It was the morning of the first day of school and by the excitement in our house one would have thought it was Christmas. Hundreds of thousands of kids were getting ready for school that same morning, but few were doing it with the enthusiasm of a child who had been locked in a hospital for the past year. This morning was so much more significant for Izzy. It was not just a milestone in her growth and development, it was even more than a sign of all that has been accomplished, all that has been overcome in the past year and a half. For our family this was the first day of a new kind of normal. One I could learn to learn to love.
That morning she drug the bag which held her IV pump and fluid on the floor behind her shouting, “School! School!,” as she ran from room to room. Carter sat on the couch with his iPad much less enthused about the morning. School was not a privilege for him, it was a chore. When I dropped them off a bit later they said goodbye. Carter’s eyes held my own as we parted ways but Izzy never looked back as the words rolled off her tongue. “Goodbye Mom,” she said mostly out of habit. Her eyes were fixed tightly on the doors ahead of her that she couldn’t wait to burst through.
That first day of school was priceless but the second and the third day took extra energy for me to even out of bed. On those days there was a stuffed monkey named Rose sitting in the chair at school assigned to my daughter. Instead of there, Izzy was in Cincinnati with me awaiting scans and their results had me paralyzed with fear. I found myself considering that this season of our life was too good to be true. Surely at any moment the sky would come crashing down on our new reality. Surely something would go wrong. For those two days as I listened to Izzy talk about school and how she couldn’t wait to get back, I sat quietly and wondered how I would break it too her if she couldn’t. My fear transitioned slowly into anger at the thought of other families who never had to live in this reality. Their kids were off playing at recess while my daughter was getting sedated two days in a row as we waited to hear what the medical community had to say about her destiny. A destiny they say she only has a 50% chance of living out. Consumed by anger and paralyzed with fear I began to read scriptures of promise over and over again. At first my readings were methodical, containing little belief or meaning. But as I read them again and again I began to mean the words I was saying. Though my flesh was afraid my spirit had hope again which propelled me to read the verses with authority. With declaration.
Friday evening we learned both scans were clear and Izzy remained No Evidence of Disease. The panic I had felt all week instantly subsided and we gave thanks to God for His continued deliverance. We rejoiced. But in an imaginary little place Izzy was grieving in a not so imaginary way.
Both days Izzy had brought her favorite baby doll, Miss Judy with her for scans. Miss Judy must go through everything Izzy does. She gave her ‘sleep medicine’ and put her through the scanner for the first set of pictures. It was then she told me. “Mamma,” she said. “Miss Judy has cancer. They found three rocks.” I looked at her shocked by her words. “But Izzy, I thought Miss Judy’s cancer was gone?”
“It was but it came back yesterday,” she said taking the doll off the toy scanner and holding her in her arms. “She has been running high fevers. She’s very sick”. She talked with little emotion which led me to believe there was little involved. I knew this was the way she processed her own reality. I told her we would pray for Miss Judy and continue taking her to Cincinnati. Together, with both of those things, she would get better.
But Izzy’s make believe world began to get very busy. There were many medicines that had to be given, prescriptions she had to refill and doctors to call. It was the night of the first scan she came to me, “Mama, I’m so worried about Miss Judy. I can’t get her fever to go away. I’ve given her all of her meds and it just won’t.”
I looked down at her gripping her baby doll against her chest tightly and thought for a moment about what to say. “Would you like us to pray for Miss Judy?” I asked. “Yes Mommy and pray for me because I’m so nervous about her,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. Together we prayed. And though we got news twice about Izzy’s good news it did not not carry over to Miss Judy. “But Izzy, if your scans were okay, doesn’t that mean Miss Judy’s were too?”
“No,” she said every time I asked, “because her cancer came back. We can’t make it stay away.” Eventually I had to admit what I did not want to believe was happening. Though she could not articulate it in any other way I began to see that she was afraid her cancer would come back too.
In a lot of ways Izzy is just like all the other kids at her school. She wants to color and play, she listens when she chooses and sometimes talk too much. Some day she might even get to ride on the bus like them, though she did tell me she thinks you can kiss boys there so I’m not entirely sure we will ever allow it now. But in a lot of ways she is very different. The reason she is different is not because she hardly has any hair or wears hearing aids or even because she has a central line. She is different because she already knows far more about the reality of life and death than kids twice her age. She walks around with a knowledge I would like her to ‘unlearn’ though I know she cannot.
My best friend said the following about Miss Judy: “Sometimes I wonder if Miss Judy is a holy distraction to keep Izzy’s attention off of her own circumstance and on caring for another.” I found both beauty and truth in her description. While Izzy’s relationship with Miss Judy is a beautiful and holy way The Lord has provided for her to cope, He is also using it to equip her to care for others.
About a month or so ago a nineteen year old girl from our church was diagnosed with Leukemia. She was someone Izzy had never met and yet she was broken hearted when I told her about it. I asked if she would want to go to the hospital and pray with me and she responded with excitement. “Sure! I could tell her about cancer, too, because I have cancer everyday.” I told her I thought the girl would like that. “Mama? Do you think I could get in bed and snuggle with her?” she asked. “Because I like it when people snuggle with me.” I smiled and tried not to let her see my eyes filling with tears, “I think that would be great.”
And she did. We went to see her once we were home from the hospital ourselves and Izzy climbed up into her bed and sat with her while talking shyly about cancer. When it was time to leave we prayed for their family and they prayed for our own. We all gathered around the bed and Izzy boldy said she wanted to go first. She put her hand on the girl’s leg, bowed her head and then began to pray silently as her lips moved a million miles a minute. “I’m done,” she said when she looking up at me after a minute or two.
I would give anything to know the words she said, to hear the declarations of truth or the crying out to a God we believe is mighty to save. But she said it was a prayer just to God and she didn’t want to tell me. Though I’m dying to know I will respect her privacy never asking again.
This is God’s Kingdom at work. A child suffers, fighting to stay alive, she learns to care for others through a doll and then goes into the world with God’s mercy and truth. She boldly asks God to intercede. I am humbled to get an inside look at such beauty and privileged to see God’s redemption in the making.
Tomorrow night we leave for Cincinnati where we will spend two weeks inpatient for Round Four. Izzy is sad to leave her school for so long, but she knows that she and Miss Judy have medicine they need to receive. After that we have just one more inpatient round and then God willing we will never need treatment again. I do not know about Miss Judy. I do not know how long it will take until Izzy feels safe enough to say her cancer is gone. Until then we will continue to pray for the imaginary healing of an imaginary doll. In the meantime I am excited to see Izzy continue to take her knowledge and gifts into the world declaring healing for others and the Truth about who God is.