A little over a week ago, I was about to start on a big video project for one of my clients. I was putting the finishing touches on an essay summarizing the themes of my memoir, Double Time for another website. I was also planning to dive into work on a new novel.
We had three summer vacation trips planned — to Maine, to the Jersey Shore (no no, a tasteful part of it), and New Hampshire. Elsa was about to start tap dance classes, too. The girls were going to start kindergarten in the Fall. Clio was going to start playing soccer.
I was hoping to do a writing residency somewhere at some point this year. Alastair was planning to expand his work doing kids’ music shows and educational assemblies in schools.
In other words, our lives were (we thought) going to go along exactly as we expected they would. And then, last week, we were suddenly in the hospital and finding out that Clio had leukemia. And our life as we know it was dramatically changed.
No trips this summer — at least not for all four of us — while we’re in and out of the hospital. No kindergarten in the fall for Clio; it would be too dangerous for her compromised immune system. Our ability to work as many hours as we do now, uncertain. Clio’s going to basically have to be home-schooled for a while — plus there will be clinic visits and periodic inpatient stays. And that’s assuming no unforeseen complications or setbacks.
As for the novel I was planning to write? Well, I’m just hoping I can finish it in this decade.
And, of course, in all of this, there is the constant uncertainty about Clio’s health. The success rates for her form of leukemia — ALL Pre-B — are the highest of all pediatric leukemias, so we’re very optimistic. But I hate the idea of her not feeling well and missing out on things. I hate the fact that we’ll always be watching, waiting, hoping things don’t get worse. Most of all, I hate the thought that we could end up being the unlucky ones.
Since we got here to the hospital last week, Alastair and I have been switching back and forth at night, with one of us staying in the room with Clio and the other one staying in the parent room we’ve been assigned. Getting ready for bed and waking up in that room — the only time when there’s a bit of distance for reflection — is when it tends to hit me the hardest: just how completely and irrevocably our lives as we planned and imagined them over the next several years have changed. And how sad / scared / angry that makes me.
But I firmly believe — I have to believe — that there will be good changes and realizations that come of this unexpected turn of events as well. I don’t entirely know what those will be yet. But I do know that I haven’t had a lousy or trying experience in my life yet that didn’t teach me something or make me see more clearly or feel more deeply or, if nothing else, simply make me more grateful for the not-so-lousy times.
And sometimes, a “bad” life-changing experience like this can make previously hazy choices seem suddenly clear-cut and simple.