or facingcancer.ca

I’m writing posts on facebook and replying to comments, and messaging people.

I’m whatsapping or text messaging roughly one hundred times per day.

But I have not, for two months, really written about what’s been going on in my life. And by that I mean, inside me, in my head. In my heart.

So here goes.

First, there’s Zoé, my very good friend’s daughter, who has relapsed neuroblastoma. Sigh.  For those unfamiliar with neuroblastoma, have a quick google of “neuroblastoma” and “relapse”. Then you will also sigh.

To be clear, Zoé is doing great. No, more than great, she is phenomenal. She is outstanding. She is amazing. She is exhausting us with all her energy and enthusiasm!ecole4

But inside her little body are cancer cells that just kept multiplying despite chemo, despite showing no symptoms at all. This summer she finally had a specialized nuclear medicine treatment that has shown effectiveness in these types of cancers. It was hard on everyone, not because it hurts or makes you sick, but because the treatment is radioactive and so requires the child to be in isolation for over a week… Isolation. At age 4.

And you know, I have almost never been sad about Zoé. I always feel that somehow, there are still options that could work.  I think I manage to stay optimistic probably because she’s not my child so I don’t get scared about the “what ifs”, I see only the logical fact that a cure is still possible.

But emotions are strange. I suddenly felt sadness two days after Zoé was released from the hospital, when her parents could finally take her out of that room, actually touch her and hug her, when her sister was finally allowed to see her, when her mom who had been living at the hospital for almost two weeks could also go home. Why?

Because on that day, Zoé’s grandfather had to be rushed to the hospital because of sudden heart problems.  And of course the family rushed to the hospital to be by his side. And Zoé’s mom sent me messages telling me what had happened, and while waiting in the hospital for the next few days, she sent me photos of the renovations that had been done on that floor of the hospital, which she had never seen before since it’s not the same floor Zoé usually goes to. Happy, cheerful messages showing me how nice these renovations were coming and wouldn’t it be nice if they did our floor too.

Seeing those photos and getting those cheerful messages almost broke my heart. I’ve never told her that so she’s reading this now too. It was because of the strength she showed, the ability to see the positive no matter what, the resilience, the optimism… And maybe the fact that I wish my friend could send me happy photos of she and her kids on vacation somewhere… She has spent so much time at that hospital that a renovated floor is exciting.

Now, run and hug your kids once before I continue.

Zoé and her family have a very full life. They are lucky, because despite everything, Zoé still has no symptoms. She can do anything any little 4 year old girl can do.

I met another mom, who’s daughter had  AML leukemia, last February.  I’ll call her Sara, just to protect her privacy. She was three years old and had relapsed. Now google “AML” and “relapse” and sigh.

For the next several months I kept in touch with Sara’s mom, through the ups and downs (and believe me the downs were very, very down). Sara was not “lucky” like Zoé. Her cancer was so aggressive and combined with various infections , that from the moment I met her mom, Sara never left the hospital.

The medical staff at the hospital, no, in all of Switzerland, did everything to save Sara. They went above and beyond. They tried everything, considered all options, attempted the impossible.

You know, when I was one, a man walked on the moon. Since then various missions to space have taken place, all costing in the billions of dollars. When you consider the species called human beings, and it’s abilities and limitations, one of the basic facts is that we are stuck on this earth. We can’t fly. We can’t go somewhere where there is no oxygen. We can’t live very long without food and water. And yet 44 years ago we figured out how to fly to a place extraordinarily far, where there is no oxygen, food or water. And one of us took a step. For man and for mankind.

You would think that the knowledge and resources required to accomplish this would make us capable of conquering anything. Anything.  Especially something as small as a leukemia cell, floating around inside a three year old girl, right here on earth.  But destroying a leukemia cell is not nearly as exciting as walking on the moon. And so our governments spend way more money on astral bodies than on three year old bodies. New things are discovered in space! Fun!

 

Leukemia is not new. The type Sara had was certainly not new. But these little cells floating around inside her body, right here on this earth, were too big a challenge.

And not for lack of trying. Not for lack of courage. I believe it took all the courage in the world for her parents to make the decisions they made. All the perseverance in the world for the medical team to keep fighting for her life, and in those last moments when everything started to go wrong, and the team scrambled to stop the cascade of failing organs in a desperate attempt to get control, for her parents to finally say stop, that’s enough. And have them take out all the tubes and wires so they could hold their daughter one last time and tell her it was ok to go.

