November 10, 2009
Tanner, Jake and I went in search of an uncrowded playground yesterday. We ended up at River Park in Brentwood. There were a few little boys Jake’s age, but not really any one else around. Tanner and I sat on a dinosaur together and watched Jake play with three little boys. She was not wearing her wig… she hasn’t worn it for even one minute since she shaved her head… and had a Hannah Montana bandana wrapped around her head.
While we were sitting there, another Mom sidled up to us and tactfully said, “Where does she go?” She caught me slightly off guard, but only for a second before I replied, “Vanderbilt.”
She told Tanner she liked her bandana and then stood next to me as we watched Tanner run off to play. Then she said, “My son went to St. Jude, but finished his treatment at Vanderbilt; we lost him when he was 12.”
We hadn’t even exchanged names yet, but I already knew her. I knew the long hours she spent in hospitals, dosing out medicine, waiting for test results, soothing a sick child, wishing it could be her instead of him. I knew her without saying anything else. I knew her except for that hole in her heart, which I have had to face but never had to actually accept.
After telling her how sorry I was for her loss, I said, “I can’t possibly know what it feels like to lose a child, but I can imagine it… because I’ve had to.” She just nodded.
John and I have had to face the possibility that Tanner might not live at least twice; once when she was lifeflighted to Vanderbilt for a drug reaction and doctors could not tell us whether she would live or die; and the other when she was diagnosed with leukemia. It’s a feeling you can’t really appreciate unless it’s happened to you, just like the feeling of actually losing a child is something I’ll never truly understand, although I think I might have a better idea than most.
The thing that struck me about this woman, who had lost her son just 4 years ago, was that she smiled when she talked about him. She explained that just last weekend, they had hosted the Hoover Run for Hope in Brentwood, in honor of her son, Liam Hoover, and that they had raised over $40,000 to give to St. Jude and Vanderbilt to help families of children with cancer. She and her husband had found a way to turn their grief into something positive and she was amazing in her strength.
This Cancer Parent Club is not one I ever wanted to join, but now that I’m here I find I meet the most amazing people. Fighting this horrible disease can sometimes bring out the best in someone. It’s a by-product of facing your worst fear every day and trying to make the best of it. I’m better for knowing the people I have met through this process, including Michelle Hoover, Liam’s mom. I’m touched by the stories they choose to share and by the way they unfailingly put aside their own worry or grief to try to soothe mine.
My Mom sent me an email from a friend of hers that had a quote at the bottom that struck her as appropriate and meaningful and I agree:
Courage does not always roar. Sometimes it is a quiet voice at the end of the day, saying… “I will try again tomorrow.” –Mary Anne Radmacher
Yesterday, a quiet voice sidled up to me at a playground and showed me how to keep trying even when everyone would understand if you gave up.