Rule #216: It’s okay to go to the dark place until the light shines through.
I’ve been wondering how this post would be written: from a place of grief or a place of pure joy. I’m beyond happy to say I’m writing from a place of joy. The past five days have been the longest, most agonizing days of our lives up to this point. If you know our family’s history, you know that’s saying something.
Last Monday, we took Brooke in for her routine 12-month bloodwork. All standard stuff. Her lab work came back a little abnormal, so the pediatrician’s office said to have her lab work done again later in the week. They said the low numbers they were seeing were most likely a result of a virus.
So, on Friday after I picked the kids up, I shlepped them to another lab and had more bloodwork done. It was not my favorite way to end the week. Brooke by this time knew exactly what was coming and was not having any of it. The poor baby had four shots the week before and was now doing a second blood draw in the same week. That’s a lot for a tiny little nugget (and her Mama).
Saturday morning was as normal as any: we watched College Game Day while eating breakfast, Jon took Corey for a haircut, we took Jon’s truck to the shop, got the kids’ flu shots, then took Jon back to the shop to wait for the repairs to be done. When I got home with the kids, Corey went to play outside with his next door buddy. I brought Brooke in and started making her lunch.
Then I got a phone call that made time stand still. It was the pediatrician. Calling me. On a Saturday. I knew right away something was coming. I really didn’t expect that 19 minute phone call to change everything. Brooke’s bloodwork from Friday came back even more abnormal. All of her numbers had dropped even more. So much so that my pediatrician had called physicians at Texas Children’s in the ER and the Oncology Department before calling me. She even had called friends and asked them to pray for me before she called. Brooke’s labs indicated that she either had a virus or leukemia.
Leukemia. My daughter could have leukemia. Our pediatrician couldn’t have done a better job of easing into the news, reassuring me that survival rates for kids her age are very high, and telling me that she would be with us through all the next steps.
Jon Boy wasn’t home, and I had to tell someone. I was walking towards the garage to go to the neighbors’ to tell them when I collapsed on the floor in the mudroom. I let out a sound that I pray to God I never make or hear again. I was in complete agony. It all finally sunk in at that moment. I managed to pull it together and go next door where my sweet neighbors gave me comfort, prayers, and reassurance. They helped me get back inside the house, calmed me down, and even took over watching Corey so he didn’t have to see me in that state. God puts people in your life for a reason, and I am so grateful for them!
Jon Boy was supposed to head to the grocery store to get things for dinner that night (we were hosting friends). I texted and told him to just come on home. I couldn’t bear the thought of telling him while he was driving. Once he got home, I broke the news. He is and always has been a pillar of strength in these situations. He immediately went to the positive side. Our pediatrician said it was a good thing the docs at Texas Children’s didn’t want us to go to the ER right away. Jon Boy hung on to that positive note.
The plan was this: wait until Monday to get a physical with the pediatrician, then do more bloodwork the following Wednesday at Texas Children’s, then wait for results. Wait. Wait. Wait. For the biggest news we could ever think to have to wait for. We had to wait to do the bloodwork again to get more accurate data. I also screwed things up with the flu shot. Apparently that could affect the results as well. So more waiting.
The time between Saturday and Wednesday were the longest days of our lives. I would genuinely count the minutes until we could get answers. I went straight to the Dark Place. In my gut, I felt like she had leukemia. I had to go there instead of staying positive for survival. If I stayed positive and got bad news, I would be devastated more than if I’d stayed in the Dark Place.
I’ve been high up on my happy horse and knocked down too many times before. It’s a long fall, let me tell you.
But, in the Dark Place, you’re already down. You’re already prepared for bad news. That’s where I stayed for five long days. It’s not the healthiest way of doing things, but considering my past it’s the best way I know to handle situations like this.
Of course Brooke was perfectly fine and happy! She played, ate, slept, laughed, and cried like her normal self. I would check her temperature for fever all throughout the day (fever was a sign to head straight to the ER). I freaked out about any little rash or bruise or bump she would get. I went through everything anyone had told me about her health and behavior the past few weeks. I blamed myself for getting her the flu shot when I should have waited.
Finally Monday came.
