Author’s Note: Last year, my oldest son, Kyle, relapsed with leukemia, making me a two-time Cancer Mom. I’m sharing our journey not to ask for your pity, but for others who trudge this same road feeling isolated and alone. And for friends and family who watch the suffering and want to help, but don’t know where to begin.
I swallowed a sip of burnt coffee and glanced across the blue vinyl booth at my oldest son. His brown hair was messy, like when he’d stepped out of the shower this morning, he’d forgotten to tame it.
Since he’d moved to college, our occasional breakfast date usually made me smile. But I wasn’t smiling this morning. I was trying to shove the words from Building 429’s song, “We Will Not Be Shaken,” out of my head. Because after we finished our bacon and eggs, we had another date—with an ultrasound tech at the clinic across the street.
A few weeks earlier, Kyle had discovered a testicular mass. A mass that might be normal—if he were any other nineteen-year-old who hadn’t shared a sordid history with cancer.
“Whatever this is,” Kyle picked up his fork, “it can’t be as bad as leukemia.”
“You’re right.” I set down my mug, hoping he’d miss the way my fingers trembled.
God had this, didn’t He? He loved Kyle. He wanted good things for him. He knew the devastating battles we had already fought and won. He’d seen the permanent scars, physical and mental, that leukemia had left on Kyle.
Kyle first met cancer when he was ten. Their relationship lasted four long years. But he’d been clean for the last six, a year beyond the cancer survivor’s five-year magic milestone.
“It’s gonna be okay.” He dropped his fork onto the plate without taking a bite. “Not like last time.”
The waitress topped off my coffee and I touched my son’s hand. We will not be shaken. The words to that song wouldn’t quit playing in my head.
He looked up, his expression oddly calm. “Everything we went through? I wouldn’t ask for it again, but I wouldn’t take away what came out of it either. I wouldn’t be in nursing school. My faith would be different. Does that make sense?”
“Yes.” It did make sense. I’d changed too. Become more focused. More empathetic. More real. My marriage was stronger and I was grateful for my relationship with Kyle. We shared a bond most people would never understand.
We will not be shaken. Yet, there were those words again, like foreboding music in a movie that isn’t going to end well.
That morning, we finished breakfast and headed to the clinic. Kyle’s ultrasound showed the mass to be suspicious and led to a comprehensive CT scan to check for other tumors. The CT showed no additional tumors and surgery was scheduled. They would biopsy and remove the testicle.
Hoping we were being paranoid, but wanting to be prepared, we talked through the threat of testicular cancer. It was a very curable cancer, an inconvenience compared to the nightmare of leukemia. After surgery, Kyle might need some radiation, but then he’d be fine to return to college.
We will not be shaken. I had to admit, I’d been a little shaken.
Surgery came and went. The hope that the mass was nothing crept back in. We held our breaths for a week waiting for biopsy results, desperate for a reason to celebrate that Kyle remained cancer free.
I’d like to share the mass turned out to be nothing. I’d like to say our lives went on after a Grand-Canyon sigh of relief. I’d like to say our story ended there.
But I can’t.
The phone call came on Friday evening. Kyle walked into my room, clutching his cell, shaking. “Here. You talk.” He dropped the phone in my lap and sank to the carpet next to my bed.
“I’m sorry.” The doctor let out a deep breath. “It’s leukemia. This almost never happens. It’s a very rare form of relapse. Six boys get it a year. Kyle’s looking at twenty-four months of aggressive treatment.” He paused. “Maybe more.”
I don’t even remember ending that call. All I could hear was the word relapse. All I could see was my big, strong boy crying on the floor.
We will not be shaken. The words played over and over. But I was more than shaken. My faith wasn’t enough. Knowing God had our backs wasn’t enough. Remembering that Kyle had won this battle before wasn’t enough.
I crumbled. That word, relapse, picked me up, ripped me open, and clawed out my heart.
“Why Lord? Why give us hope? Why let us think Kyle could have surgery and go back to school? Why keep us waiting for this news for ten excruciating days? Why pile on rock after rock? Finding the mass. The abnormal ultrasound. Possible malignancy. Surgery. Biopsy. Leukemia.”
They weren’t rocks. The Lord’s voice brushed across my heart. I gave you one piece of news at a time. You couldn’t handle the word relapse that first day.
The pain of knowing what was ahead gripped me tight. “You weren’t supposed to let this happen again. We fought. We won. We’re done.”
I understood that God had protected me. Set me up for the news of leukemia. I didn’t understand why he allowed cancer to come back into our lives. And I couldn’t cling to the words of that song.
The only thing I had left was what God had done for us in the past. He’d gotten us through. Somehow we’d survived our four-year walk through cancer’s hell and come out better on the other side. Even Kyle had seen that.
So now, in this moment, I had a choice. I could trust Him to get us through again. Or I could turn my back and face cancer alone.
I looked at Kyle, falling apart on the floor. He needed me to be strong, to have faith, to tell him we weren’t alone.
So I slid off the bed and pulled him into my arms. We cried together for a long time. He clung to me and I clung to David’s words from Psalm 16:8. “I [will] keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” And I prayed for the faith I was quickly losing.
I had no power over the news we received that day. I couldn’t take the cancer away or change the journey or dull the pain. But I could choose how we walked our journey. I could choose to face Kyle’s cancer with God lighting the way.
Lori Freeland, wife, mother, inspirational author, and writing coach lives in the Dallas area. She’s published in various e-zines and anthologies and is a former editor for The Christian Pulse. When she’s not writing for Crosswalk.com or hovering over her three kids, you can find her drinking too much coffee and messing with the imaginary people in her head. Visit her website http://lafreeland.com to read more from Lori.