We are coming to the end of the tunnel ― but where is the light? I can’t find it. I don’t see it.
Our family was tossed into this tunnel a year ago when our three-month-old Stella was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer. Sick, alone, scared and so very tired. We had a year of treatment to get through. We had a map to get us through ― a roadmap from Stella’s doctor. The roadmap told us what chemo, infusions and meds Stella would get and when. Even with the most clear instructions on how to navigate this tunnel and how to defeat the monster intruder that had invaded our daughter, we still felt lost. So much of the tunnel came without instructions. How to navigate two daughters ― one sick and one healthy? How to silence the fear and replace it with courage? How to escape the nightmare, even if only for a few hours? How to escape the “what ifs” hiding at every turn?
There have been a few cracks in our tunnel where little bits of light have been able to brighten up our world: the birth of our two handsome nephews, our niece’s bat mitzvah and our cousin’s wedding. We are thankful for those celebrations ― a not so subtle prayer for the future. As we celebrated with family and friends, Scott and I could only pray we would one day plan a bat mitzvah, one day dance at Stella’s wedding. Even with these singular rays of light, we returned to our tunnel of darkness. We had to forge ahead, we had work to do.
We have family and friends in the tunnel with us. Our loved ones have made sure we aren’t alone on this journey. Doctors’ appointments, meals, phone calls, texts, emails. Funny stories to cheer us up, there to celebrate milestones and birthdays. There when we got disappointing news, too. Always there. Lots of hugs. Lots of emojis. We knew we had a militia behind us, helping Stella march towards the end of the tunnel. We are getting towards the end of our tunnel. But where is the light? I can’t see it. I can’t find it.
At Stella’s last chemo, a Mom about ten years older than me hurried into the office in a panic. This mother was overrun with fear. She was alone and clearly scared. She started talking to us ― a quick-paced voice, tone a little higher than it should be. I know that voice. I’ve had that voice.
Her daughter was in remission. Finished treatment, switched schools and was getting her life back. “She is doing great,” she reassured us ― and herself. Except. Except she just had an abnormal X-ray. She was at the office, waiting for the doctor to review the findings; his answer would either keep her above ground or throw her back in her tunnel. She was alone, couldn’t bear to tell the news to her daughter, who was just starting middle school. She had tears in her eyes as she begged and pleaded with herself out loud that she was “crazy” and that the X-ray was not the intruder returning for a second visit.
We saw her after her meeting. She told us the doctor came to see her ― holding the X-rays. He had a big smile on his face. The smile of a champion who has gracefully beaten his enemy ― cancer is Goliath, our doctor a brave David. He looked her straight in the eye. It wasn’t the disease. It was something relatively common around this age. She didn’t have to worry.
We all were overcome with relief as we said goodbye to a stranger we now felt connected to. A fellow cancer mom ― a title you never give up. We all had tears in our eyes. She would sleep a little easier tonight, celebrating her daughter’s normalcy.
That day had a profound impact on me. I have been in her shoes, praying for the normal. I will be in her shoes again. Praying for it to be “crazy” and not cancer. But was she really out of her tunnel? Where was her light? Does it ever really end?
I am not sure there is an answer here. No quick cheat sheet on how to navigate through this. Maybe it’s something that gets better over time ― it probably does. I hope it does. But in the meantime, the fear is paralyzing.
Maybe I’ve been looking for the light in all the wrong places ― trying to get to the end of the tunnel and wrap a giant bow around this year. Mark it as complete. Battle won. File away the pain in a drawer deep below the surface and hope I never see it again. I’ve been so focused on being done ― I have missed the light that was there all along.
A cancer diagnosis is dark. Very dark. Everyday I look at my family ― Scott, Rosie and Stella ― and I feel so grateful, so extremely blessed. I could not be prouder of my courageous superheroes. They have already faced the unimaginable this year. They are the loves of my life ― they are the light ― my light, keeping our tunnel bright and fighting ferociously to come out the other side.