It was her picture day at preschool, and I was determined to get her picture taken. What if this was the last picture she had before starting chemo? What if this was her last school picture ever? I had to get that picture. So, we got both kids dressed nicely, walked into the school holding back tears, and got their pictures taken. I made it all the way up until we were walking out of the school. Thank God for sunglasses.
We headed to the pediatrician’s office right after dropping Corey off. She checked out perfectly in her physical. So, then we prepared to wait again until Wednesday.
Tuesday we got a call from the pediatrician. I had mentioned on Monday that her blood draw the previous Friday came from her heel because she was so hard to hold down. The folks at the lab couldn’t get anything from her vein, so the heel was the next option. Only… it wasn’t supposed to be. She’s been walking for over 6 weeks now. That means her heel has hardened and therefore wouldn’t give an accurate blood sample. I had no idea. I’m an English major with a librarian degree, so hematology is a little out of my level of understanding. The lab didn’t indicate the blood draw came from the heel nor did they indicate some details about how the blood was clotting. Apparently both of these are big no-no’s. The pediatrician told us on that Tuesday phone call that all of this could mean she’s completely fine. We just had to get the third blood draw to be sure. But again, I was in my Dark Place, and I wasn’t coming out until that light was shining bright on my face. So, we waited again.
On Wednesday, we dropped Corey off at preschool, headed down to Texas Children’s, got the blood draw, then waited. We decided Mexican food was good for the soul, so we took Brookie on a little date. She powered down chips, queso, a quesadilla, and rice and beans. Clearly, she was unaffected by the whole ordeal.
Wednesday at 5:00, I finally texted the pediatrician and asked if she’d heard anything. I was freaking out because I’d expected and hoped for results way sooner. I thought since she was waiting until the end of the day, that meant bad news. Again… the Dark Place was comfortable for me. And then we waited some more to hear from her.
She called at 5:25. “Brooke’s labs came back, and she is perfectly healthy. Perfect blood work!” I lost it. I lost it and wailed and thanked God and she cried then I cried some more then we all cried together. Best phone call I’ve ever had in my life.
I’d say that we went through Hell for nothing, but I’m a firm believer that God has His hand in everything. We were shown love in SO many ways these past five days. From prayers, meals, watching Corey, wine, flowers, and so many other ways, we felt God’s presence in the worst time of our lives. I felt the same love after my brother and my dad passed. I don’t think their deaths had “purpose”, but I do think God is good all the time. He is there. He shows His love in the blanket of people who come to your aid when you need it most. Even if you don’t believe in God, I think we can all agree that the good in humanity comes out in the darkest of times. That’s the light that shines through.
We didn’t tell many folks because we wanted definitive answers before sharing any news. It was a horrible roller coaster to be on, and we didn’t want to bring anyone else on the ride with us if we didn’t have to.
I have to say that we’ve both had feelings of guilt since getting the good news. We were prepared to plan for chemo, hospital trips, and doctor’s offices. I put the rest of our lives on hold: Corey’s birthday, house renovations, buying pumpkins, t-ball, etc. It seems silly, but I didn’t want to make any decisions until I knew we were in the clear. I couldn’t really fathom that we were even talking about oncology physicians when I really just wanted to put her in her Star Wars costume and get excited for Halloween. I know there are parents who have to make those plans. They have to plan for the chemo, the bills, the hospital visits, and somehow trying to keep their others kid’s lives as normal as possible. I genuinely cannot imagine that terrible journey.
This has changed us forever. I really don’t think we needed another lesson on how short life is, but we got one. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas will take on even more of a special meaning for us this year. Those are my three favorite holidays because they’re all about family, food, and fun. We will hold our kids a little tighter than ever before. We will be grateful for all that we have. We will never forget the kindness extended to us in this horrible time.
We are exhausted more than we have ever been before, and honestly it will take a while for us to recover from this horrible ordeal. Part of me has a lot of anger towards the lab who put us in this position, but I also have immense joy for all of the positive things we saw happen. We are so happy to have such great doctors, family, and friends who were there for us. I’m choosing to hold on to that rather than be angry.
Cheers to our Brookie Cookie for bringing so much light to our lives, even in the darkest of times!