Ten years ago, my daughter, Elise, was diagnosed with lymphoma. She was ten years old.
As a cancer survivor, I should have been prepared to handle the experience. I wasn’t. Knowing terminology and procedures meant little when I had to enter Elise’s hospital room to tell her she had cancer. I had to dig deep and hold on tightly to my composure when she looked at me with those big brown eyes and said, “Momma, I don’t want to die.” Then it happened. The depths of grace, peace, and faith I had experienced throughout my own ordeal with cancer guided our conversation. Elise faced her future with calmness, maturity, faith, and tenacity far exceeding her age. An ambulance later transported us for the first of many trips to Children’s Hospital.
My husband was able to be with Elise most of the time, but one rare day he had to be in the office, so I brought her to the hospital for another dose of chemotherapy. On the menu was the drug I had begged the doctors not to administer. It was the one which, years before, made me lose my hair, and everything I ate or drank. It was the one that caused severe burns on my hands and feet. So severe I couldn’t even pick my hair up off of the pillowcase. So severe I had to crawl to the bathroom on my knees when I became sick.
As the nurse donned her thick protective gloves and connected the chemicals to my daughter, I began to crumble inside. I watched the red liquid enter my baby’s body, and fought for control over both my emotions and the contents of my stomach. Then I raced to the exit door, ran out of the building, and called my husband to desperately cry, “I can’t do this. I’m not strong enough.”
“I’m leaving now. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Michael said.
“No,” I insisted. “It’ll be over before you get here. Just pray. Promise me you’re praying. Promise me you won’t stop praying.” Being fully aware of my frailty has taught me to lean heavily on my Jesus, and the words of 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”
I re-entered the room, and if Elise noticed anything odd about my behavior, she never expressed it. That night, she became ill and a few days later, I found chunks of her hair in the bathroom garbage can. Soon after, she ditched the wig, and began wearing her brother’s baseball cap to cover her scalp.
“How do people go through this without Jesus?” she asked. It is one of many questions for which I have no answer. I cannot imagine going through anything without leaning on the strength of my Savior.
This past week, I accompanied Elise, now in her fourth year of college, to her yearly checkup at Children's. I dropped her off at the entrance, found a parking spot, then joined her in the waiting room. No longer led by me, my strong and independent daughter spent the day before her 21st birthday filling out forms, leading the way to the heart scan, almost sprinting to the lab for blood work, then bringing me back to the clinic to meet with her doctor.
But our yearly visit to Children's is about so much more than forms and tests and doctors. It's about returning to the sights and the smells that instantly bring me back a decade. It's about feeling my heart fill to the top with gratitude for present health, humility at the thought of God's deliverance, and pain for the parents pushing wheelchairs, holding infants, and adjusting caps covering precious little bald heads. And it's about allowing the tears to flow as I pray for those I know still battling sickness and for these new little faces who have found a place in my heart.
Ronny may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org