The Valley

Finally it feels like Fall. My favorite part has been the evenings, as the sun goes down, the sky grows a tiny bit pink and the cool air comes. It is then that I notice the changing of the leaves, notice the many that have made their way to the ground from their homes in the sky. And it is in those moments that I remember the hope that Fall has always brought for me.

I went to a Liberal Arts college in the Midwest. Back then, Fall meant sitting on blankets in the Valley of our campus. It meant studying in that crisp air and watching leaves chase one another in circles. It meant the start of a new school year, the start of becoming the person you always wanted to be and having the life you always dreamed. Sometimes I think back to the things we used to talk about on those blankets and in that Valley. I think about the lives we wanted for ourselves and the world we wanted for our generation. The thing about Fall in the Valley is that it was a new semester, a fresh start and no one could tell you who you had to be. In that Valley we carved out little dreams for ourselves, little lives of fiction we wanted to wake up in someday.

I initiated a heavy talk with Izzy’s oncologist earlier this week. I emailed him, saying there were some things I needed to talk about. When the phone rang that night and I saw the number on the screen I walked away from Izzy and her homework. I found my way to our deck where the crisp, fall air met me. This was not going to be like a conversation in the fall air of the Valley. We sat in awkward silence for a few moments before I started…

“So, the pathology reports? You had emailed me but we haven’t had a chance to talk about them,” I asked, easing my way into the call. He began to talk about genetics and proteins, variables and mutations, things that were completely over my head. He asked me if it made sense and I laughed, “Not even a little bit but I think what you’re saying is good. Right?”

He hesitated, “I wouldn’t say it’s good. I would only say it’s not bad.” I felt a tinge of sadness in the silence. I thought about what I really wanted to ask him and then I toned it down about a thousand degrees. What I really wanted to say was: How long do you think she’ll live? How long do we have? Just guess. Instead I said, “So is this what we do now? We just watch it and wait? Over and over again until -until we don’t?” He conceded and I felt another tinge of sadness. “It’s a waiting game, Molly. We just don’t know. What we do know is that Izzy is different. The disease has always presented differently in her. She isn’t in pain and she’s living a fairly normal life right now. That has to give us hope.”

With Neuroblastoma, hope means a few years. Results that are ‘not bad’ imply time for her to live her childhood, nothing more.

Years and years ago when I sat in the Valley dreaming about my life, this is not what I envisioned. I’ve been thinking about that Valley a lot because Izzy brought this gem home from school last week – a worksheet listing things she hopes for: to get into college, to have a family and to have fun. My heart broke into a thousand pieces because all that she wants just seems like not that much at all. And all that I want for her is to sit in the Valley and dream. But that’s not the valley we are dealing with these days…

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; Psalm 23:4

To be honest, I never knew what this ominous ‘valley of the shadow of death’ was until a few years ago when I was struck by an image. When Izzy was going through agressive inpatient treatment I spent hundreds of nights curled up in the hospital bed with her, promising not to leave her alone. I made an internal promise to ‘lay with her always’ and continued to snuggle with her back at home each night until she was asleep. One night, when I closed my eyes I saw myself sleeping on her grave, her body several feet below my own, separated by the earth. I remember thinking: even then I will stay with you, baby girl.

To walk in ‘the valley of the shadow of death’ is to walk with that image in the back of your mind everyday. To walk with the knowledge that death is chasing you, or someone you love. It’s to walk with the weight of that day in and day out.

I don’t know how long we will walk through this valley. Don’t know if Izzy will ever make it to a blanket in the middle of the Valley where I used to sit. But this much I do know, just as the Psalmist says, “I will fear no evil, for I know (God) is with me.” He is a good God. He will be our hope when we can’t find any, our heartbeat when we can’t feel our own. He will pull us through the fear and the pain to a better place – somehow, someway.

Blessings on you today and LIFE for Izzy.