Stepping into the hallway at the House I had to chuckle at the tumbling pile of shoes outside the door of Charlotte M’s room as the whole family of four children and husband are now visiting. Little Nicky M is still gravely ill.
Later, in Nick’s hospital room I gave up trying to keep my eyes open and napped on my cot next to his bed. My cousin Charlotte and her hubby Gerry brought their liveliness in the afternoon. Nick’s giggles lifted the fog in my head. In the evening while the video “Mighty Joe Young” played, a flickering blue and white light on Nick’s face, I thought about the other Moms from 3B, the oncology ward.
Shelley, she smiles so easily. A youthful mother with her arms full of baby Aidan – you could never mistake he is a boy. Just months old, he lost part of his liver to a tumor. Like bookends, I always find her near Leanne. She is less inclined to smile but that might be because of her daughter. Angela is in the awkward teenage phase and should be thinking about lip gloss and boys, not myeloid leukemia (AML) and hair loss.
Shelley and Leanne have been cast into this frightening world of childhood cancer without a husband, no partner to lean on when feet become like lead. Heather has a husband that looks like “Fabio.” In the hallway he appeared one day, our eyes following him as he strode past, the hair falling halfway down his back.
Heather, tall with curves and blonde hair to rival his tells me, “When he’s in a good place, it’s great.” One parent sits on each side of six year old Melissa’s bed.
“He’s trying to stay clean, but then he disappears for days and I can’t count on him to be here.”
In three months I’ve met the little girl’s dad once. Melissa keeps the covers pulled past her nose, just her blue eyes and smooth head visible on the pillow. This is a relapse of Wilmes Tumor, a kidney already taken and a vicious chemo protocol in hope to stop an aggressive cancer.
“When is your husband coming back?” Leanne and Shelley ask me. We stand in the hallway outside the doors of our children’s hospital rooms. It’s like a gathering of neighbors in an apartment block, except the nurses walk past with squeaking shoes, and instead of cooking, the odors are of medicine and sickness.
“Soon.” I know how lucky I am to have FH’s support with the dial of a phone.
April 23, 1999
I’m wearing my “Mounties Marathon for Nick” T shirt as I stand at the six burner gas stove with a sizzling chunk of “Chicken Fried Steak”, Carol F’s recipe (she’s looking after our little dog Miss Daisy), hanging from a fork over a cast iron frying pan. In front of Rob M I place a plate of green beans, creamy mashed potatoes and a piece of steak in rich gravy. This is a covert operation because his wife Elaine has him on a closely watched “balanced diet.” As I cooked, Rob hovered exclaiming how “wonderful that smells,” so FH, Frankie and I invited him to our table.
Rob and Elaine’s son Isaac is receiving treatment at Children’s. It wasn’t a wonder when Rob began to lose weight as Isaac is having a tough go of it. Unlike me, some people don’t eat as much when they worry.
Elaine sent Rob to see a doc. “He was falling asleep any time he sat down.” Then the unbelievable news: “Rob’s got cancer too.”
“Go slow with that Rob,” instructs FH. While Isaac gets chemo at Children’s Rob receives his treatment at the British Columbia Cancer Agency. The outline of each bone is visible in Rob’s hand as it goes from plate to mouth. His stomach may revolt at the unfamiliar contents.
FH has left to spend the night with Nick at the hospital and Frankie is downstairs playing video games. Jennifer and her daughter Kimberley load one of the two dishwashers. From Prince George, Jennifer has a son and a husband who looks worried sick when he visits.
To cover their bald heads Kimberley wears a funky felt hat and Jennifer a brightly colored scarf. Kimberley is receiving treatment for leukemia and Jennifer has had a double mastectomy. We have two same family/same time diagnosis in the Ronald McDonald House. What are the freakin’ odds of that?
Jennifer squeals as Kimberley, almost as tall as her mother, flicks soapy dishwater at her.
“How do you support your child through chemo while you also receive treatment?” Jennifer and I are alone in the kitchen.
Running a finger under the scarf along her neck Jennifer answers me, “You just do it. And you count on your family and friends to help. We can’t do it alone. Besides, what is the choice? Give up? My kid won’t give up, so I sure as hell can’t.”
It’s a drill we know – warm skin and pink cheeks equal new antibiotics that hang from the IV pole. The pump whirrs behind me as I stand at the window. We’ve been moved to Ward F – the Hilton. The view from Nicholas’ bed is of the tops of trees among the stately houses in this area, and mountains in the distance on a clear day.
There are coat hooks! I’m really excited about being able to hang Nick’s housecoat and sweater and having somewhere to put my belongings.
Each day this past week Bridie, Nick’s teacher, appeared in his doorway and she wouldn’t take “No” for an answer. “C’mon love. You don’t want to repeat grade six.” While she settles his work book on the table that fits over his bed I gather my own notes. I use this time in the school room to write my letters on a computer so I can print them. Propped up in bed, a little prince among pillows, Nicholas has his head over a book, pencil in hand and Bridie with her slight English accent tells him, “There’s a good lad.””
I yawn. At 5am I was at the bus depot in the Ronald McDonald House van with the Canucks shark emblem to pick up my friend Heather W. She arrived with a suitcase full, as much as she could carry, of gifts from home. Gail and Brian R were here for a quick visit earlier in the week, and they brought boxes. Two of my co-workers, Mel and Jay and their wives Gwen and Alice, have also visited. Packages arrive for Nicholas almost daily. We are told of the fund raisers and kids selling cookies and juice from the road side.
And all the prayers… prayers for Nick to heal. I sure hope God is listening.
Saturday April 17
Heather and I, with beautiful sunshine warming our backs, push Nick in a wheel chair up the long hill to Queen Elizabeth Park. We watch an artist sketch a woman’s portrait. There was a time when this quiet activity wouldn’t have kept Nick’s attention for more than a minute, but today he watches the artist attempt to capture the lovely tilt to the mouth of his subject.
Mother Nature herself paints this day with the tender colors of spring, and she swirls a breeze that smells of the snow caps on the mountain peaks and the yellow sun. There is a bright liveliness in the people who pass by us, their vitality a stark contrast with my son’s sickly white pallor and the slouch of his back in an old wheel chair too large for his wasting body.
My cold heart warms to see him lift his chin to the sky, and the sun kiss his face.