Kindred Comfort

Where there is kindred, there is comfort.

Two Individual alike, yet distinct in these moments.

Two lives: threatened in youth; restored with consequence.

Two hearts: broken, beyond repair; stitched together, no fear of rejection.

Yet,

One longs to embrace a new heart while the other struggles to take ownership of the heart gifted to her.

One looks forward with anticipation while the other looks back in remembrance.

One waits while the other waits alongside.

 

~Stephanie Zimmerman, 2011

Dearest Mom, I Love You: ALWAYS

Dearest Mom,

How do I, an independent adult, married and with a family of my own, in these days we never imagined we would have, even begin to express to you the gratitude that will forever reside in my heart to you and for you? To be honest with you, I’m not convinced to do so is even possible.

No mom enters into motherhood thinking that her son or daughter will develop cancer as a child, yet when I was that child, you rose to the occasion no matter what was thrown your way.

Mom, I had no idea that day at Children’s in Pittsburgh that we were walking onto a battlefield to engage in a fight for my very life. It was a firestorm of information in a language unknown to me, information that must have been excruciatingly painful for you to hear as it was applied to flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone: your blue eyed, blonde haired little girl. 

You were so poised as I watched you, your mind set upon asking questions and securing answers. Your tenacity was stunning as you would not relent until a satisfactory answer was given. What a blessing that you could speak medical speak with the best of them; you were one of them. This time, however, you were mom, first; nurse, second as you came alongside of me advocating for my needs, answering my questions, requesting pain medication when I was hurting so badly I wouldn’t breathe, swallow, much less cough, and the list goes on and on. 

You even managed to turn the hospital laundry service upside down until FROG had been found and returned to me on a mid-December day.

Having studied me for almost 9 years, you knew that I would cope best by being prepared AHEAD of time, yet not TOO far in advance. You were always right on time. You knew that just one blindside would destroy my ability to trust you and dad as well as my team of doctors; you knew that trust would be essential, especially if I had died; therefore, you guarded my heart and my ability to trust by speaking the truth: always in ways that I could understand what was happening or going to happen.

You always made treatment days fun with waiting room picnics, double solitaire, checkers, cross-stitching and guessing games right out of the gate with my very first cycle. I remember the night before my first appointment, you sat down on my bed to ask me if I though my medicines would have color, and if so, what color would the next morning bring: clear, yellow, or red? Clearly, you knew some had color! 

You made the unknown tolerable and known for me as you began almost immediately to teach me the proper names of each medicine as we learned what to expect upon our return home after each appointment which usually meant 12 hours of nausea and vomiting without reprieve in a day when Zofran was only someone’s wildest imagination.

You also knew that I would withdraw and die if I was isolated and kept from being with my friends or making new friends along the way. I remember the blank planning calendar in pencil because ink no longer applied as everything was subject to change. I remember treatment dates going on first and everything else taking backseat to the priority of getting rid of my tumor. 

The next items added included my dad’s travel schedule, brother’s sixth grade school and activity schedule, then at home tutoring, school visits once a week, and play time for me with friends at our house. I still remember your awesome craft box and wondering if it was my magnetic personality or you and your box that drew my friends in each and every week.

You maintained your expectations of me. You expected normal things from me. You expected me to learn my spelling words and to be prepared for my spelling tests every Thursday. You expected me to read and know my multiplication tables. You expected me do my chores. You expected me to be kind even when I didn’t feel like it. You expected me to love my brother even though I didn’t like him very much. You expected a respectful attitude at all times. You showed me that I wasn’t the center of the universe encouraging me to be mindul of others. Yet, you extended grace to me when grace was much needed. 

Bottom Line: you expected me to live and you breathed that belief into me every day.

Finally, you understood that I wasn’t going to be bold with my new found baldness, yet I would be too self conscious for a wig. Your solution: scarves. Thank you for respecting me as a person while seeking to protect and preserve my dignity; I trust that you will not be offended when I tell you that in retrospect, I SO wish I had been bold: oh well!

With the end of treatment serving as my first significant milestone, there were many more to follow though we couldn’t see it at the time. We were too busy holding our breath, you and dad more so than me, but days turned into months; months, years; and years, decades. 

