The Birthday Girl

July 8, 2011

I’m sitting on Tanner’s mattress, which is on the floor in the media room of the basement… next door to the room where five little girls are watching “Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure” on the flat screen. They’re in sleeping bags, but so far, no one’s asleep at 11:18 pm. They’re quiet, though, so I think I’m winning the battle.

It was a raucous good time tonight. Seven eight-year-old girls threw water balloons, slid down the slide into a blow up pool, put on make-up and dresses and had a fashion show/talent show, toasted marshmallows and ate s’mores, smashed a piñata, caught fireflies, played musical chairs, ate hot dogs, ate cake, opened presents, set up a carnival and performed nearly all of Sleeping Beauty the musical. Whew! How do they get that much energy?

If you haven’t guessed, today is Tanner’s eighth birthday and despite all the fun and frivolity, the sobering thought crossed my mind to be thankful that she made it to eight at all.

Jake wanted to dress up for the fashion show!

She and I had a frank conversation two days ago on another milestone day… July 6. Exactly one month (31 days) until her last day of chemo. I pointed it out to her on the calendar and we counted the days, but she did it with no joy. I told myself that she just needed to get through next week’s LP (lumbar puncture) before she would get excited, but I suspected that she feels a little of what we feel – that ending chemo, although wonderful, is also a little scary. Chemo is a safety net of sorts. It keeps the cancer cells away.

Later, I asked her if she was excited about finishing and she, unconvincingly, said, “Yeah, sure.” I pushed her a little further and she seemed like she was trying to come up with the right answer to my question. I told her that I wasn’t trying to tell her how to feel about it, I was asking her to tell me how she really felt. She struggled so I prompted, “You seem nervous or scared.” She hesitated and answered, “Scared.”

“What are you scared of?” I asked. “I’m scared of the LP she said,” and then, in a very small voice she added, “and, that the leukemia will come back.” Uggghhh… the moment of truth I hoped not to have.

“It happens to some people… very few,” I admitted, “but I don’t think it will happen to you.”

“Why not me?” she asked. And, then we talked for a while about how her body had done just what the doctors thought it would all along the way. That her counts had gone down when they were supposed to and up when they were supposed to, and that she had spent some time sick in the hospital, but never for anything that was surprising to the doctors. And, since her body was doing just what the doctors expected, we should be able to expect that the leukemia will stay away, just like it’s supposed to.

“I hope that we will just walk away from all this, T, and never look back,” I said.

“You HOPE?” she said, accusingly.

“I believe,” I restated.

Then, we talked about worrying and how it just doesn’t change anything, but it robs you of joy. And, how John and I would let her know when there was something to worry about, but until then, she should just enjoy not having to take chemo and miss so much school and feeling better.

But, I know she will worry, and so will I. I’ll do my best to shove it to the background, but the reality is, it’s scary. It’s terrifying, if I’m being honest, to think that it could come back… I just don’t know how we would do this again.

So, it’s been an odd week. We’re celebrating wildly, but we’re worrying a little too. It’s kind of bittersweet.

As long as there are sleepover parties, though, to remind you that you are only young once, we can shove worry back to it’s proper place… in the background.

It’s now 11:43… and no one is asleep…


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