Zoé’s mom and I helped plan Sara’s memorial service.

So that was last week.

The last week of September, childhood cancer awareness month.

The month of September has been going gold all over the world. Tony Stoddard, Cole’s dad, was instrumental in orchestrating this movement, with all of us in the childhood cancer community tuning in to his facebook page to see what was going gold next. Before he died, Cole said to his dad “I’m not going to grow up to do anything”. I almost cried just writing that sentence, it is so hard. But he did do something.  His dad, instead of shutting down in despair (like I kind of worry that I might have done had it been my child), decided to take action. To turn September gold in honour of his son. In honour of all our kids. And tomorrow’s children.

He, like Neil Armstrong, took that first step.

September was gold. And it wasn’t just that buildings and landmarks, bridges and ships were illuminated, it wasn’t just that almost every state officially declared September as childhood cancer awareness month. It was more than that. It was bigger than that. Because in September, we came together.  We had a clear goal and we all worked toward it in our own way, in our own parts of the world.

We were uniting in ways that had not happened in the past.

Last week started for me with the incredible high of watching the Jet d’eau in Geneva turnJet d'eau 2013-0469 (2) gold for childhood cancer awareness, hit an all time low with Sara dying the next day, and a few days later I found myself in Denmark on Saturday at my father-in-law’s anniversary party and started to notice something odd. There, out of the corner of my eye, I spot a gold ribbon. No, I must be imagining it, seeing gold ribbons everywhere. And yet… wait, there’s another. A child runs by. Another. I suddenly realized, all the children were wearing gold ribbons. My mother in law had arranged it, and gave a beautiful speech about childhood cancer awareness month.  (In Danish, might I add. And yes! I understood it! Well, most of it. Almost all. Ok I’ll have to ask her for a copy of the speech). The point is, I suddenly felt that even with the terrible low of the week, we were moving forward. Elliot was the only child in that room who had had cancer. But all the people in the room were now uniting against childhood cancer.

Today we are October first. Breast cancer awareness month, where everything goes pink.

And yeah, let’s just say it, we’re all a bit jealous. Because it seems so easy for them. Pink is everywhere, from batteries to eggs to dolls and pink races and events all over the place. Much of this promotion started in September, “our” month, which, let’s just admit it, made us feel slightly angry. Oh who am I kidding, some of us went right off the deep end if anything pink was visible before midnight on September 30th.

But their battle to attain this level of…pinkness, was hard won. They have fought to get to this point and we should applaud and support them.  I’ll be donating to this charity: http://www.metavivor.org/index.html, this year, because I can trust that all the money I give goes to where I want it to go. Plus, they have nice scarves. Christmas gift  shopping and supporting a good cause.

I’ve mentioned it before but here it is again: in the 1950s the New York Times refused to print and ad for a breast cancer support group. Why? Because it had “that” word.

How far we have come.

So let me be clear. If you are a woman and have 7 friends, one you is going to get breast cancer. So look around the table the next time you are out at a girls night. And one out of every  three women who gets breast cancer will have metastases into vital organs, for which there is no cure.

We can support the pink, applaud the pink, embrace the pink… And here’s an idea: how about we imitate the pink? Why not look to them for guidance as they have forged this difficult path, that we can now follow by watching how they do it and doing it ourselves? We can even make sure we avoid any pitfalls and mistakes , ensuring our gold always supports organizations which are financially beyond reproach!

The saddest thing we could do right now is to let the negatives overwhelm us. We can’t all have the same opinions. We don’t all believe in the same things, think the same way, support the same issues. As I like to say to my husband, “You’re entitled to your wrong opinion.” 🙂

Let’s keep the momentum of the last month going, and stay united.

Cole’s dad took a step. A huge, incredible step. Imagine what he will attain next year, if this year was only the first small step for man

Next year: one giant leap for mankind.

Who’s with me here?

I realize this blog post touched on some pretty heavy topics. Oh go ahead and say it, I’m a downer sometimes. So to make up for that, I’ll leave you with some advice from Cole. His last words to his parents were a message, maybe an order, for all of us:

“Smile. Be happy.”

 

Walking down the quiet hallway.

You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have...

