January 23, 2010
Three women who didn’t know each other 8 months ago sat in a booth at a restaurant and shared secrets they didn’t dare tell anyone else. They shared heartache others can’t understand, and information others don’t need to know. They cried tears of laughter and anguish. They shared a bond both wonderful and terrible. Their young daughters have leukemia; three beautiful girls with a grueling disease that tests their mothers’ stamina and will.
They were glad to be there, but at the same time, wished they weren’t.
Larisa, Amy and I went to dinner at 6:30 and didn’t leave the restaurant until 11 pm. We had much to share and formed a reluctant sisterhood of sorts over pasta and wine. We talked about the odd coincidence of circumstances that brought us together. When Tanner was diagnosed with leukemia, Larisa’s daughter, Lily, was in the hospital with an infection during the Delayed Intensification phase of treatment. A mutual friend emailed me and said I needed to meet them; they were just two doors down from us in the hospital. I remembered my friend talking about Lily. She had showed me a painting a month before that she was doing for Lily’s at-home classroom. I remember thinking how devastating it would be to have a child with leukemia and prayed for her that night. Now, here we were. Lily and Larisa came down the hall the next morning, bringing Lily’s Garden bracelets and soaps and a sweet note Lily wrote for Tanner. I still have it. It says, “This is hard, but I know you can do it. DI is the hardest part.” It is written in red crayon. I also still wear the lavender Lily’s Garden bracelet; I haven’t ever taken it off.
When they stopped by our room, Tanner was in bed, literally panting in pain. I stepped into the hallway so as not to disturb her and knelt down to talk with Lily. She had the face of an angel framed on a sweet, bare head. I told her that Tanner was getting her port put in that day and Lily lifted up her shirt, unceremoniously, so that I could see hers. Larisa gave me a pink sheet of paper, which I also still have, with her name, numbers and email address and an offer to contact her whenever for whatever.
About 2 weeks later, she became a lifeline for John and I. When I called her to ask if Tanner was ever going to go back to being herself after the steroids, she assured me she would. She said it would take about 3 days for her personality to start to show up and she was right. Since then, we’ve become friends and so have Tanner and Lily. We don’t see each other that often, but I know she is a phone call or email away if I need an understanding ear or have a question for someone who has been there.
Five months later, Tanner was in her first month of DI and on her second hospital stay for that month. She had pneumonia, and on about day 8 of our 10-day stay, I got a facebook message from a friend who said a church member’s daughter had just been diagnosed with leukemia and was in the room just two doors down from us. I went down immediately and found them gone to surgery. I left a note with my name, phone number and email and an offer to contact me whenever for whatever. The next day, we met Alex in the 6th floor lobby. Tanner and I met Amy later that day when she stopped in the doorway to say hello. I remember seeing her 3 weeks later, on Thanksgiving morning, coming out of Kroger carrying a bag of bagel bites for a steroid-crazed child and assuring her that she would get her daughter back 3 days after stopping steroids. I recognized the terror in her face as my own when she tried to believe me.
Over dinner tonight, Amy said she, too, had prayed for us before her daughter Madelyn was diagnosed. The mother of a little girl in Tanner’s class at school had lifted her up in Sunday School, a class of which Amy and Alex are members.
Larisa said there had been a “two doors down” family for her, too. Unfortunately, their story ended sadly.
We joked tonight about starting a “two doors down” club for people to pay forward what has been given to them by another, and to share the wealth of medical information that means nothing to most, but everything to a very few.
Thanks, girls. I needed both the laugh and the cry. And, I’m glad we have each other, even though we wish we didn’t have to.