When we used to travel full time across the country in our music ministry, I remember driving through big cities and seeing certain large, well-lit buildings perched within view of various freeways in various states.
Emblazoned on the sides of those buildings were the words, “Children’s Hospital.”
I would gaze in frightened awe at the buildings as we passed and then I would glance furtively at my own healthy children in the back of our truck, barely suppressing a shudder as I thought about the pain and trauma that went on inside those walls—not just for the children, but for the parents, as well.
And then I would breathe a silent prayer for the people whose lives those hospitals touched before adding, “Lord, I’m quite sure you know that I could never deal with that sort of thing. I could never, ever deal with having a child who was sick enough to have to be admitted to a specialized children’s hospital in a large city. That would just be too much for me to handle.”
And then those moments would pass. And life just went right on. The way it is wont to do.
A few years later, Sarah started getting sick. Very sick.
Mysterious symptoms. Baffled doctors. No answers.
We made the rounds of a few physicians and were finally sent to Brenner Children’s Hospital, an hour from where we lived.
A children’s hospital. Near a freeway.
We were suddenly inside the sorts of walls that I had viewed from a distance with such anxiety and trepidation.
But it was okay, really, because the reports we were hearing didn’t seem to indicate anything life threatening for our small, suffering princess; in fact, the consensus seemed to be that she had some sort of arthritis. Not a great thing to have, by any means, but it didn’t seem to be anything that might steal her life away.
I remember the day after getting that preliminary diagnosis, I was walking the halls of the hospital and I happened upon a certain office door that had a sign on it. The sign said, “Social Worker/Counselor for Pediatric Oncology Patients and Families.”
I stood frozen in the hallway and stared at that most horrific combination of words: “Pediatric Oncology Patients.”
I prayed, “Thank you Lord, that Sarah doesn’t have cancer. You know I could never deal with a child who had cancer. It would just be too overwhelming, too traumatic, too un-doable.
The next day Sarah was diagnosed with cancer.
Without a miracle, it was terminal cancer.
And my mind flashed back to those imposing, lit up buildings beside the freeway that I never ever pictured myself entering. And my mind flashed back to the day before when I had seen that sign on the office in the hallway and thought that I could never cope with having a child with cancer, a child who was really and truly life threateningly sick.
But suddenly the impossible was handed to us to do. Walk a child through chemo. And vomiting. And hair loss. And multiple surgeries. And numerous hospitalizations.
And then when that’s all done, get ready to transfer to another Children’s Hospital for a bone marrow transplant.
It was unspeakably hard for all of us.
I learned very quickly that I could do things that I never before thought were doable. I became the parent I had prayed for earlier—the parent behind the walls of a children’s hospital, hiding behind the blank, unblinking stares of rows and rows of windows and wondering whether or not my child would survive.
I never thought I’d be in a place like that. Never thought I’d get through.
But I made it! We made it!
And then . . .
Two years ago, I had a major cancer scare. I was told I had a 90-95% chance of having cancer in one or both breasts.
I just knew I couldn’t cope with such a horrific thing. I was especially convinced of that fact when a friend who’d had a mastectomy gave me a book with information and pictures showing women in different stages of breast cancer, surgery, and reconstruction.
I clearly remember sitting down with that book one evening and leafing through its pages. I lasted all of about ten minutes and then I shuddered violently and threw the book across the bed thinking, “I can not even comprehend what those words are saying. I can not even look at those pictures. I just can not face that sort of thing. Not now. Not ever.”
And then somehow, mysteriously, miraculously, the report from surgery came back. Benign. No cancer. No need for scary books and scarier pictures.
I had been given a reprieve.
But two months ago, everything changed.
Cancer found me.
Surgery was scheduled.
Recovery was endured.
Two weeks ago, I picked up the very same book I had flung across the bed two years earlier. I read all the information without a qualm. I looked at all the unnerving pictures without a quibble.
What was the difference? I was able to look at those pictures because I was those pictures.
And I found out something important. I found out that we can deal with a lot more than we think we can.
I’ve dealt with my daughter’s cancer. I’ve dealt with my own cancer. And I’m okay.
Sure I’ve had my moments of horrific grief and tears and hopelessness and anger and every other awful emotion that can possibly be experienced.
But I’ve made it. I’ve faced off against the monsters and the monsters didn’t win. I’ve found out I’m a whole lot stronger than I thought.
And that’s a lovely feeling.
Even with the scars that mark Sarah’s body and the scars that mar my own body, it’s a lovely feeling to go through something that’s impossible and come out at the other end with a smile. And peace. And a grateful heart.
Because now Sarah and I know that when the next “impossible” thing comes (and it will), we’ll be ready for it.
Because we’ve been there. Done that. Bought the t-shirt.