This is an open letter to the early days me—when my son’s cancer diagnosis was first spoken over him—and to any other cancer moms out there drifting, surviving, and rising through the trauma.
The early days, those raw, pouring, dripping emotions fresh from Elijah’s diagnosis day, 2-year-old Elijah, my son.
“It’s leukemia,” said the kind-eyed ER physician. His eyes were so big and brown, mirroring Elijah’s signature feature. Another signature feature of Elijah’s—his long curly beautifully golden hair—soon to be falling on pillows, on rugs, in bathtub drains, until the day he bravely said I am ready to shave it off. Drifting, in an instant, in my mind, I am back at the hair place watching him sit so still, so present, so watchful, so brave as the last remaining remnants of those baby curls fell to the floor. My heart, my tears, all falling, too.
Drifting, I’m back in those early days, those first few weeks, living in the hospital room, sometimes transformed into a positive pressure room. Deer-in-the-headlights me . . . that plastic going up, those full suits of protective gear those nurses are putting on themselves—that’s to keep him safe. His immune system is gone.
He is fighting for his life in these early days. Any germ, any virus, any bacteria could have been the end.
Drifting. That first night away from him. His first night at the hospital, Daddy holding him as he finally exhaustedly slept. Miles-apart mommy nursing and rocking the littlest baby to sleep, gently, softly, cozily putting him in his crib, kissing the two little ones who were home, instantly feeling an aching, a missing child, longing, yearning, needing to hold him.
Needing cancer to go away. Needing us to be together again.
I quietly closed the bedroom door, bewildered at what to do. I stared at my empty bed for a long time. I drifted to a corner of the room and fell to my knees. Weeping. An unknown weeping. An unknown crushing on my chest. I had never felt this before. I was breaking, I was broken. I’ll never forget the groanings that bubbled up from somewhere deep and dark.
I reached my hands toward You, asking You to take cancer away, to take this pain away, to heal, to restore, to be with us. Faith reached the unknown places, weaved and worked and repaired brokenness, yet still working, still churning through the messy remains.
And, oh, my dear, broken, early-days me, there will be joy. I know you couldn’t see it then on that floor, curled in devastation. But, there will be joy.
Somehow life finds a way, somehow you uncurl and rise, again and again. Remember when he made you laugh for the first time since diagnosis? You were sitting across from him at the table, and he shifted his eyes to the right. Then, again to the left. Then he examined your reaction, with his sparkling eyes and a chubby-cheeked half-smile. You laughed a bubbling up laughter you have never known. Bubbled up tears, bubbled up joy, and he delighted. You hadn’t laughed in weeks.
Elijah, you brought me joy, and at that moment, you taught me it was OK to laugh again, to truly bubble up and laugh.
Early-days me, you’ll laugh again. Have hope as you drift in and out of the trauma. Stay afloat and swim through the storm, and as you survive, rise. More waves will come, more flooding emotions will submerge. Rise up from the waves, the flooding, the currents. Feel them enough for your skin to soak in the salty waters and foaming seas, enough for your bones to feel the pull and weight of their strength. Feel them enough. Then, let yourself rise.
Again and again, rise,