This seems bigger than me.
What I’m trying to write. Usually I start moving my fingers and go from there. I can’t seem to get the first sentence out. So this is my excuse of a hook. Forgive me; I know it’s not a good one.
About nine days ago if you had asked me about the scariest moment of my life, I would have been at a loss for a legitimate answer. Here’s what I probably would have come up with:
It was a summer evening about seven or eight years ago. Maybe longer… I can’t really remember. I do remember it was a summer Johnny and Cat were living at home but Lauren wasn’t. Our summer mission was to watch the first season of Lost together. Mission accomplished no problem. It was the premier episode of season two that posed more of an issue. My fifteen-year-old self (or at least somewhere around that age) was paralyzed with terror as the TV screen turned black where a man’s crazed face had been seconds before at the close of the episode.
My dutiful daughter personality left me folding blankets with shaking hands as all other family members exited the living room. I didn’t really mind until my dad flipped off the lights as he walked out.
In the blackness I threw the last blanket over a silhouetted recliner. Then I saw it. My eyes, not totally adjusted to the lightless room, struggled to process the image perplexing my retinas. A beast-like figure looming in the corner. I blinked expecting my eyes to reinterpret what I was seeing and the image to be recognized as a flicker of shadow. But instead the shape reached for me… Again I didn’t believe what I was seeing. Surely I wouldn’t be able to feel it. Surely it wasn’t really real. Surely it was just leftover emotion materializing from my imagination overwrought by overstimulation. Until I felt it. Real warm human skin brushing against my arm. My body couldn’t handle this translation of figment into flesh. My legs buckled jolting me face forward into the berber carpet of the living room floor. My voice came unchained echoing up the stairs of our four level house. For some unknown reason my tear ducts lost all regulatory mechanism and let loose across my cheeks.
But then lights flicked on and my world of terror was quickly transformed into the normalcy of living room furniture and wallpapered hallways. The brutish beast evaporated and was replaced by the solid hands of my father reaching for me in baffled apology. The greatest fear I had ever experienced dispelled in a grand span of a few seconds.
This isn’t true anymore. I wish more than anything it was. That I would struggle to find a valid answer to this question. And I’m not sure if I can give you the real answer now. I started this entry about a week ago and haven’t been able to bring myself back to it until now. But I think it’s eating me up and has to leave. Even if it’s ugly. With no poetry. I’ve written about sad things before. And most of the time I think it’s sort of beautiful in a way. This does not feel beautiful. This is numbing and this is scary. I’ve felt it through my stomach. A ripple of realization. This is my life. This is my family. This is real. This is happening right now. And this is happening to us. To me.
In just a week we have turned into the family that everyone is praying for. Our refrigerator and kitchen counters overflowing with edible fruit arrangements and boxes of trail mix. Phones bombarded with texts and Facebook pages full of comments. Because I am now the girl whose dad has a brain tumor.
But you know that’s not how the doctors say it. In fact sometimes it’s not even an MD who drops the news. It started as a tremor that an ER doc rationalized as overexertion and a family practitioner called a panic attack. It took close to a grand mal seizure, ambulance ride, and second visit to the ER to get a CT scan. My mom reassured me over the phone that it was only two spots of bleeding. Most likely self-healing and a guaranteed solvable situation. I spent the next day semi-transfixed by the idea that my dad was in the hospital and we didn’t really know why. I drove over after class with my little sister because it seemed like the protocol set in books and movies. We walked into a tiny room with two nurse practitioners standing at the foot of a padded bed (seizure protocol). My eyes started leaking when I saw the MRI. She didn’t use the word tumor right away. It was just an enhancement. A lesion. At worst a mass. To me it seemed like one in four people would have this sort of enhancement if they would just bother to get their heads checked every once in a while.
Walking through a hospital hallway back to the parking garage, my mom said what I was thinking – that it seems like this sort of thing only happens to other people. A coworker’s uncle… The wife of a childhood pastor… Your small group leader’s cousin… Not you. Not us. This sort of thing doesn’t happen to us.
The next day between classes, my mind wouldn’t focus on researching proper anticoagulant therapy and I called my mom. There were words like surgical resection, high grade, chemotherapy, six weeks, and infiltration. I felt like I was in a movie. Streaks of mascara across my face, body sliding down a wall to rest on my heels, crying to the voice on the other end of the line. A stranger stopped a few feet from me, her eyes questioning with compassion; I gave her a nod signaling I was okay and she moved on. I made it to the end of the call. I made it up the stairs. I made it across an endless hallway. And then I collapsed. I fell apart into the hug of a friend who never initiates hugs but who could hold me in that moment. I let myself shake into her. I let myself cry loud even though some skinny buzz cut was sitting on his laptop only about twelve inches away.
The news just hasn’t gotten better. The enhancement is indisputably a tumor. And the tumor is infiltrative and aggressive. I think that’s what they say to avoid saying cancerous. None of us have even heard the word yet, but the number of professionals with oncology in their title makes it undeniable. The word glioblastoma has been the worst yet. Look it up in a medical journal and you’ll know why. It leads to this nightmare of numbers and phrases like median survival of twelve to fifteen months and increase of two-year survival rate from 10.4% to 26.5%.
But a quarter of a chance at two years is not the news I wanted. Because I want my dad to walk me down the aisle at my wedding. I want my dad to hold onto his black head of hair that’s been bragging in the face of his balding friends the past fifteen years. I want my dad to have four son-in-laws and hold twenty grandchildren. I want him to be sitting in his red recliner reading or watching TV when I walk in the front door. I want my dad to keep outrunning me in 5Ks and finishing a hair behind me in half marathons. I want to fold into his chest and feel him rock me when I am overcome with anxiety about career choices, grades, or work shifts. I want him to throw back his head and belt out the starting note of Johnny Appleseed when he’s so ready to eat he can’t wait a second more. I can’t let this go. And having to live my normal routine not knowing if I’m going to have to is scary. It’s the most scared I’ve ever been.