The childhood cancer community is a lot like life on steroids (literally, ha!). Whereas everyone has fear, hope, anger, resentment, joy, contentment, etc., at times in their lives, families with childhood cancer experience these feelings in extremes.
A mom hears, “No evidence of disease,” and her joy is far greater than when she hears, “I made an A in math.”
Likewise, “The cancer isn’t responding to treatment,” evokes pain like nothing else.
And perhaps the strongest feeling throughout the world of pediatric cancer is FEAR.
Parents fear more suffering for their child. More pain. More heartache. They ultimately fear having to watch patiently while their precious child succumbs slowly and painfully to the number one killer of children in America.
But the real heartache parents feel is from knowing their children face even greater fears: Am I going to die?
Will this hurt?
Am I going to get sick again?
Will my hair ever come back?
Everyone has anxieties, great and small. And for kids with cancer those anxieties are seen in bright, bright colors rather than blacks and grays.
This past weekend Harrison experienced a new fear, one we never saw coming. Compared to cancer it was nothing, but in the context of cancer it was huge.
He was playing shortstop and tried to pick a one-hopper out of the dirt to get the runner at second base. It took a bad hop, and “WHAM!” hit him right in the nose. He dropped like a rock.
When I got to him the first thing I looked for was blood. The chemo lowers his platelets. When they get too low he bleeds profusely.
No blood on the ground. Good news.
He looked up at me and I could immediately tell his nose was the impact point. The skin was peeled off on one side and it was beginning to swell.
He asked, “Am I bleeding?!”
That’s all he needed to hear. He immediately jumped up, backed away from everyone, and said, “I’m okay, let’s just play.”
“Are you sure you are okay?” “Yep”
No tears. No fears. Just let me play the game.
The next inning he came in to close out the game on the mound.
One tough, tough kid.
After that game I wanted to make sure he really was okay. We put some ice on his face and I causally mentioned, “I hope it isn’t broken.”
I never knew what that one almost meaningless statement would do to my little boy. Fear came rushing in like a storm.
While everyone was talking about the game we had just played and preparing for the next game, Harrison slipped off by himself. I saw him at a distance sitting against a light pole. This is uncharacteristic for Mr. Social.
I made my way to him and sat on the ground beside him.
“Are you okay? What is wrong? Does your nose hurt?”
Almost in tears he answered, “I don’t want my nose to be broken.”
What? That’s what he was worried about? No one worries about a broken nose. They don’t even do anything for it. Why would a broken nose be such a big deal.
I never realized how a relatively minor injury becomes something major to a kid whose life revolves around hospital visits, doctors, nurses, and medicine. He was afraid a broken nose would mean yet another visit to the hospital, yet another procedure, yet more pain at the hands of a physician.
I thought, “Broken nose? No big deal,” he imagined, “Broken nose? Back to the hospital”
My heart sank. I learned a big lesson about being sensitive to his situation. A broken nose might not be a big deal to me but to a kid with cancer it’s cause for great concern. Little things can produce huge fears.
After talking through things, and an assurance that his nose was not, in fact, broken, his entire demeanor changed. No more tears. No more fears.
And in game two Harrison came in to pitch in relief down 9-0 with one out in the top of the first. He finished that inning without giving up a run. Then pitched five more innings, giving up only one unearned run in the sixth inning. After a valiant comeback his team lost 10-8. His teammates are amazing.
Fear is powerful. When we are in its grips we are useless. I find myself suffering anxiety like Harrison’s many, many days. And, like him, I want to sit against the light pole alone. Afraid to face the game of life. I want to curl up under a tree and let the “game” go on without me.
But we must face our fears, illogical as they may sometimes be, and learn to walk in faith. We must keep moving when it hurts, keep playing when we are afraid. We need to keep going. Others need us to keep going.
Harrison’s teammates needed him to fight the fear and pitch his little heart out.
My family needs me to fight the fear and press on as a husband and father.
My students need me to fight the fear and teach passionately.
My friends need me to fight the fear and practice authentic Christian community.
And I need to fight the fear in faith, live in the moment, and win the day.
The opposite of fear is not courage, it is faith. Harrison trusted me that everything would be okay if he got back in the game. I must trust my Heavenly Father that he has not forgotten us.
We may go out in weeping and fear, but we return with laughter and joy because our Lord has done good things for us (Psalm 126).