Sunday, September 17, 2006

Susie's day to remember

I had a hard time writing this blog. It was supposed to be really profound, full of things I'd learned in the past year.

You see, September 17 for me is one of Those Days, the ones you never forget, like September 11 or the day Challenger blew up. We all have personal days like that, too, the ones for which we remember every detail in painfully sharp clarity, even though maybe we'd rather pull a soft and comforting haze over them.

One year ago today, my son was diagnosed with cancer.

We'd come off a tough year, personally, perhaps the hardest we'd had already. I thought things were getting better. I'd just won a Rita, something wonderful I never expected to happen, and I was away on a writing weekend with some fabulous friends, and we were having a ball. And then I got a phone call.

He was 18 then, two weeks into his freshman year of college, and a cough and a just-in-case x-ray, in the course of one Saturday morning and afternoon, suddenly meant a huge tumor in his chest and Hodgkins lymphoma.

He's doing well now, after completing his treatment in May, though I still wake up every morning with my head held low, reading to duck at the next blow. Every cough or hint of exhaustion has me worrying, with the kind of bone-deep terror that I'd never experienced before. I suppose - hope - that will fade someday, but not yet.

Maybe I'm just not profound. Or maybe it takes longer to learn what such things bring you. Mostly, I still think it really sucked. But I've learned a few things.

1) About 1 in 300 children will be diagnosed with cancer before they're 20. In your lifetime, 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will get it. Yet, the gov (not to get to political, and I've been unable to verify this, but I heard it at a benefit and it's stuck with me) is spending more every 3 months in the Middle East than it spent in the last 10 years on cancer research.

2) There are some really, really lovely people in the world, who will help you in difficult times in unexpected and important ways. Sometimes people you barely know. And there are some awfully kind and impressive now-19-year-olds floating around out there.

3) Some people who you thought you could count on aren't always there, because it's just too hard. It's not worth the effort of being mad at them; they're already mad at themselves.

4) Nurses are the Best People On Earth. Period.

5) You can do everything right, work really hard and make excellent choices, and have Life whack you but good anyway. This is unfair, but true.

6) My kid is a lot stronger than I, or he, knew. I am, too, though - screw Tom Cruise - anti-depressents are useful and wonderful things. Young people will also get over needle phobias, squeamishness, and modesty extremely quickly in certain circumstances.

7) The frustrating insantiy that is the business of publishing doesn't need to make you crazy. I have gotten very zen about it, though a friend who has had much experience in such matters tells me it does fade.

8) The community of Survivors is an extraordinarily powerful, caring, and proud group.

Congrats on making it through, hon. Here's to another 7 or 8 decades of being a Survivor.

So what's the day you'll Never Forget? Has it brought you anything along the way?

Susie

6 comments:

Helen Brenna said...

Susie, you know I'm crying, right?

Ha, ha! I can laugh through my tears, though. Love ya!

My sister died in a bike accident when I was six. It changed my life in weird, wonderful ways. Some day I'll write a book about it!!

anne frasier said...

aww, susie. there is no terror like that terror. it's so intense you think you must die from it. and while the year marker is a good thing, it's also a reminder of how fragile we are and how much of what happens is out of our control. i think the five-year-marker is where people start to breathe again. *big hug*

Kathleen Eagle said...

Ah, Susie, the list of things you've learned rings so true for so many different Whamo! times. Who was it that said, No one gets out of this alive?

One thing you learn is that sometimes the only people you can really stand to be around are those who are going through the same difficulties. No one else gets it. My mother died of cancer. She had never participated in any kind of helping circle or group. She'd had one-on-one therapy two years after my father's death--that was when it hit her--but she didn't like the idea of pouring it all out to a group. Generational thing, I suspect.

I took her to her first cancer patient group session, and it absolutley opened her up. There were Hodgins survivors there--young people in remission--who were the most helpful. For my part, I was unable to say a word. Hard to imagine, I know, but I was on the verge of tears the whole time, and I knew that the first word would break the dam. And this was not about me. It was about her. Nevertheless, it was a watershed day for both of us. Both my parents died too young. But age and the fulfillment of a life is relative, isn't it?

You've seen your family through big bad stuff and found the good stuff tucked in the folds. Thanks for holding forth for the rest of us here. You're such good people, my dear.

Debra Dixon said...

Susie-- Watching you and Ian go through this from afar really hit home. Your ordeal actually put quite a few things in my life in perspective. I have an only son and I've frequently reminded myself, "As long as your son isn't battling cancer, life isn't that tough." It's also made some of my son's quirks go from irritating to quite endearing.

I'm hoping you have blue skies for quite a while. You were under that cloud for much too long.

Betina Krahn said...

Suz,
You're an inspiration to us all. There's nothing as tough for a mother as watching one of her children suffer and asking the big question: "why?" There aren't any big answers, or at least none we humans can access directly. But my experience is we can always make a few small ones for ourselves and our families. And we can turn something terrible into something not-so-terrible, something that deepens love and causes growth and enriches hearts.

My thoughts and prayers are with you and Ian and your whole family, Susie.

Betina Krahn said...

Suz,
You're an inspiration to us all. There's nothing as tough for a mother as watching one of her children suffer and asking the big question: "why?" There aren't any big answers, or at least none we humans can access directly. But my experience is we can always make a few small ones for ourselves and our families. And we can turn something terrible into something not-so-terrible, something that deepens love and causes growth and enriches hearts.

My thoughts and prayers are with you and Ian and your whole family, Susie.