From the Archives: Thanksgiving
Originally posted Jan. 25, 2005. This was one of the first posts I wrote for this blog. At the time, Jane was nine, and Wonderboy was just a few months older than Huck is now.
In March of 1997, Jane was 21 months old. I took her to a friend’s birthday party in Prospect Park. It was my first time driving in Brooklyn. I remember zooming around a curve on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and seeing downtown Manhattan across the river, and feeling so empowered—if I could handle New York City highway traffic, I could handle anything. Jane piped up from the back seat, “Bus!” and I was excited because she was rather a late talker and had only a handful of words at that point.
The next day, the birthday boy’s mother called to warn me that Tommy had awakened with a stomach virus that morning. Uh-oh. Every kid at the party came down with a really nasty flu—except Jane. She was legendary for her vigorous good health.
A week later, Jane and I flew down to North Carolina on a house-hunting mission. Scott was going to apply to grad school at UNC-G. Our plan was to move down in May and spend the summer freelancing before Scott started classes. Jane and I tooled all around the Greensboro area, and to my utter delight I found a cute little rental house—a former train depot, really—on a farm just outside the city limits. $500 a month, access to the whole farm including the sheep, the donkey, and the duck pond, and there was another family on the property with a little girl whom they too intended to homeschool. Seemed too good to be true. I returned triumphantly to NY and told Scott I’d found the perfect place.
A few days later, I was changing Jane’s diaper and noticed a surprising number of bruises on her legs. I wasn’t particularly worried—she was an active kid, a big climber and jumper, and we’d been at the playground all morning. Still, I decided to run it by the doctor. Unfortunately it was after office hours, so I’d have to wait until the morning.
That night Scott and I had an argument about when he should give notice at work. I was pushing for a slightly earlier date; I was eager to get down to NC and settle in at the Depot House. (It even had a name! I’ve always wanted to live in a house with a name.) Scott thought we should hang in for one more pay period before making the big move. We both went to bed upset, with Jane zonked beside us, her fair skin luminous in the moonlight. I woke in the early dawn, those bruises nagging at my mind. I snuck out of bed without waking Scott and Jane and dug a medical reference book out of the office closet. Bruising: check for petechiae, it said—little red dots on the skin—more than a dozen means bad news.
I crept back into the bedroom and raised the blind enough to let in light from the streetlamp. I remember the cold lump of fear in my stomach. There were more than twelve red dots on one arm alone. It was Saturday, March 22nd, and life as we knew it was over.
The pediatrician had office hours that morning. He took one look at Jane and sent us to the hospital for a blood test. Ten hours later we found ourselves in the PICU watching a nurse hook up machines that would remove Jane’s blood from her body and replace it with someone else’s blood. When Scott called his mother to tell her Jane had leukemia, she thought he was joking at first. He—the guy who wisecracks about everything—assured her that he would never joke about something like this. It defied belief, but it was real.
By the end of her first week of chemo, Jane had picked up a whole bunch of new words, like “blue IV” and “med-o-tec-tate” (methotrexate). And to think I’d been impressed with “bus”! Day 8 was Easter Sunday, and she hunted eggs in her hospital room with Scott maneuvering her iv pole around the bed. We thanked our lucky stars that he hadn’t quit his job yet. I wrote a note to the owner of the Depot House, explaining that we wouldn’t be renting after all. Six months of inpatient, high-dose chemo stretched to almost nine months, because of low blood counts and complications. Jane knew more about platelets and white cells at age 2 than I did at 20. We learned how to give injections and push meds through her central line catheter. We watched hundreds of hours of Blues Clues and read picture books until they were stacked as high as the bed.
She finished the last round of high-dose chemo on Thanksgiving Day of 1997. We ate Boston Market turkey and stuffing in the hospital playroom while her meds finished running. There were two more years of low-dose chemo to go, but we expected to spend most of that period as out-patients. When we got home that night—home, where we hadn’t spent more than ten days in a row since March—it was late, a cold, clear night, with as many stars as a New York City sky can muster. I remember thinking I couldn’t imagine ever being more thankful for anything than I was to be carrying that little girl up the stairs to our apartment that night.