You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have…

Sometimes, especially late in the evening like right now, the quiet of our home brings me back to the quiet of the hospital late at night. The haunting echo of my footsteps as I pace up and down the hallways, up and down, trying to walk away from the fear.

The nights when Elliot was in the ICU were the longest, there is no small cot for the parents in there, just a chair next to his bed and a curtain separating you from the next child. His epidural, we found out later, had been wrongly placed so he was in lots of pain, the nurses did their best with morphine injections and other painkillers. Martin and I knew right away we would not be leaving his side, not for one minute. We could not control the fact that he had cancer, but he would not wake up and be alone and in pain, that was one thing we could make sure of. So we divided the nights into shifts, each of us taking turns getting three hours of sleep in a small bedroom at a local student’s residence a block from the hospital and then coming in to replace the other.

These were some of the hardest nights. The hardest days too.  Exhaustion, anxiety, fear, achingly present all the time, all the time.

Some things went wrong. Because of the wrongly inserted epidural needle, Elliot had a neurological reaction to the lidocaine which was sent right up his nerves to his brain, he convulsed and his pupils dilated into different sizes. The doctors didn’t realize it was the epidural, so they told us it was probably a brain tumor and scheduled an emergency MRI. Did I mention these were some of the bad days?

Since the nurses felt the epidural wasn’t helping with pain management, they stopped using it. His eyes went back to normal, and the doctors met in a semi circle around his bed to finally decide it must not be a brain tumor after all. MRI cancelled, and off they go. And we stand there, shaking with relief, with fear, with a “what just happened?” expression as they all head off to the next case.

All day, both of us sitting next to his bed, on the alert in case he woke up in pain, ready to pounce at the little button to call the nurse. All night, tossing and turning in the student dorm, or sitting in the dark ICU next to his bed, shivering, with a thick sheet wrapped around my legs, another around my body, watching the little red lights blink, which mean everything is ok.

And when we were both there and one of us needed to stretch our legs, or at “shift change” in the middle of the night, the long slow walk down the quiet hallways.

Being given bad news, the nurse taking me out of the room to comfort me so that I don’t cry in front of my son. Being given the good news, walking out into the hallway feeling like I’m going to fly to the moon, and seeing another mother who is crying. The nurse comes to her.

The strangest feeling as I sit here tonight in my quiet living room, is that I know there is a child in that bed and a mother pacing that hallway right now, as I sit comfortably at home.

How many other moms have I met since this adventure began? How many other kids? I’m not exactly sure, but some very close friendships have been born out of this bizarre twist in the road my life has taken.  It is such a strange feeling to be glad about the friendships I have made on this trip, and yet to know I would wish this experience on no one.  I have had laugh-out-loud moments with other cancermoms, giggling like teenagers as we talk about some of the strange or ridiculous hospital situations we have been in. I have been in tears with the same moms.

One of the scariest moments for me strangely enough involved another mom’s child. I was on a girl’s trip with some non-cancer friends to Prague, out shopping all day, going to a concert at night. I had been so looking forward to this trip, my first time away for over a year. But anxiety kept eating away at the edge of my mind, I felt I didn’t “belong” in this world. I had changed but the world had stayed the same. I didn’t care as much about buying clothes or gifts, I struggled to let go of the worrying but anxious thoughts clung to me like a heavy blanket wrapped around my shoulders, dragging me down, making every step difficult.  My two good friends, who had flown all the way from Canada to meet up with me, could probably sense it, they have known me for a couple decades now.

Suddenly, a text message, from another mom I know who was at the hospital for a check up for her 4 year old girl. The message is brief. “There’s a long bright spot on the scan. It can only be a relapse.”

I stood reading and re-reading the message, cold Prague air creeping up around my ankles, into my coat, up my spine.

For the first few seconds, I felt nothing, just a strange sharp pain in my stomach. No emotion. There was no reason to expect a relapse in this little girl right now. The treatment had been very successful.  There were no signs, no symptoms. Kind of like… Elliot, when we discovered his cancer. No symptom at all. A perfectly healthy child, running around being normal, and suddenly they tell you he’s at death’s door.

I started to type a message back right away.

I can’t believe it…” No, that feels wrong! Delete.

Are you sure?…” Wrong. Delete. The ache in my stomach is getting worse. My fingers are wrapped tightly around the phone, frozen from the cold.

