July 23, 2017: Daddy’s Headaches

A year ago today, Matt and I took G and H to the Bronx Zoo. The day was mostly overcast and the temperature never reached into the boiling hot range. The animals were out from their hiding places and active. We rode the monorail, chased a peacock, and ate lunch after barely escaping a light drizzle.

When we returned home, Matt had a headache and needed a rest. I’m sure my thoughts went straight to the tumors, straight to the growing anxiety that wished the August 16th MRI would hurry up. Though truthfully, rushing to blame brain cancer wasn’t fair. We’d had a long, tiresome day. G had accumulated over 13,000 steps on her Fitbit. We’d crawled through a modest amount of traffic on the way out of the Bronx. Maybe we all wanted nothing more than to sit and not move for a while.

Then again, G was seven-years-old and H was five-years-old, and seven- and five-year-olds have boundless amounts of energy.

Over the last two weeks I’ve written about Matt’s minor headaches. I’ve noted behaviors that weren’t quite right, but barely visible—likely invisible—to others. I’ve noted that I noticed and worried and spent too much time obsessing. But while Matt was growing symptomatic in inconsistent micro-bursts and I was growing increasingly anxious, we were also parenting. Every day.

So what about G and H? What did they think about the fact that they had to play quietly now because Daddy had another headache? What did they think of the way the battle against a disease seemed to have ratcheted up a notch?

Truthfully, I don’t know. Thirteen—almost fourteen months—into our battle against Glioblastoma, Matt and I had told G and H nothing more than we’d told them initially: Daddy had headaches.

They knew Daddy had headaches and sometimes that meant they needed to be a little extra quiet, a little bit more calm. Or, Daddy had headaches and sometimes that meant Daddy was too tired to play and Mommy needed just a minute to do one more Google search. They knew nothing more. Not the word cancer. Certainly not the words Glioblastoma and chemotherapy. They didn’t know to anticipate MRIs or hope a drug named CCNU was shrinking a tumor in the right parietal lobe of Daddy’s brain.

The logic that had propelled us early on remained intact: G and H didn’t need to know the specifics of Matt’s illness because they didn’t need to worry about something that would soon be a distant memory. They didn’t need their innocence shattered by this word—cancer—that had infiltrated our lives because Matt’s status as a cancer patient was only temporary.

I don’t remember what happened after the zoo, after Matt’s headache passed. But I don’t need to remember. I can picture the scene that is missing from my memory without closing my eyes. All six foot one of Matt stretched out over G’s pink comforter, his feet bumping up against the army of stuffed animals and pillows (which, somehow, in this post-hope year, continues to multiply). I can picture him reading The Day the Crayons Quit and making different voices for all the crayons, or maybe reading Press Here and encouraging G and H to blow on the pages. I can picture their laughter and the way they looked up at him without wondering what was happening in his brain. I can picture the way they said good night and went to bed without an unknowable weight on their minds.

One year ago today, despite the micro-bursts of symptoms and the anxiety, the hope and certainty that Matt would be cured, not simply cancer free, was unwavering. And for that reason, telling G and H that Daddy had headaches was enough.

Time will tell whether we made the right choice. But knowing how thoroughly their innocence will be shattered by the end of this story, I can’t help but look back and feel grateful that our hope preserved their innocence for one more day.


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