I was wrong. Today I watched Jane feeding Wonderboy a jar of baby food. He thought it was hilarious to have his big sister be the one feeding him, and he could hardly eat for laughing—big belly laughs that made the other kids crack up, and then the sound of their laughter, which he can hear clearly now with the hearing aids in, made him guffaw all the harder. I stood frozen in the kitchen, holding my breath as if they were a flock of rare birds who might fly away if I moved. Beanie’s curls bounce when she laughs. Rose laughs mostly with her big brown eyes. Jane is like a poster child for joy. It bubbles out of her and spills over to everyone around.
There’s a little part of me that is still leaning over the bed in that crowded Queens apartment, counting tiny red dots on Jane’s skin, slowly awaking to the fact that we had far more important things to worry about than what day Scott should give notice at his job. It’s the part of me that knows, now, never to take a minute of this for granted—to give thanks to God every hour of every day for these amazing treasures who have been entrusted to my care, and for the guy who gives his all in helping me take care of them. They are miracles, all of them. Especially that golden girl beaming at her little brother as she lifts the spoon to his laughing mouth.
Once again, reducing me to tears. A good lesson to remember.
Happy Thanksgiving, Lissa.
On November 26, 2009 at 9:53 am
This still makes me cry, just as much as it did the day you first posted it.
Those little parts of ourselves, those frozen pieces of time and place in which we count tiny spots on skin, or first or last breaths, or the absence of … they weave into the fabric of our souls. One hair’s breadth turn of the kaleidoscope, that’s all it takes, and the world is made new.
A Blessed Thanksgiving to you all, Lissa.
On November 26, 2009 at 10:09 am
On November 26, 2009 at 10:11 am
You’ve stirred tears here also, as you did the first time I read this, and every time I read about Jane’s amazing story.
And it is so true about those little parts of ourselves, caught in the sharp bending of life.
On November 26, 2009 at 11:12 am
More tears here. Happy Thanksgiving.
On November 26, 2009 at 12:03 pm
Wow, much to be thankful for there. Wonderful post.
On November 26, 2009 at 12:15 pm
Penny in VT says:
So glad all is well and getting better every day…
Happy Thanksgiving 🙂
On November 26, 2009 at 12:17 pm
Thanks for posting this again. I remember reading it before. My 11 year old son Tim had leukemia. It is amazing how you always remember milestones. Tim is 7 years in remission after 3.5 years of chemo. He is doing extremely well. When he speaks as “Children’s Hospital Champion” he reminisces about how much fun he had with leukemia. Isn’t that strange?
On November 27, 2009 at 4:35 pm
Thank you for sharing Jane’s story, it makes me cry every time I read it. Even more so now, my little Regina–just 8 months old, spent her first 5 weeks in the NICU. Every day that I wake up realizing she’s here, in my home, and I don’t have to share her with a dozen nurses and doctors feels like a miracle. Just looking at her now, you’d never know she was so sick as a newborn.
On November 28, 2009 at 12:38 pm
Thanks for sharing, Melissa. We had our own good news this Thanksgiving. My 5yo’s JRA is in remission, as is the uveitis. She’s still taking MTX, though.
On November 28, 2009 at 3:09 pm
What an incredible story. I’m so happy for you and your family. Three cheers for Jane!
On November 29, 2009 at 1:36 pm
Elizabeth@Frabjous Days says:
So beautiful — and so timely as I ponder another day wrestling with my own verrrry challenging 21-month-old…
On November 29, 2009 at 1:59 pm
Jenny in Ca says:
Melissa, you made me cry.
so glad you have your little girl with you still, what a treasure.
grace and peace,
On November 29, 2009 at 4:00 pm
What a marvelous story. So glad all the family is happy and healthy now.
On December 2, 2009 at 8:35 pm
Thanks for this story. I searched your blog first with cancer and then with leukemia. A friend turned me onto your blog today. Although I’ve probably been here before it was all about Little House. Today I came searching for something else.
My daughter just finished chemo May 9 for ALL. And I have to say that a gift like the computer Billy gave makes a difference for anyone spending 6-9 months in the hospital. Luckily for us we only spent a total of about five weeks total in the 2.5 years.
And the beauty of your line, ” I remember thinking I couldn’t imagine ever being more thankful for anything than I was to be carrying that little girl up the stairs to our apartment that night.”
carries such weight for me at this point, just barely off treatment. I doubt that Isa will have any younger siblings, but I look forward to days like you describe 13 years from now.
On September 26, 2011 at 7:31 pm