Today marks 2 years since Magnus was diagnosed with a brain tumor and subsequently cancer. I don't like this day much.
About 6 months ago I had to write a Creative Non-Fiction piece for my writing class and I decided to write the story of Magnus' diagnosis. It was difficult to write, but also very healing. Whenever I go through memories in my head, look through photos, or watch videos Andy has made from that time, I literally cannot keep the tears from coming. I cannot believe he went through it-- that we went through it as a family. I really don't dwell on it much, because it is so hard for me when I do. Instead I try to think of the miracles that took place, and the incredible amount of happiness that I feel whenever I see him running, jumping, and playing with a big smile on his face. Anyway, to mark the occasion, here is my writing piece below. It's long (5 page requirement for the class, haha) but if you're interested, it has the details.
I let out an involuntary sigh as I collapsed onto my bed after what had seemed to be a Groundhog Day of events that morning. The afternoon sun slanted in through my window and dust mites flitted through the light. I’d been up since 5 AM and hadn’t gone to bed until midnight the night before. The entire week preceding this moment weighed down on me and settled in my chest, like a large stone had been placed there. I stared at the ceiling, my mind creating images out of the texture residing there. I could do this. I only had two days left of the demanding CNA course that I was attending. Four of my children had started school a couple days before, and my fall semester of classes had begun a few days before that. My youngest child, Magnus, would start preschool in just over a week. I felt like I could finally get back into a routine after that and everything would get back to normal. Summer had been a whirlwind of events with my husband, Andy, and I attending school for summer semester, Andy taking an EMT course every morning for 3 months, both of our work schedules on top of all that, and the kids juggled somewhere in between. I had a sudden feeling of regret that their summer hadn’t been more exciting. Yes, it would be good to get back to normal, and see the day when all of this chaos would payoff.
Just as I had closed my eyes for a glorious and much deserved nap, I heard someone creeping into my room. I opened my eyes just a slit and saw my baby boy sneaking stealthily over to my side of the bed. He peeked up over the comforter and grinned.
“Hi mama!” he giggled in his raspy baby voice.
“Well, hello there my sweet boy!” I responded as I reached down and pulled him into bed with me. I nuzzled his fuzzy head and kissed his soft baby cheeks as he snuggled into the crook of my arm and beamed up into my face like the little piece of sunshine that he was. The look of complete trust and adoration was transparent upon his face. Andy walked into the room a moment later.
“Hi, babe” I smiled tiredly.
“Hey. How was your clinical this morning?” He responded as he leaned down and pecked me on the lips.
“It seemed like it was never going to end. Oh goodness, I saw so many naked, old people today!” I squeezed my eyes shut as if that would somehow erase the memory. He laughed and rubbed my back.
“Well, Magnus threw-up again this morning. I’m not really sure what to do with him. He always seems fine afterwards, but it’s getting a little strange,” he stated. My eyes shot open again. It was strange. That was the fifth time this week. Every morning, right after waking, he had thrown up. I looked down at the three-year-old residing in my arms.
“What’s your deal lately, huh?” I murmured into his hair.
“I dunno!” he laughed as he shrugged his shoulders up and down like a butterfly about to take flight.
“Do you feel sick? Does your tummy hurt?” I asked him.
“No?” he responded as if it were a question, and one that he didn’t really know the answer to.
“Alright, well I suppose we should have something for dinner,” I decided as I swung my legs over the side of the bed to stand up. Andy grabbed my hands to pull me up off of the bed.
“Let’s go out tonight,” he said pulling me close against him, “We’ll let Laylah babysit and we can go to dinner at that new Thai place you like so much.”
“Well, I am definitely not going to argue with that!” I exclaimed as I laid my head against his chest.
After preparing a simple meal for the kids, Andy and I headed out for our own dinner, leaving our five children eating happily and with a movie and popcorn waiting for them when they were finished. It was a beautiful summer evening with puffy white clouds filling the perfect oceanic sky. The sun had just started its downward peak towards the western mountain range and I could feel the weight of the day melt off of my shoulders. Andy and I talked easily at dinner, enjoying the ambiance of the cool and dark restaurant, a plate of steaming curry in front of each of us, and talking of the crazy summer that was finally coming to a close. We were both equally amazed and relieved that we got through it. We toasted each other for a job well done and laughed about some of the more chaotic events that had occurred.
After dinner we decided to run home and check on the kids before heading back out for ice cream. As we walked into the door I was alarmed to see Magnus in the kitchen, hunched over a bowl and vomiting, his little body heaving with effort. Laylah, our oldest daughter, was rubbing his back and whispering soothing words. I ran and kneeled at his side and took the bowl from him as he finished.
