Three years ago, in the fall of 2003, Brayden was playing her first season of fall soccer. She was so cute, only six years old, and Blaine and I loved going to her games. She was never very aggressive (or even very talented!) but she had fun running around, getting a little fresh air and exercise, and most importantly, getting a juice box and a snack at the end of the game, and really, what else do you need in life?
Also in the fall of 2003, Kendrie started complaining that her arms and legs hurt. I remember thinking she was being lazy, or manipulative. I remember getting frustrated at her requests to be carried everywhere, or crying in her car seat that her legs were continuously falling asleep. I remember wishing that the virus her pediatrician had diagnosed her with would hurry up and run its course already so she’d quit whining. I remember saying to her, “There is nothing wrong with your legs! You are four years old now and you are too big and heavy for me to carry you all the time!” (insert big, exasperated sigh)
I clearly remember, in the fall of 2003, taking her to one of Brayden’s soccer games and her asking to be carried from the car to the field. Blaine and Kellen didn’t go with us that day, and I remember being annoyed because I had to carry the chairs and the water bottles and my keys and my camera, also, and schlepping her from the parking lot to the playing field was the LAST thing I wanted to do! I remember there was a huge dirt mound from a construction project next to the field, where Kellen and Kendrie always wanted to play during the games. Being ages just-turned-four and five, they didn’t have the attention span to patiently sit through a one-hour game. I didn't care if they got dirty, but if Brayden was playing soccer over *here* and the two of them were playing King of the Hill over *there* I couldn’t concentrate on and enjoy the game as much.
That particular Saturday, Kendrie never got out of her chair. In fact, she fell asleep at the game. I remember feeling partly grateful, because if she was napping, it would be a whole lot easier for me to enjoy Brayden's game. I remember feeling a little ashamed of my selfishness; that I was *glad* she was tired enough for a nap. And I remember thinking it was odd she would take a nap anyway … she quit napping at 18 months. But hey, I had an adorable 1st grader playing soccer and lots of picture-taking to be done, so why look a gift horse in the mouth?
All parents of kids with cancer look back after the fact to the days and weeks before diagnosis, when the warning signs, that seemed so random at the time, come into focus and we have an “AHA!” moment where it all suddenly makes sense. We wonder if we could have done anything to prevent it (NO); if anything we did or didn’t do caused it (NO AT LEAST I DON’T THINK SO); if we should have somehow realized what was happening more quickly, or if knowing would have changed anything (AGAIN, NO); and we berate ourselves for not immediately seeing what was unfolding before our eyes (HEY AT SOME POINT YOU’VE GOT TO CUT YOURSELF SOME SLACK).
That day, my warning sign that something was wrong was a normally exuberant four-year old, who would rather sleep in a chair at her older sister’s soccer game than play in the dirt and pester me for grape soda and hot dogs. I put an umbrella over her so her face wouldn’t get sunburned and turned my attention back to the game. But the image of her in that chair, curled up and sleeping, with my red umbrella opened up over her, will stay burned in my mind forever. I no longer feel guilty because I didn’t see it for what it was --- a little girl whose bone marrow was filling with leukemia cells and whose normal cell production had slowed so drastically she would be critically anemic within a few days. I don’t beat myself up about it anymore, but I won’t forget it.
Yesterday, my mental storage cache had to make room for NEW images, images which make me much happier, and which fill me with joy and happiness and pride, instead of guilt and stress. Yesterday, instead of being the sick little girl asleep in the chair, Kendrie was the kid ON THE FIELD!! Playing on the same field, in the same league, in the same uniform. *SHE* got the juice box and snack at the end of the game ….. and yes, the other two still preferred wandering off to play in the dirt. But as I watched her run around (ps. running in the grass, laughing with her team-mates, enjoying the fresh air and exercise ---- coughing and hacking up A LUNG!!! … we are SO off to the pediatrician this week to see if she has allergies!) I couldn’t help but think about the fact she has come full circle. She is healthy; happy; strong.
And my fervent prayer is that she is never the kid, sleeping in the chair with an umbrella over her face again.
Because check out the difference three years makes --- Kendrie during induction, puffy, aching, fatigued, bloated from steroids, ravenous:
And check out the svelte Kendrie of today:
Because I have no idea if the waves will stay, and suspect they will be gone with the first hair cut, but I plan to enjoy them as long as I can:
And because sometimes, despite two and a half years of chemo, you run so fast you are a blur, and even *those* photos are beautiful to your mother: