I sat there staring at him, wondering if the answer on the other end was “yes”. His reaction gave me no indication.
My blood ran cold.
Steven looked at me and said “They think I have cancer in my blood. At least, I think that’s what she said. They’re supposed to run more tests.”
He just looked at me.
Before we could exchange thoughts, or words, a nurse came in and said the doctor would be calling again. Steven looked at me and said, “You answer this one.”
The phone rang and I picked up. The words were hurried and I didn’t understand most of them. What I did understand is that Steven would be having a bone marrow test.
I hung up the phone, and told Steven what would be happening. He closed his eyes, and allowed himself to show weakness….but for only a few seconds.
Seconds. Not minutes.
I called my mom, and using five words, “They think Steven has leukemia”, conveyed my desperation. She told me she was turning around and heading back.
I reached out to my sister with the same five words and told her she would need to pick up the kids from school.
And I called the school to tell them that Sarah, not me, would be coming to the school. My voice broke and betrayed the emotion I was fighting to keep in check. The voice, not belonging to the usual elementary secretary, said, “I hope everything is ok???”
And, as I struggled to find words to give her assurance that everything was alright, I knew that it wasn’t. The same five words were used. I started sobbing and explaining that although he wouldn’t want the attention, and that even though I had no idea who I was even speaking to, I was in desperate need of prayers.
She informed me she was Mrs. Brawley and that the prayers were on their way.
I stepped back into the room and I hugged Steven tightly to me as the door opened and three doctors came in. I remember only two faces, one belonging to a pretty, curly haired doctor with a kind face, but emotionless eyes.
They introduced themselves as oncologists and hematologists, and proceeded to explain what would happen during a bone marrow test. After their explanation, Steven nodded, and I asked. “Is this to determine whether or not he has leukemia?” I couldn’t keep the tears back…the fear was too close to the surface.
The curly haired doctor looked at me and said, almost exasperated, “No. He HAS leukemia. This is to determine the type.”
I sobbed and I asked him if he wanted me to stay with him while they performed the test. He informed me that there was no need for us to both to be put through it. Mom stepped in beside me and they told us the test would take about 15 minutes and we stepped out into the hall.
I don’t remember those 15 minutes. I only remember not being able to breathe. I remember knowing that all life had just been drained from my body and I had no ability to put it back in. I remember thinking that I would never survive this.
Steven? He was strong. But I was not.
I texted the same five words to friends who had been checking on our situation throughout the following night and, going against everything Steven stood for, I posted on Facebook the news we had received and begged my friends for prayers.
How I could formulate a sentence was beyond me.
I was dying. Dying a slow, painful death. It sounds dramatic, but that is what it was in that moment. It was death.
Death of the life that my husband, my kids, and I had lived just 20 minutes before.
That life was dead. That Kim was dead. Both were gone forever.
And by dying myself, I was taking Steven down with me.
The guilt of this was overwhelming. He needed me to be strong, but I was the weakest link in my family. Not him. I was the one that the kids could live without. Not him. I was the one that represented all the personality traits I didn’t want to pass on to my kids. Not him. I am the negative and he is the positive.
I wanted to rewrite the equation. I could not bear to see my husband and my kids go through this diagnosis. Steven and I knew nothing about leukemia, but we knew enough to know that cancer was cancer.
The doctors exited his room and joined us in the hallway. I told them that I knew nothing about this news, or what it meant. I begged, through my tears, to tell me what was in store for us and to assure me that we could make it through it.
The curly haired doctor with the cold eyes, said, “Well, I can tell you the prognosis is not good.”
I gasped and leaned against the wall. The male doctor looked at the curly haired doctor and reprimanded her.
“You can’t say that. You don’t know.” He then met my eyes and held them. He looked at me and said, “We won’t know until the blood and bone marrow tests come back.”
I nodded, still crying, and the curly haired doctor challenged this encouragement. “I know by looking at the cells it isn’t (insert doctor speak here)”. He then countered with, “Yes, but it could still be (insert more doctor speak here).”
I was reeling and I felt as if the floor was swallowing me whole. And I wanted it to.
I tried to get myself together as I walked in to check on Steven. He was sitting up, looking just as I’d left him, and he assured me that he wasn’t worried about this diagnosis at all and that the test hadn’t been bad.
Reminiscent of our time spent in the hospital in 1997, Steven took me and comforted me and told me, “Kim, I’m going to beat this. I don’t care if they tell me there has only been one other person that has whatever kind of leukemia I have, I will be number two.”
I told him my money had always been, and would always be, on him.
But inside, I was still dying. The process had been accelerated by the façade that I was trying to put on. The strength that I was trying to pretend I had.
I was broken. I was shattered. And the energy I was spending trying to pretend to be ok, was exhausting me. Draining me of what little life I had left in me.
A phone call with my aunt, and a conversation with Jason’s aunt, Beth, a nurse who had seen us in the ER the night before, encouraged me that leukemia wasn’t necessarily a death sentence, and a much better prognosis than some. The only thing I clung to, based on my conversations with them, was that I had to believe that we had two options: to be cured, or for the leukemia to be managed- both resulting in many more years together.
There was no other option. And although my head believed it, my heart and body were still dying.
My sister would be on her way up with the kids and Steven and I had to formulate a plan with what we were going to say. We had always been honest with our kids regarding anything and everything. We didn’t shield them, because, unfortunately, life didn’t come with any guarantees and we felt that adulthood would be a harsh reality if you didn’t know that bumps were something that everyone experienced in life.
However, this was not a “bump” we had ever imagined. We agreed that this diagnosis wouldn’t change the way we approached our kids. If nothing else, they could take comfort in knowing we were the same parents we had always been.
We would tell them the truth.