What did the doctors say?” Stupid question. Delete.

I can’t think of what to write. And the reason I can’t think of what to write is that there is nothing I can write that will fix this.

So I finally just wrote: “I’m here.  I’m crying.” Knowing that was no help at all. And then the tears came, not just for this little girl and her mom, but for all the kids, and for mine, and then for me, who didn’t deserve to have to worry so much about my own child, who should have been able to just enjoy a damn girl’s trip to Prague.

Of course my friends did exactly what friends should do in situations like this, which is wrap their arms around me, take me out for some drinks and desert for supper. (Sidebar: absinthe is very very cool to watch, as the bartender prepares it and pours and burns the sugar on the special metal carved spoon, but it tastes terrible.  Despite the desperate times, we could not drink it, and quickly left the Absinthe bar for a more sophisticated restaurant serving wine and decadent Czech deserts).

My friends, eager to make me feel better, talked it over, and decided that I was probably getting too immersed in the cancer world. I was drowning, worrying about every child, and this was making me unable to see that everything was now ok with mine. We decided I need to start focusing on other things. Get a hobby. Take a class. I agreed, actually starting to feel slightly embarrassed at my little tearful breakdown. It was all so logical. I just needed to distance myself from the cancer world.

But instead of feeling better, I started to feel angry. The wine and desert kept the anger quiet for a while, but it seeped in at some point in the middle of the night. I kept it hidden for most of the next day, since I was travelling back to Geneva, and anyway it’s easy to disguise anger when you’re at the airport and your flight is late, everyone is angry anyway.

Somewhere over western Austria I finally admitted to myself that I had no intentions of focusing on other things. I was angry at this relapse. It didn’t make sense. It was illogical (which cancer is, of course) but things that are illogical bug me.  The girl’s mom and I had texted back and forth a bit and apparently the doctors were mystified too. All the other tests were fine, just this one image that showed a relapse. This cancer was (and still is) just a big bully trying to scare us into admitting defeat. Well, NO, I thought. I’m not hiding from this, I’m not going to pretend it can’t happen to me. It could.

Yes, the logical thing would be to protect myself, to distance myself from any unpleasantness. The truth is, I do that a lot. I can’t watch any movies or tv shows where kids get hurt or die. I stopped reading the newspaper because there’s always a story about some horrific tragedy involving kids. It’s easier to just avoid unpleasant things, isn’t it?

But here’s the thing: I can’t abandon a friend. No matter what. And if it were me, if one day it happens to Elliot, I would not want all my cancer mom friends to run away and hide. I would want them to join forces to support me through this, no matter what. To be there, to join in the fight, to hold hands if things go wrong. To be strong when I can’t.

And strangely enough, once I made this decision, the nagging anxiety I had felt even before the Prague trip lifted. Yes, bad things happen. They happen even when they shouldn’t  and sometimes the unfairness is so bitter you can taste it. But sometimes, good things happen too.  In the middle of the fight for your child’s life you find you have made a friend. In what should be your darkest days you laugh out loud at something silly. In your weakest moment you discover a strength that wasn’t there before.

So there you go. I’m not leaving the cancer world. I DID take up a hobby, completely unrelated to cancer (I’m taking piano lessons! Ack! My piano teacher says the fact that I played piano as a child will help me learn it again… That was before she heard me play the piece I had practiced all week… She smiles a lot, kind of like you do when your shoes are too tight.)

No, instead, I’m going to toughen up. I’m going to face the fact that tragedy happens. I can try to help, try to hope for a miracle for everyone I meet along the way. I can be there, in the same way I would hope someone would be there for me if I needed it. I can stand by my friend and face whatever comes. I can research treatment options if it helps and keep calm and logical because it’s easier to keep the facts clear when it’s not your child. I can feel all the pain and fear but can also keep repeating the most important fact. “the doctor believes they can cure her.”

And the anger? I’ve channeled it. I remember reading that anger is the best emotion to make you take action. Anger is motivating. Anger is fuel. So I’m angry at cancer, and the result is that I’ve decided to stop cancer. Yeah, that’s right. You know, when I put my mind to something, I can be pretty stubborn about it. So there’s a few paths I can take: either I can quit my job and go back to school to study to become a medical researcher, and find a cure for some of the worst childhood cancers. This has the definite disadvantage of a)taking WAY too much time b)requiring me to study and c)losing my salary in the meantime. Not to mention the fact that I want to do something NOW. (Did I mention I have no patience?) So my other option is to find people who already have done all the studying and schooling and all that boring stuff, and support them as they try to find a cure for the worst childhood cancers.

