Barb is a staff member at the Ronald McDonald House, and she also works in victim assistance for the Vancouver City Police. One evening, two officers brought a cruiser around to the House on Angus Drive.
The kids climbed all over the cruiser pushing every button and pulling every switch. The stately neighborhood along this big leafy tree lined street was disturbed by aspiring juvenile delinquents. The kids took turns being locked in the back seat, their laughing little faces pressed against the wire cage separating them from the front.
Paul and Eric, with their skinny, knobby kneed, little boy legs, weaved around the car in the “chemo lurch.” Enthusiastically they climb through one door and out the other. Chelsea and her constant massive grin intently worked on the buttons. The wipers swished and washed the windshield. The lights flashed and the siren intermittently cracked the air. I’m glad the neighbors are tolerant of the hoodlums at the Ronald McDonald House. The two officers were having a blast as their car was turned into a busy hive of kids.
Chelsea is seven years old and has neuroblastoma. I don’t understand the cancer, but it has been explained to me as numerous tumors, or “hot spots,” made of affected immature neurons (nerve cells). The cancer has caused her seizures. She is a gentle child who is mildly mentally challenged. I’ve lain awake at night worrying about permanent damage being done to Nick because of the noxious chemicals he’s been given.
Chelsea’s family have been here a while. Her mother, Marlene, is super friendly and has a good grasp on how to run the internet. She’s been generous with her time and is helping me with this email thing. The family is from Kelowna where Chelsea’s father is a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Chelsea has a nine year old sister named Kyla.
Saturday, July 31
Nick is holding on. Day 11 since starting the last round of chemo and still he has a white count of 0.22. The point to chemotherapy is to kill the cancer, but this also annihilates the good cells, the immunity cells, everything dies – a cleaning out of the marrow. Remember, Nicholas just went through weeks of a dormant bone marrow, which left him open to infection, hence the two balls of fungus that grew inside his chest. I’m a mess thinking that might happen again.
His father reminds me that worrying isn’t going to do any good.
“Nicholas is feeling well, so let’s take the boys fishing.”
It’s late afternoon of Canada Day, August 1. The owner of the boat we rented is cruising towards Granville Island after taking us fishing off the coast in the Pacific Ocean. Already, there are throngs of people arriving to find a spot to sit and watch the fireworks display. They carry blankets, folding chairs, and coolers for drinks and food. They walk in groups, strolling couples, or chasing after small children.
FH, Frankie, Nick and I sit at the stern of the boat, watching the shoreline. We didn’t catch any fish but it was wonderful to see the boys get excited each time their line tugged as fish stole the bait.
A natural amphitheater, the bay carries voices and footfalls across the water, the volume increasing as we get closer.
I begin to feel irritated by the happy people on the shore.
In fact, I’m feeling a bit angry.
This is not fair, God! I change my position, wiggling in my seat, physically uncomfortable with the unrest inside my heart. I’m not wearing this new life of ours very well. I feel inept. Other mothers of children with cancer seem to carry this weight far better than me.
I have no grace.
I know we need to take our happy times and be grateful, but my heart hurts for Nick. Smiling through these tears that flow from a place so jagged, so abysmal, so… Beyond even knowing this existed inside of me, is like running a marathon, and I’m tired.
Our boat approaches the dock. We watch families spread out their blankets and settle in for the show.
If Nick didn’t look like a kid with cancer maybe we could pass off as a ‘normal’ family too. But that would be a lie, wouldn’t it? And pretending doesn’t make it real.