Most of our modern-day heroes are athletes, those who have performed heroic acts or have started a social justice movement. My hero is neither of these. She is heroic because she continues to strive each day for the life of a normal 22-year-old, despite both past and present obstacles. C will be graduating from a 4 year college in May, despite being told that a college degree was probably beyond her reach due to learning disabilities induced by cancer treatment. Her future after college remains uncertain, but that has been her life since she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor at age 12.
C is Baby B of the triplets. See this previous post, My Mothering Story, for background history. She could always make us laugh with her antics and jokes. She was a very good athlete, playing on a top-level soccer team and loving snowboarding. All of that started to change after age 12 – she became more clumsy in sports and adopted a withdrawn personality. Much of this was initially attributed to adolescence and the additional stress at home as her parents were recently separated and starting an acrimonious divorce. But as her symptoms worsened over the summer, her mother and pediatrician became more concerned that there may be other causes. I received a phone call in September that a small brain tumor had been found on CT and C would need surgery to remove it. These are the times that you really hate being a doctor. I knew that brain tumors in children are very seldom benign and although treatment has improved, the side effects of the treatment can be life altering. I wanted to be encouraging to C’s family, but yet realistic. When we received the surgeons report about malignancy, I was glad that I had chosen to travel to be there. C had 2 moms present for the next 3 days, helping her in and out of bed, feeding her and keeping her entertained. My physical connection to the triplets was now more relevant, as I was asked many questions about my family medical history. My emotional connection was more complex. Although I was worried and concerned about the future for C, my reaction would have been much more intense if she had been one of my 5 children living at home, biologic or adopted.
The next year of radiation/chemo treatment for C was rocky at best. She had an acute reaction to the radiation after only a few treatments and it needed to be discontinued in order to prevent her from dying. Because of her body’s severe reaction, she had failure of multiple endocrine organ systems that should not have been affected – thyroid, ovaries, growth hormone. When she felt well enough, she had a tutor that provided home schooling. Her friends, initially coming by frequently and calling, soon dropped off. When C finally was able to return to school a year later, most of her friends had moved on in their social circles. C was not the same friend they had known – she was much more reserved and her endurance was barely able to tolerate a full school day, much less sports. The few radiation doses that she had had caused permanent learning disabilities – retaining information often required reading the same words 3-4 times. She was given many accommodations in high school in order to pass her classes and put in twice the work as her siblings, still getting lower grades. As the other students started learning how to drive, she still had balance issues that prevented her from getting behind the wheel. Her siblings moved away to start college, while she stayed close to home and attended a local college.
I had the opportunity to spend a full week with C in the summer of 2012 when she accompanied me and my daughter on a mission trip to Bolivia, where we worked at a children’s home. Studying abroad, like her siblings had done, was not a possibility given her ongoing medical issues. Her mom and I thought this would be a good substitute for that lost experience. Both girls had a wonderful time interacting with the children and helping with construction projects. Despite her balance issues and fear of heights, she walked across a hanging bridge, hiked to a waterfall and into a river and let me take pics of her standing near the edge of a cliff.
C’s life is not what she or either of her mom’s would have wanted it to be. She is my hero because of what she has done with what life has handed her. She tries to do the hard things (college) even knowing she will have to work much harder and it would be easier to work a low paying job. She humors me by standing near the edge of a cliff so I can get a great photo, even though she is terrified she will fall over the edge. And the photo was great and is now the front cover of the scrapbook I made for her of the trip! Just like so many young college graduates this spring, she will struggle with making decisions for her future. But struggling and the unknown are nothing new for C – that is what her life has been about since age 12.