Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Fall has always been my favorite time of year. Football, leaves changing colors, cool, crisp air, jeans and sweatshirts, pumpkin patches, the whole she-bang. My very most favorite time. I pink puffy heart fall. If I could find a place to live that was fall year-round, I would move there in a nano-second.

Since 2003, however, fall has been bittersweet for me. On this day, three years ago, Kendrie was in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at our local Children’s Hospital while the doctors tried to figure out why she was so anemic and not responding to blood transfusions. I was in total denial that anything could be seriously wrong, and hoping she would get out of the hospital in time to visit the State Fair, and vacation in Tennessee with our friends the Deatons. Instead, this Friday, the 13th, will be the 3-year anniversary of the day she was diagnosed with leukemia. The day I learned you can be punched in the stomach and feel your heart being ripped out of your chest, even if no one actually touches you.

We were taken by ambulance to the Children’s Hospital in Atlanta where she underwent more testing, and then her chemotherapy regimen was started. As soon as my mom could get a flight to Georgia to watch Kellen and Brayden, Blaine came to Atlanta to be with us. We rented a room at a hotel a few blocks away from the hospital and he and I took turns sleeping at the hospital each night. Whoever’s turn it was to go to the hotel and take a shower would walk back and forth, and I remember how cool and crisp the air was. Fall had arrived. I remember putting Kendrie in a wagon at the hospital and pulling her around the koi pond, pointing out the leaves that had changed colors, and watching the late-afternoon sunlight shine down on her blonde hair. Her blonde hair. "Oh my God she’ll be bald soon", I remember thinking. I remember feeling that it was impossible for the weather to be this glorious, when I was spinning out of control and cracking up inside. This was fall. We were supposed to be visiting pumpkin patches, and watching college football games on the television. Instead, we’d been immersed in this surreal world of childhood cancer. How the hell did THAT happen?

Three years later, things are good. Things are great. Kendrie’s monthly bloodwork, done earlier this week, showed perfect numbers. She’s playing soccer, loving school, and we had to have her bangs cut for the first time in ages. But still, when I feel that early-morning chill in the air, or see the Halloween decorations in the neighborhood, or hear the local high school marching band on the field next to Kendrie’s soccer team, practicing for their Friday night half-time performance, I can’t help but reflect back on our very own Fall of 2003. I remember the ambivalence; the world was beautiful, the world was falling apart. I am so grateful to be done with that world, and so terrified that we could be thrust back in it at any time.

It’s a fine line to walk, being grateful for the life lessons, yet wishing we had never experienced them. And while I know we should look forward, and we do, it’s hard not to look back. It seems insulting to the courage she showed, and the struggle we faced as a family, NOT to look back. I’m so proud to look back and see how far we’ve all come. I hate looking back and remembering any of it.

{Warning: This is where I start to ramble and really go off on a crazy-lady tangent and just basically blah blah blah to hear myself talking more blah blah …. } How can I complain about what she went though, when there are so many families not as fortunate? How can I gripe for one second that fall has been contaminated, when she is here with me? It’s so bizarre, this time of remembering. It’s exhausting to go through life looking over your shoulder, scared about what *might* happen. It’s impossible to go through life with a constant smile on your face and Pollyanna attitude, knowing your earlier naiveté is gone, and missing it, but knowing that you look like an idiot now if you pretend nothing ever happened. I don’t want to dwell, or feel bitter. I don’t want to act as if it didn’t exist. When will my own personal timeline no longer be divided by “Before Kendrie got sick” and “After Kendrie got sick” ….. When will I quit being a crazy person? When will the simple act of a change of seasons no longer hold such significance? When will fall no longer feel tainted?

On the one-year anniversary of Kendrie’s diagnosis, I pretty much had a nervous breakdown in the parking lot of my hairdresser’s salon. Freak. (me, not her.) The second year anniversary was much less climactic. This year, it’s not difficult, but I find myself remembering. And hating it. And being grateful, all at the same time.

We are spending this anniversary of Kendrie’s diagnosis away for the weekend, relaxing as a family. I feel the need to pull my children close to me and enjoy fall the way it is supposed to be enjoyed. Nature walks. Leaves changing. Cool, crisp air. Our first fall since 2003 with no chemotherapy, no shock of diagnosis, no steroid tantrums, no spinal taps. No bald heads, no pain or nausea. No need to take Zofran on vacation. Just the five of us. No leukemia allowed. Just us.

We’re gearing up for Blaine’s next step. I’ll write more about that later. For now, I am readying myself. Spending the weekend with my kids. Enjoying us. Enjoying fall.

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