So if you want to know why I’m involved in fundraising, now you know: it’s because I’m too lazy to study. Yeah, I’m often immersed in the cancer world (except for my clearly brilliant moments of piano playing), but it’s a conscious choice.

Being strong all the time when you’re alone is impossible. But if all of us cancermoms, cancerdads, cancerfriends  stand together, our combined strength will be enough.

Worry

The subject of worrying is one that comes up frequently in my mind. I often have little debates with myself about my worries; in fact sometimes the little debates turn into outright arguments… How dare you think of this worry again?!?! We just spent the whole afternoon yesterday going over this! Remember? We looked in the mirror and told her to cut it out, it was senseless! Did you not listen?

The thing is, I can worry about almost anything. There is a part of me (that alternate person inside) who comes up with stuff you would not imagine. My husband likes to say I would not want to miss out on any opportunity for a good worry. He’s kind of right, the worrier in me loves to get her teeth into a real good worry bone and gnaw at it for hours, while the other, more sensible me is the one trying to grab the bone away and toss it into the garbage. It’s a dangerous battle.

About a month ago, I noticed that Elliot was sweating while he slept. His new little wisps of hair were all damp and there was a damp spot on the pillow.

Panic.

If you google “child cancer” and “night sweating”, you will immediately find out that these two subjects are inexorably linked like salt and pepper, like peanut butter and jam, like backflips and Jesse. It’s basically a clear cut case: bad, bad news.

I worried at it the entire next day, occasionally being distracted while playing with Elliot who was running around being silly, or by making him another meal or snack since he is eating all the time.  I returned to my laptop several times in between taking care of my active, energetic boy to google alternate variations of the same thing: “sweat” and “wilms tumour”, or “sweating” and “cancer recurrence”. The prognostic was always just as terrible.

Finally I have the courage (and time) to tell my husband late that evening. His reply: “He’s always been like that, hasn’t he?”

I think it over.

Yes, actually, it does seem that he often has been kind of a sweaty kid.

In fact, I remember some photos of a trip we took a few years ago, and his hair is all damp.

So maybe?… Just maybe… It’s NOT a sign of recurrence?

Staring to feel a bit of relief. A bit of light is shining into my dark tunnel of despair.

For about an hour, the worry subsides. Then…

“BUT WAIT!” yells the other voice inside my head.

“What?” I answer cautiously, unsure I want to hear the answer.

“Sure, he’s always been like that, but HE ALWAYS HAD CANCER!!!”

“Wait a minute.” I reply, trying to quell the rising fear. “He didn’t ALWAYS have cancer. We don’t know how long it was there before it was discovered. “

“That’s right” says the voice, now filling me with cold dread. “YOU DON’T KNOW!!”

So I google everything I can think of to try to determine how long the cancer was likely there before it was diagnosed, and cannot find any definite answer. I basically find every possibility from the option that it started to grow only a couple months before being found, to the possibility that it was already in the works when my husband and I went on our first date.

To the worrier in me, this means I have to keep worrying. Until I have a definite answer, the worry cannot be shut down.

At one point I get exhausted and somehow manage to stop thinking about it.

The next day at work, my worries are back at full force.

A good friend and I are sitting in the break room chatting. She knows me well enough to know when I’m not ok. So she asks. So I tell her all about it. About the Terrible Night Sweating Symptom.

She doesn’t even miss a beat. “Nicole.” She says, and waves her hand toward the window, where the sun is blindingly bright on the hot pavement. “ It’s 36 degrees out. Of course he’s sweating. We’re all sweating.” She smiles kindly, but also looks like she knows I’m slightly insane. (This is the beauty of my friendships, they like me anyway.)

I stare at her for a while, the madwoman in me trying to come up with a plausible counter argument.

“But he didn’t sweat like this while he was getting chemo.”

“It was winter.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right…” The worrier in me is unconvinced but has basically run out of arguments. The strong, brave, self-confident me starts to re-emerge.

“Of course, you’re right. What was I thinking?” I say, relief starting to flow back into me like light into my dark tunnel of despair. (It’s a bit of a merry-go-round in here.)

