The Way the World Ends

In the time now known as “before”, September meant returning to school, and football and a break from the heat. Then came September 11, 2001 and it meant something else as well. But, September 11, 2008 became the great line of demarcation down our lives, by which all events are now placed in time. “Before” or “After”. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month, and all the posts this month will be about our journey, most drawn from our Caring Bridge Journal  which I have turned into a memoir of that time. My deepest hope is that you will read only as a spectator into the terrible, heart breaking, yet inspiring and joyful world that is Childhood Cancer. Spoiler alert: this story has a happy ending!


“This is the way the world ends.”-T.S. Elliot

I never saw it coming. Veteran nurse of 15 years, oncology nurse for 11, I never saw it coming. The blow when it came, was a sucker punch, a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky. Once I knew all the pieces clicked into place, and then I wondered how I could not have known.

Jack came down the stairs that morning to find me at the dining room table, having my quiet time before the day began. My Bible was in front of me but I cannot for the life of me remember what I was reading. Did it help sustain me through the day that was to come? I hugged him and I could feel that he was hot. I took his temperature and it was 101. He still had that cough that I had been attributing to allergies, although in retrospect, it had a strange barking quality to it. I called into my job at the Cancer Center and arranged to take him to the doctor. I predicted a diagnosis of Bronchitis, a quick prescription and a day on the couch letting him beat me at Battleship. If only it had been that simple.

As we walked into the Pediatrician’s office in the bright sunshine, I noticed for the first time that he was very pale. As I helped him undress I noticed all the bruises on his legs, and always that cough, that strange cough. Maybe you do not see what you do not want to see, or maybe you are busy living your life and do not see the pattern in the random details.

After an exam, our Pediatrician, Dr. Phillips, did a chest X ray and drew a complete blood count, or CBC, which looks at all the different types of blood cells. Then he sent us to the hospital to have both tests redone. I began to have a sense of dread that mounted with every passing moment.  While we were still there his nurse called and told us to come back to the office.

Funny, how you can know, and yet not know. How you tell yourself that there is nothing wrong, that it could be something else, anything else, even an old oncology nurse who should know better. But, when we got back to the office and the nurse came to take Jack out to the desk to color, there is no denial that can survive that. Then you know.

As I waited for the doctor I knew I had about 30 seconds to decide how to live the rest of my life. I prayed:

“Father, whatever is coming, it’s too big for me. I put it in Your hands, and I will do my best to walk through if You’ll go with me.”

Then Dr. Phillips came in to tell me what I really already knew.

He said: “His white blood cell count is 100,000 and there is a mass in his chest.”

I said: “Is it leukemia?”

He said: “I think so. You have to go to Children’s Hospital tonight.”

And just like that, the life we knew was over.


3 thoughts on “The Way the World Ends

  1. Maggie Davenport

    Heart wrenching . September 11th is an emotional day. Your gift for writing is certainly how you will share you and your family’s journey. God was there every step although as Jack’s aunt I didn’t always understand but He was always there.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s