“Oh, sweet baby,” I cooed as I embraced him. He gasped and started screaming right then, a horrible scream filled with pain and suffering. It startled me and I turned him to face me and, alarmed, asked, “What’s wrong? Where does it hurt?”
“My head! My head hurts! Owie!” he howled while clutching the back of his skull.
I looked up at Andy standing over us and said, “This is ridiculous, I’m calling the pediatrician. I don’t know what is wrong with him, but we are going to figure this out.”
After a long conversation with the pediatrician, relaying various information and details of Magnus’ health history over the summer, and especially the past week, I hung up the phone.
“Well, she wants us to head up to the ER at Primary Children's. She said she would call and tell them we were on our way.”
“I just laid Magnus down for bed, do you really think there is something wrong? I mean, he’s acting perfectly fine now. Can’t we just go see her on Monday?” Andy asked, slightly exasperated.
“No, I really think we should go now. I have a feeling that something isn’t right. I need to listen to my mommy intuition. That’s a real thing, you know,” I replied with a wink.
Andy rolled his eyes and grinned. “Mommy’s intuition,” he mumbled under his breath. “Fine, you win, I’ll go get him up.”
The drive up to the hospital was dark and quiet. Magnus sat in his car seat, a blank look on his face as he stared out the car window and into the dark night. I kept glancing back at him and staring at his sweet, little face, while simultaneously reassuring myself that everything would be fine. He was pale and sleepy.
“We’ll be in and out of here, and out to ice cream before you know it,” Andy interrupted my thoughts. “You’ll see. I’m sure everything is just fine. What could really be wrong? It’s Magnus. He’s the toughest kid we know.” I didn’t respond. Andy had to be right. But what if he wasn’t? I didn’t want to think about the possibility of something actually being wrong.
The ER got us back to a room right away and a doctor came in before we’d even had a chance to get settled. After relaying the same information that I had given the pediatrician, the doctor explained that they would be doing a CT scan of Magnus’ head, because of his symptoms and history over the past week. A tech came and took us to the scan room. It took some convincing to get Magnus up onto the table and even more tricks and bribes to get him to let us strap his head down. After a quick scan we headed back to the room where our nurse had turned on one of our family’s favorite movies, How to Train Your Dragon. Andy and I joked back and forth lightly, trying to lose the ominous feeling that had taken up residence in the room. I knew he felt it, too.
Just as I had started imagining the horrible news that many parents must have received while waiting in this very room, the doctor opened the door and Andy and I both turned his way. The look on his face has since taken up permanent residence in my mind. He looked… defeated somehow. As if he’d just lost a fight with his worst enemy.
“I have your son’s scan results,” he started as he pulled a chair up to sit right in front of us. “I am so sorry to tell you that there is a very large mass in his brain. I have already called the neurosurgery team and they will be here shortly to speak with you.” His quiet voice, and words with a sympathetic tone washed over me and settled right in the pit of my stomach. I just sat there, in complete and utter shock. I vaguely remember placing my hands over my mouth, probably so I wouldn’t allow the scream out that threatened to erupt at any moment. I glanced over my husband and I saw a pale, white face with tears brimming at the corner of his eyes, a look of shock upon it that probably mirrored my own. Was this really happening to us? Not Magnus, not my baby boy. I glanced over his way and saw him, a slight smile on his face, snuggling his favorite brown blankie and happily watching one of his favorite movies.
Two years ago my son was diagnosed with brain cancer, specifically Ependymoma. Two years ago my son had brain surgery, his only chance of survival. We met with doctor after doctor and we were forced to trust them completely, literally giving them our son’s life to hold in their hands. We met incredible people: nurses, therapists, medical students, and volunteers. Magnus went through six months of intense treatments and therapies. He needed to see seven different specialists to help us deal with the backlash of that surgery, those treatments, and therapies. He lost his hair, something I never thought I would care about until I didn’t have the choice. He lost abilities he had conquered as an infant. But overall, he came out on top. He beat it, just like I knew he would.
And what did I gain from this horrifying nightmare that no parent should ever have to experience? I gained change, gratitude, and perspective. Before my son’s diagnosis, I had never before met a child with cancer. The empathy that has filled my being for families and parents like mine can be all encompassing.
I was taken to hell and clawed my way back. I can appreciate my child in a way that most parents will never fathom. And yet, at times, I’m still envious of their naivety. However, I would never change the brutality of my experience. That’s the funny thing about life. These experiences shape us into these incredible beings of who we are meant to be and show us how we can come out on top. That is what I have gained form my child’s cancer diagnosis. He won.
If you would like to see a little video Andy made of Magnus' journey, click HERE to view it.
And here are just a few photos of the day he was diagnosed and his hospital stay:
We could not be more thankful that Magnus recovered fully from this experience in his life. We are so very lucky, so very blessed, and so very thankful.