We’ve made it longer than last time before a transfusion, and are hoping to make it until next Tuesday when we make the trip to Chapel Hill for Harrison’s weekly chemo treatment. While he’s quite tired, there are no headaches or other tell-tale signs of severe anemia. Harrison is really hoping to make it to Lachlan’s first varsity baseball game this afternoon.
As we all learn to live with this “new normal,” a phrase we hear regularly in the childhood cancer community, Harrison has grown tired of looking like a leukemia patient. At first, he enjoyed the chubby cheeks and bald head. Well, he still likes the bald head. But, as I referenced earlier, he just wants to be normal. As his treatment drags on, he’s feeling less and less normal, and looking like the kids in the clinic is not making him happy.
Several weeks ago we ran into a family from Wilmington whose nine year-old son was recently diagnosed with leukemia. When we saw them in the clinic that Tuesday, it was obvious they were new. First, we hadn’t seen them before. Second, their eyes were puffy. Third, their son looked normal. We had been there. I introduced myself and welcomed Jacob and his family into this new world we all share. I’m certain he and his parents would have preferred not to be joining the club.
On our most recent visit we saw this dear family again. Jacob was almost unrecognizable: thinning hair, puffy cheeks, enlarged head. He looked over at Harrison, meeting him for the first time, and said, “He looks like me.”
We all had a good laugh. Kids really do say the darnedest things.
But as I walk away another part of this new reality hit me in the gut. Harrison really does look different.
When we first shaved Harrison’s head after diagnosis Ginger and I wept and wept. That image was a visual reminder that we have a son with cancer. And there is nothing we can do about it.
I hate that my son “wears” his disease, and I can see that he is becoming more self-conscious about it. But I hope to learn, and to help him learn, the important lesson that what is on the inside (in this case, cancer) really does affect what is on the outside. Just as leukemia has lurked unseen but manifest its presence via the changes to his outward appearance, so too both sin and grace, harbored in the heart manifest themselves in love of God and love of others.
The oncologists don’t try to make kids look like leukemia kids. They try to cure leukemia kids of their disease. But by focusing their attention on the inside, doctors cause necessary and consequential changes to the outside. As a believer, I pursue a change of heart, knowing that when my heart is changed, my outward appearance will be as well. So just as my kid is unrecognizable compared with the school picture hanging on my wall, I trust that by the grace of God I’m unrecognizable compared with my former self.