I graduated from high school (25 years ago: anniversaries most run from, but moments I savor), then nursing school, and ultimately, graduate school. There were first dates, boyfriends, Friday night football games, dances, and homecomings. There was college, more boyfriends, football, campus events with a little studying thrown in for good measure. 

There was, and still is, marriage, then the son I was never supposed to carry much less birth and the joy of being able to stay at home with him, a gift in ways I would come to realize 5 short years later when my heart failed and my life was in jeopardy once again.

Now, 5 and ½ years later with my heart-brand-new, I have joyed in first days of school, birthday parties, Formula 1, soccer and football games, trips to Disney, Legoland, Hawaii, and our personal favorite, summers in Pennsylvania with my now 10 year old son, your grandson; a grandson, you may not have been able to envision in the 1970′s. Nevertheless, a hope you held close for me.

Mom, I believe you were chosen, indeed called, to be my mom for such a time as when cancer would enter my life, when life would become a reality, and when life would be threatened once again. You were custom made for me; my every need, you not only anticipated, but you also provided. You were fitted for me unlike any other, uniquely designed to come alongside of me, to steady me, to cal me, to comfort me, to advocate for me, to above all love me.

Thank you for ensuring that my root system was deep and wide, capable of sustaining life, rich and full and strong enough to face the challenges of surviving survivorship. 

Thank you, too, for the provision of wings; wings that would take flight believing that I was more than capable to be independent in life and in my health and wellbeing. Thank you for being selfless in letting me go when I know everything within you wanted to hold me tight.

Thank you for establishing a bond-unbreakable not even by death between us.

Thank you for being my quieter, my woman of distinguished valor and strength of mind amidst grave danger, my paraclete, my mom: MY quiet hero.

Thank you for making sure that NEVER once did I ever walk alone.

I love you: always and no matter what…

Stephie

The ‘Other Guy’ Rule

Cancer affects the individual, yes; however, cancer also affects everyone who loves that individual.

Today, I give you my dad as he reflects on my childhood cancer [and] the failure of my heart 30 years after the end of my treatment through his father-eyes, from his tender-heart, and in his own words:

“’It’s always the other guy.’ That’s the unwritten rule, isn’t it? Then a life altering event happens and your world is changed forever. What starts out as a constricted pupil turns out to be a serious problem. Your thought process changes from “carefree” to weighing the consequences of each decision you make.

Nothing is simple anymore; everything must be weighed in light of what might happen as a result of events of which you had no knowledge or control.

But, then your faith kicks in, and somehow, you know that your daughter is a fighter, and until you instill your fears in her, she will exude confidence in her ability to survive and get better.

So, you choke back the tears in her presence, and only permit them when you are alone. All the questions will be answered, and when it seems that you cannot bear to consider one other thing, a little girl with “peach fuzz” for hair says, “Daddy, can we huddle up?”. And you do as you are now “the other guy”.

We were told by the oncologists that the chemotherapy agents used might have latent effects on our daughter’s heart, but what other decision could be made.

You put this possibility out of you mind and invoke the “other guy rule” which you already know doesn’t work. 

Fast forward 30 years and Stephanie’s heart was failing, and failing fast. This time the problem could be fixed provided we didn’t run out of time. By now, as a father, you know what needs to happen: a new heart. It is a matter of getting her to the place with the greatest likelihood of making that happen.

Through the power of prayer, the efforts of pastors, relatives, and friends alike, and the receptive physicians of the Cleveland Clinic, God’s hand guided us through the medical maze to get us to the best place for Stephanie just in time.

The cost of this was totally absorbed by one family who made the decision to save another person’s life when they could not save their own daughter’s life; a selfless gift for which we can never adequately express our gratitude.

From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, having a child with a serious illness is one of the hardest problems to handle emotionally. And, until you have been there, you will never truly know its impact on yourself or how you will react.”

Doug”

May there be no doubt, I am loved quite fiercely [and] my parents persevered alongside of me as they breathed life, not fear into me no matter how dire the circumstance.

Republished with permission of Stephanie Zimmerman, daughter of Doug and Co-Founder of myHeart, yourHands.