Have you ever noticed when the sound around you stops? When the hum disappears? When it becomes really quiet?
It is usually when you are faced with something terrible. I think you’re focusing so hard to digest the bad news that there is no space left for any of the other senses to do their work properly.
When they told us that our then 16-year-old-daughter had cancer the sound was gone. I had to focus on the face of the specialist telling us this news. On his lips moving, on his hair, on the window behind him, on anything but what he was saying, to keep my emotions in the distance.
I was clinging onto the positives – Hodgkin Lymphoma, a cancer that is one hundred per cent curable – if they find it early enough. The doctor said something to the effect that if you had a choice in cancer, this was the one to choose.
Lymphoma. I rolled it around my tongue. Hodgkin Lymphoma. A cancer of the lymphatic system. A rare cancer. The exact cause unknown. It has abnormal cells called Reed-Sternberg cells.
I looked at my daughter and could see the questions in her eyes. I saw the trembling of her chin. I saw her maturing in front of my eyes. Was it only a few weeks ago that we were excited about going to France for the summer holidays?
I was angry with God. Why? Why? Why? Why didn’t I rather get it or someone much older? Someone who had lived their life? Why now with her going into her final secondary school year when she needs all the time and energy she has to study, to concentrate, not to be tired, not to be sick. In my human mind it was just not fair. This made my faith wobble dangerously.
Then the tests and scans and X-rays and endless blood tests started – PET (positron emission tomography) scan, CT scan, ultrasound scan, bone marrow tests, chest X-rays. In everything she went through there was a calmness about her, a stillness, never complaining, just an acceptance to get through this, to fight this, to get it over with. She of all people was allowed to complain. Just a little tiny something. Even with them taking a sample of her bone marrow (that is actually a piece of the bone) made her grit her teeth and carry on.
We had funny times between all these tests and waiting around, having read a few books each by the end of it, making up games and stories to pass the time. I asked her once during one of our endless waiting periods what had been the worst so far, which test was the most awful, which pain was the nastiest. A fair enough question because she had been through dreadful things so far, things people double her age might never experience, so she was allowed to complain a little.
This was her answer: “Let’s focus on the positive. I love that we get to spend so much time together.”