Vital Signs

Her eyes were open when I walked through the door. She fixed her gaze on me with one brow arched, the way she so often does when sizing me up. I glanced at Nettie to make sure what I was seeing was real.

“She’s awake … and she’s talking,” Jeanette advised.

“That’s great! How ya doin’, Jordan?”

“Gooood,” she replied while turning her attention to another corner of the room.

It was a better day today. Though heavily medicated and at only about 20% of her usual self, Jordan was alert, awake and communicative. It sometimes took her awhile to formulate a response to our ceaseless barrage of questions, but the spark of her will resurfaced. Jeanette asked her what channel she wanted on the television. A pause. She thought Jordan didn’t understand or hear the question, so she asked again. “I’m thinking!” Jordan reprimanded. And thus we saw the most important of the vital signs – the love of the fight.

We still have a long way to go, and we’re not exactly celebrating what we’ve learned. From now on, when Jordan so much as twitches, every time we get a call from her school, and whenever she looks just a little too distant, Jeanette and I will fear she’s seizing.

The halcyon days of oral chemotherapy are done. Jordan will begin a much more aggressive protocol, requiring weekly intravenous doses. She may lose her hair (but it will grow back). And tomorrow, she will have minor surgery to implant a “port”, a way for the doctors to draw blood and administer the chemotherapy without continuously tapping her veins with an IV.

But she was talking again. It was sometimes hard to understand all that she said because her tongue is swollen from where she twice bit it during her seizures yesterday. But other times she was clearly articulate – downright annunciating syllables with precision. Her eyes were more attentive, though they still wandered off now and again, sometimes floating up to signal she had temporarily “left the building.”

The family rested today. Yesterday was brutal, and we don’t know what tomorrow will serve. Though the surgery is routine, it’s still surgery. It has never been easy for us to kiss her on the forehead as they wheel her into the O.R. And the hardest part is yet to come – the alchemy of balancing medications. The oncologists and neurologists must find the right mix of drugs to keep the seizures under control, while blasting the tumors with chemo. All the while, they must try and minimize damage to her liver. It’s a strong liver – from good Irish stock – but it can only take so much.

Thank you to all of our friends and family who have called and emailed us with words of encouragement and support. I realize my last posting had a tinge of Sylvia Plath. There are memories of yesterday I’d love to erase from my brain forever, but I will probably never make them go away. Thankfully, I feel very fortunate to have people around me who let me venture into the dark spaces with one hand upon the light switch.

There’s an old quote about the Irish by G.K. Chesterson that fits our family very well, explaining Jordan’s inspiring resolve and my self-indulgent broodings:

For the great Gaels of Ireland,
Are the men that God made mad.
For all their wars are merry,
And all their songs are sad.