Now I’m feeling silly. I actually indulged this worry for two days!

“You know”, I add, he’s eating well and has tons of energy, and loves school…” My friend is smiling, she has won this battle.

I think of Elliot at school. Then a thought. Just a glimmer, at first, then it works its way into the front of my mind… The other day at school I was watching him running around outside during recess and I noticed that he doesn’t run as fast as most of the other kids!

Panic!

I mention this as casually as possible to my friend.

“He’s been basically inactive for a year.” She says. “And didn’t you say one of the chemo drugs affects his nerves and reflexes and that it would take time to recover?”

I am hearing her, but the other part of me is aching to get on the computer and google “cancer recurrence” and “running speed”… Or maybe “wilms tumour” and “how-fast-do-normal-kids-run”… or maybe…

So here’s the thing. I have decided to put a stop once and for all to these paralyzing worries. I have come up with A Strategy.

The basic concept is this: when I worry, I will classify my worries into one of two categories: productive or un-productive.  The productive category  includes worries that actually can lead to some kind of action: for example, I’m driving and am worried I might run out of gas since the light is blinking, so I drive to a gas station. (This, by the way, rarely happens as Martin seems to have this worry so overwhelmingly under control that our cars are almost never below ¼. Isn’t he great? Or maybe he knows that I am strangely unafraid to take a chance with it, telling myself that “it’s downhill most of the way”?)

The unproductive category would be things that are un-solvable, things that just cause me to continue to analyze, research and ruminate over them without any solution or action being possible. For example, when I consider the possibility that the team of oncologists and specialists overseeing Elliot’s case might, during their weekly patient review meetings, be laughing and tossing the dice to determine which chemo to give Elliot this week.  It is, after all, not much use to worry about whether the last oncologist we saw, who has over 30 years of experience in this field, might not quite have as much information about Elliot’s cancer as my google searches have given me. At some point, I just have to decide to trust these guys. Trust them with my little boy’s life.

So there you have it: my Anti-Worry Strategy. I’ll let you know how it goes.  Perhaps as an additional tactic I should get google to ban me from too many searches, the way casinos ban gambling addicts?

Fear

The three of us!

Elliot, walking into the bathroom where I was brushing my teeth, looked at me seriously and said “I think my heart is going to explode.”

Needless to say, I dropped my toothbrush and asked him what he meant. He put his hand on the upper left side of his abdomen and said, with a worried look, “It hurts right here.” I knelt down in front of him, and lifted his shirt.  The area he was indicating was roughly where his remaining kidney is, so my heart started beating a little faster. I asked him to describe the pain.

“Well, I was jumping up and down on the sofa…” (does a little jumping dance at this point to demonstrate), “and suddenly I felt this pain!”

We stare at each other a bit.  I tentatively ask if it still hurts now, since he is looking pretty much ok.

He hops around a bit, then declares “Yep, still hurts. Hey!” A lightbulb goes off on top of his head. “Isn’t this where my other thingy that makes pee is? Maybe it’s a new lump?”

A lump is forming in my throat as he says that, but I calmly say “You mean your kidney .”(“Yeah, kidney”, he repeats). “I doubt there would be a new lump there Elliot”, I say, amazingly staying completely calm, “ For one thing, you had a scan that didn’t see anything, and also you are still getting chemotherapy which would make sure that never happens again.”

“Hmmm,” he thinks it over, actually scratching his bald little head. “Oh maybe it’s allergies like you said I would have!”

Both Martin and I have hay fever and have been suffering with it a bit recently, and were wondering if Elliot would eventually have it too.

“Maybe” he says excitedly, “I breathed in those bad pollen thingies and they went into my lungs and made a hole and the air went down into those tubes where the poo is…”

Me: “Intestines?”

Elliot: “Yeah instead- tins! And now the air has made a hole!” His eyes open wide with the dramatic intensity of his prognosis.

I ask him a few more questions, and find out that he just ate a huge lunch before deciding to jump around on the sofa. I am starting to get a glimmer of a possibility.

“Elliot, I honestly think what you have is a cramp.”

“A cramp!” he says with horror, his eyes huge. “Is that really bad?”

Oh my poor sweet little boy. I wondered at the beginning, when he was diagnosed, if there would be any psychological side effects, and hoped that because he was so young, he would not be too affected.

