Back to the Future

The first time I remember it happening was April 2, 2014. I was chaperoning Olivia’s 1st grade fieldtrip - a commitment I had made to her, her teacher and her classmates “BC” (Before Cancer), and the first time since “AD” (After Diagnosis) that I was shifting my physical presence from Callen to Olivia.

I took my place at the front of the bus – the novelty of bouncing around in the back having worn off some 35 years prior – and kept watch as eager faces filed past me. Their excitement at a day away from the mortar and brick classroom was both audible and palpable as it reverberated off of the hard surfaces and low ceiling of “the cheese”. The doors closed, the brake release squelched, and the bus lurched forward toward its destination, sending us all with a jolt into the barely-cushioned springs of our seatbacks.

It was at that moment that it hit me: What if this was both my first and last 1st grade fieldtrip as a mom?

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Check, Please!

“One day this will all just be a box you check on his past medical history form.”

It was said to be encouraging. It was said to bring solace. It was said to plug the cavernous hole in my heart with hope. And in those first hazy days after Callen’s diagnosis, it did just that: reminded me that there could be a “one day”, that there might be an “after” life that was longer than his brief four and a half year “before cancer” life. Plus, being a habitual list-maker, the mental image of one day checking off the cancer box as DONE held a certain (admittedly naïve and completely ludicrous) appeal.

But with very little time and a whole lot of experience, it changed. With every stick, push, pill, tap and drip he endured, the echo of those words haunted me. As I watched Callen and his friends mortgage everything from their hair to their fertility for a chance to put cancer in the past, those words – initially a source of comfort – began to really piss me off. This wasn’t “just” anything, in any sense of the word: it wasn’t fair and it certainly wasn’t simple. And as we witnessed one precious child after another progress, relapse or succumb to the disease or its after effects, it became clear cancer would never be relegated entirely to his past.

And then came the moment I filled out his first health history form. April 16, 2015: Kindergarten pre-registration.

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A Thousand Words

The Process of Elimination

“Mommy, will I have cancer this summer?”

Callen was trotting along behind me in the yard a few weeks back when he threw this query my way. Even for our boy of a thousand questions per second, the tenor of this one was a first.

I stopped and faced him. Our eyes locked. “Yes, Callen, you will,” I said evenly. “Why do you ask?”

“Because, Mommy, it has been a long long time.”

I paused, agreed, then listened intently while he told me what he wanted to do this summer. What he hoped he could do. What he wondered if he could do. And then - without waiting for confirmation or (more probably) denial – he shifted gears.

“Oh - and how do babies get out of your tummy?”

Just like that, my ability to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth (so help us all!) vanished.

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