The details are easiest to share. That it's colon cancer, the most treatable kind of cancer. That last Friday they removed two feet of Maddie's colon and a tumor that looked like a shrimp, which is ironic because she always eats all the shrimp at Thanksgiving and the family Christmas party. That we're waiting for the pathology report to come back to know more. "It takes seven to ten days to be ready.", "Yes, it's torturous waiting," I say over and over again.
I can hear myself saying things like "How terrible" and "This must be so hard for them" and "It isn't fair" when I've received similar information about other people. Now that it's happening to us, I can barely pray about it.
I think about my bad days before and I want them back; a butchered haircut, a mean co-worker, a flat tire, a silly fight, that time I hired a cleaning lady and she broke the mermaid statue I brought back from Peru.
Last night I was laying awake thinking about what a lactation consultant told me after we speculated that my formerly overly-enthusiastic milk supply was suffering due to stress. She said if I can get it back up I can give my 25 year old sister breastmilk if she has to do chemo. I was staring at a night light at 3:05 a.m. thinking about how now I am probably more motivated to keep breastfeeding for my sister than I am for my newborn. The consultant said to give it to her in a champagne glass, not a bottle, of course, but I know we will make jokes about her drinking it from the source because it's awkward and laughing always feels good.
Last week Scott and I went to get haircuts in the evening with Avalon. The hairdresser from Boston was pregnant with her fourth boy, so I asked her a hundred questions like "Did you breastfeed each and for how long?", "What are their names?" and "Which age has been the hardest so far?" She said eight has been the roughest age yet because her oldest son, just beginning third grade, has a few hours of homework every day. "Every night he loses it because the other two are playing X Box and he has to sit in his room solving math problems and writing short essays! I just think they could have eased him into it, you know? Started him off with a few nights of homework and then worked up to the every day routine." I nodded my head enthusiastically because the blowdryer was on and I hate when people make life harder than it already has to be. But then the other day I was thinking about how nothing could have eased us into to this cancer diagnosis so maybe a third grade teacher piling on stressful homework out of nowhere is just a third grade teacher mimicking life.
I remember when Maddie was in third grade and I was in ninth. I was attending school without my sisters for the first time in years. I panicked. I hated it. I cried often. I moved a couch cushion into their room and slept on the floor. After school, Maddie and I would ride our bikes to the construction sites down the street and pretend we were in Egypt, living in castles with our dog Bailey. Maddie let me keep my childhood alive without a second thought. I looked forward to being with her every afternoon. She was the only person who just let me be who I needed to be at the time. I would climb around the framing of the new homes to get to the second stories before the stairs were built. I've always wanted Maddie to think that I was brave, even tonight as I paddled out once the water was black while she and her friend Kara watched from the cliff. But she is the brave one. She has always been herself out loud. She knows what she wants. She speaks her mind, but in a gentle way that doesn't intimidate you. She loves without hesitation.
When I first found out the diagnosis, my faith in God wavered for a moment, but my faith in Maddie never did. I know the smallest sister will be the strongest.