But, resilient though he is, he knows what’s going on. Not too long ago,  on a day we had to leave for the hospital, he was in tears as usual, resisting my attempt to get his shoes on, saying he needed to watch “just one more tv show” and eat “just one more snack” and then he would be ready to go. We insisted, explaining patiently for the millionth time that this treatment was essential to making him better again. He looked at us with big tearful eyes and said “Why did I have to get this? Why couldn’t I get an illness that was easy-peasy?”.

He knows that cancer isn’t easy-peasy. He worries about the treatment, about how he will feel after the treatment, and about whether the cancer could recur. Just like we do.

I wanted to spare him all that by always acting optimistic around him, never showing him just how scared I was too. But he’s figured it out anyway.

A few nights ago I went in to check on him as he was sleeping. He had been wheezing a bit, so my mom-radar was on. He’s always had a bit of asthma so I knew it was probably nothing unusual, but I wanted to check on him anyway, because well, that’s what I do. Worry and check. Check and worry.

He looks so innocent as he sleeps there, curled up on his right side and snuggling his polar bear. I put my hand on his chest to feel him breathe.

And that’s when I feel it.

A lump.

On his upper right chest, just below the shoulder. Elliot had lung tumours in that area. Well, he had lung tumours everywhere. Lots of them. But the chemo made them all shrink.

This feels hard, like bone. I am breathing faster and can feel my heart beating, but I tell myself that it’s just because of the position he’s in. I move him down onto his back so he is lying flat, and feel for it.

Still there. I feel the same spot on the other side, on his upper left chest. No corresponding bump that would somehow make me think this is a normal part of his anatomy.

My heart is pounding in my ears now, as I sit there in the dark. I feel covered in icy sweat. I keep feeling back and forth between the upper left and upper right side. There is no doubt: he has a hard lump on the right side, the size of a quarter.

Panicking, I turn on the bedroom light and lift up his shirt.  Elliot wakes up groggily and mumbles something about leaving him alone.  And two things happen simultaneously: I see the port-a-cath bump on his chest and realize there’s no lump.

The port-a-cath bump. The same bump that has been there for the past 10 months, ever since the operation to install the port-a-cath, through which he receives chemo.  The same bump that I see every day when he gets dressed, when he bathes, and of course when they do the chemo. The bump that feels just like a hard, quarter sized lump.

He looks at me with a sleepy smile, pulls down his shirt and rolls onto his side, snuggling closer to his polar bear. “Can you turn off the light when you’re finished please?” he mumbles, and then he’s asleep again.

So I flick the switch and sit there in the darkness for a while, my breathing still fast, my head swimming.

There’s no new lump. The treatment really is working.

When does the fear go away?

Is it in a couple weeks when we get the results of the end-of-treatment scan, telling us we are “officially” done treatment and only need to come back in three months? Is it only after that two year post treatment milestone, knowing how unlikely relapses are after that date? Is it when he’s a teenager and comes home safe after a night out with friends? Is it when he moves out and starts his own life as an adult, no longer our child to worry about?

My mom has been surviving cancer for 12 years. She has CT scans every three months, and every time, there must be a bit of the “what if” fear. But she never shows it, at least not to us, her kids.

How do you live every day without being overwhelmed with worry? And yet, life involves risks, every day. When I strap Elliot into his car seat, I never think about the risk of a deadly car accident, and yet, the lifetime odds of a car accident are 1 in 4. Odds of dying from a car accident are 1 in 100. The statistics for Elliot’s cancer: 1 out of every 10,000 kids will get this, and the cure rate for those is roughly 80%. So, statistically speaking, I should be more worried about the drive to the grocery store than the cancer. But that is not how our brain works.

I wrote not too long ago about courage…(http://nicolescobie.com/?cat=16). I realize now that not only is it important to face fears during moments of crisis, but also in the long term, and every day. Life equals risk. As I was looking up those statistics earlier, I came across one important fact: your lifetime risk of dying is 100%. We try to ignore that fact, but there it is. Is there a way to turn that fact into a good thing? Maybe. It’s a reminder of how precious our time together is.

While I write this, Elliot is snuggled under a blanket on the sofa, cuddling his polar bear. Today is a chemo day.

I guess I’ll go snuggle with him.