Under The Heart Of It
Life isn’t fair. We don’t always get what we deserve. Sometimes we get more than we deserve. And sometimes, life just happens with no rhyme or reason.
We live in a world where a teenage boy gets Hodgkin's Lymphoma. That boy can grow into a man who develops a completely different primary cancer 40+ years later and has to undergo major surgery to remove a kidney and part of the pancreas. That man can then find out that the radiation treatment that saved his life all those years ago damaged his heart and to fix it would require open-heart surgery.
No. Life isn’t fair. But if you focus on what isn’t fair, you miss out on all of the wonderful, beautiful, lucky, heartbreaking moments.
So, I’d like to tell you a story. It’s actually just the same story that I laid out above but with some more perspective.
There once was a boy who developed Hodgkin's Lymphoma. But thanks to the advancements in medicine, he was able to survive through radiation treatment, though a spleen lighter. They told him he more than likely wouldn’t be able to have kids from the treatment, but as a teenager, he wasn’t worried. Babies were far from his mind. He went about playing baseball, going to college, getting a little too drunk, and one day meeting a wonderful, beautiful, well-educated woman.
Naturally, they fell in love and got married and they knew they wouldn’t be having children. Then one day, a child came in to the world. An accident. Not because she wasn’t planned (though she wasn’t) but because she was never thought to be possible. Yes, she was an orange little jaundice baby but she was their baby. Besides, eventually the orange turned to a color pale as porcelain and they named her after both their mother’s before them. This little miracle baby.
Then they thought, what if we could have an even more perfect second child? Wouldn’t that be amazing? And so they did. And she was perfect, though covered in more hair than they thought any little baby girl should have been. And they said, we made the most perfect child and we couldn’t do any better than this. So, the woman had her tubes tied and they decided to be a family of four.
And the family grew through fights, jobs, heartbreak, tests, band practices, softball tournaments, college degrees, love and laughter. And with the girls all grown, it was time for them to flee the nest and grow in to their own lives.
They both moved across the country in pursuit of graduate degrees. And when they both were gone, the woman cried. And the girls cried. And the man pretended not to cry as his youngest (the most perfect daughter) left him at the airport after he drove her across the country to move in to her new home.
Not long after, the man developed a pain. A pain so severe he found himself in the hospital with a new, completely different cancer. The tumor was so large they had to remove an entire kidney and part of the pancreas. The recovery was hard on him. He was put on an all liquid diet and he seemed so frail, weak, and thin. The woman was worried but she kept a brave face for the girls who came home to take care of their father. The woman kept her tears to herself and bore her pain alone and in secret. The girls took care of their father and took care of each other, not wanting to lean on their mother during the heartbreak. For the next several months, the family dare not breathe on the chance the cancer would return. But alas, it did not. The surgery was successful and the man remained cancer free.
After this time, the eldest daughter lost herself as all twenty-somethings do and then finally opened herself to the love in her heart because love is love is love is love. She flourished as the person her sister always knew she could be. Strong. Funny. Confident.
The youngest most perfect child also lost herself (because hey, nobody’s actually perfect) and couldn’t find her purpose academically or professionally. But because she actually is pretty great, she got her life together, moved closer to her parents to start a new career, and married a wonderful man, and had three babies of her own (though they were of the fur variety).
The woman was and has always been the rock. She holds the family up, quietly patching together the pieces that break off so swiftly and with such precision that you can’t see the seams anymore.
And life went on like this, again through tears, love and laughter.
And then the man found out that the radiation therapy he had all those many moons ago caused damage to a valve in his heart. The youngest thought, this isn’t fair. And it wasn’t. And she cried, alone. As did the woman and the eldest daughter. Not wanting to burden anybody else with their pain.
Then the day came. The man was nervous but he looked at the youngest and said, when I come out of surgery you can’t freak out. I will have tubes coming out of everywhere. He, who was about to go through open-heart surgery, was worried about her. Because that is who he is. The pillar of strength and love. And as they wheeled him towards the OR doors, he slurred, doped up on the anesthesia, so who is in for happy hour at five? Because that is who he is.
And the youngest daughter thought about how perfect her Dad is. How strong. How courageous. Through all of this, he still laughed and joked because he always was the heart of the family.
They wheeled him away, cut his sternum, ripped his muscles, exposing his heart, open for the world to see.
And what a beautiful heart it is.
(Now, freshly improved with some robotic like hardware and a sweet scar)
Happy American Heart Month, Dad. I wouldn’t trade you or our life for the world.
Love, your youngest most perfect daughter.