What Do You Do When…?

It was a beautiful, sunny Friday October afternoon. I had my windows rolled down, enjoying the warmth, as I sat in our car at the bus stop waiting for my daughter to come home from school. A minute or so before the bus rolled up, I got the call.

“You know how we’re not at the bus stop today because L had an appointment? We just found out she has a brain tumor.” The words came at me rapid fire.

Everything went quiet and time stopped for a moment.

She is 10 years old.

She has a brain tumor.

I don’t understand. This doesn’t make sense. She’s been having headaches for years. How long has that thing been there? 

All our family has known of brain tumors is the death of several friends. Too high of a percentage of those friends had Stage 4 glioblastoma, a very aggressive form, which admittedly was a very highly unlikely to no-chance scenario in this case—but to fight against that fear, right then, was nearly impossible.

Not a brain tumor. Please no. Not her too. No, no, no…

I wanted to break down but I heard the mom’s voice and knew I had to stay in one piece. She had just found out. She had just seen the scans. She needed more than I did in that moment. I could hear all the emotion, all the fear, all the what-does-this-mean as she spoke. I took a couple of deep breaths. Oh dear God, please help me keep it together for her. 

L is my younger daughter’s favorite-est friend. I haven’t yet heard them argue or get frustrated with or complain about the other. They just love being with each other. No drama. No stupid girl stuff. They simply love each other’s company. Giggles, jokes, stories, big ideas, running around, quiet sitting together. Peace.

Oh my gosh, I love that kid.

It is, by far, the hardest news I have ever had to tell my daughter. I could barely get the words out. We had no information at that time other than she had a brain tumor and that created a significant, huge unknown.

My daughter’s eyes asked the question, but I had no answer for her.

We soon found out the tumor was blocking how her spinal fluid drained, causing the fluid to collect around her brain and creating the pressure she was feeling in her head, so there was surgery to fix the drainage problem. They couldn’t do a biopsy because of where the tumor is located, but she doesn’t have to go through chemo or radiation for the time being. She will have to undergo scans periodically from now on to keep an eye on the tumor, but for now they have decided to leave it in. That is the best of my understanding of what has happened so far.

When I got a chance to sit and talk with her, one of the things I told L was to let her parents deal with all the scary stuff and things she doesn’t understand. There’s really no need for her to carry that around. That is, after all, why God made her mom and dad the parents and so big and strong, so they can do the hard work while she rests and gets her strength back.

She nodded her head and said, “Ok, sounds good.”

About two months after the initial tumor find and a couple of days after L returned to school, my daughter finally broke down. She was inconsolable. I think it was partial relief that she could be in the presence of her friend again—laughing, talking, running around, goofing off—mixed with a limited, daunting, persistent, dark cloud of knowledge that L might not be here one day. “I don’t want her to die,” she whispered through her tears.

I felt so utterly helpless. I couldn’t tell her everything was going to be alright. L could be fine for a very long time… or… maybe this could take a bad turn. How do you deal with that? What do you say when there’s so much unknown? All I could do was hold her and tell her to simply enjoy being L’s friend. If something that we don’t want to happen does, then we’ll deal with that when the time comes.

My daughter cried for a long time and I held her for a long time. When she calmed down some, I suggested she take a shower and try to relax, but I could hear her sobbing again in the shower. This was unbearable —my turn to break down.

The truth is, all of us are going to die. That tidbit of information shouldn’t be such a surprise. But somehow it always is, especially when the knowledge just slams into your everyday life like it did that Friday afternoon. Especially in one as young as L is.

Months have passed and looking at L, you’d never know she’s going through this. But every once in a while it hits. Every once in a while I’ll hear the whisper, What if? How will you handle this if…? 

I need to take my own advice and enjoy the time now and let my heavenly Father take care of all that is too much for me. I need to let him take care of all the scary stuff and things I don’t understand. That is after all why He is God. He is big and strong and will carry us and hold us through whatever comes our way. Not an easy task to be sure, but there’s no better place for all those fears than in His hands.

Tonight my daughter goes to a sleepover at L’s house to celebrate her 11th birthday. She is still here with us. We are so very grateful.

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. Isaiah 43:2