Shaving Time

“What’s my time again, Dad?”

Lucas kept his eye on the pool, his swim cap a wee bit big for his head. It scrunched his eyebrows into an involuntary look of perplexity.

“1:15:24,” I replied. “Remember to ask the timers how you did when you pull out of the water.”

He nodded, still watching the current competitors as they finished their final strokes and tagged the wall. The PA announced his heat.

“1:15:24,” he mumbled.

I wished him luck and watched him take his mark. His stalwart mind readied to compete. His eyes looked to the starter, apt and buoyant. At the starting signal, his body surged into the pool. He butterflied for 50 yards, keeping up with the other swimmers for the first 25, then tiring on the return stretch. He finished dead last. But he did so at 1:12:56. He shaved nearly three seconds from his time. In fact, he shaved time off of all of his races that day. And his number one cheerleader was the peppy girl sitting in the wheelchair along the pool deck.

If not for the swim meet, we might not have taken our weekend holiday. It was a special meet converging in Palm Springs. Ordinarily, his club doesn’t travel that far, and many of his friends were absent. But Luc wanted to compete and he was the one who suggested a family getaway.

Fate seemed to be conspiring against us. My travel schedule called me away late in the week. We refused to cancel. Jeanette and the kids drove out to Palm Springs on their own Friday afternoon and I joined them late that night. Then there was the issue of Jordan’s health. Her ability to walk has steadily declined. She can maneuver around the house with only a few falls, but it takes a lot of effort. By Friday, a wheelchair was delivered to help her out. She had barely time to get it adjusted before it was packed up for travel.

She’s excited about her newest accoutrement. She hasn’t quite figured out how to get around on her own, but she tries. We encourage her to walk as much as she can, reminding her that the chair is temporary. Still, she uses it as yet another power base for her bossy side. Sometimes it’s hard not to compare her to the late Agnes Demille, barking orders from the wheelchair while primping herself with fashion.

The presence of the chair can be unsettling, another reminder that my daughter is sick. When I arrived Firday night I tiptoed into the kids room to tuck them in. Jordan lay curled up under the sheets, surrounded by pillows. The empty wheelchair loomed a few feet away, a haunting, solitary bedfellow.

Luc, Jeanette and I each took turns at doing tricks with it. Jordan enjoyed watching each of us try. Luc had the best moves. When he demonstrated how well he could back it into a tight space, Jordan looked at me and said, “he’s the best brother!” A few minutes later she berated him for touching her as he pounced onto his bed. She rarely expresses her gratitude for him directly. But we reconvey the praise to him on our own, and you can sense the quiet pride behind his eyes whenever he hears it.

Business travel has its benefits. As a result of my loyalty to the Starwood hotel chain, our family was treated like royalty. We were upgraded to the presidential suite, an act that enlivened the children. It was a great blessing which we exploited to the fullest. When we returned from the meet in the early afternoon, we ordered out for room service and enjoyed a rare family dinner around the private dining table. The sliding doors opened to a sweeping veranda as we dined in the mild, warm air. Later, we fed ducks from the porch and swam lazily in the pool.

Next week Jordan gets another MRI. We’ll cross our fingers in hope that the chemotherapy is beginning to do its job. It has affected so much of her body, it seems natural that it should also affect the tumor. But we fear the prospect of disappointing news. It’s a slow process. While Jordan fights the disease with verve and sass, we must be grateful for our time together and celebrate her perseverance.

It’s time for my annual thanksgiving appeal. Cancer treatment has come a long way. Only a few years ago, a child like Jordan would face a far more daunting prognosis. Thanks to the efforts of researchers and scientists around the world, we can help Jordan enjoy her childhood and speak about her future. But more work is needed. We need drugs and therapies that can improve the quality of life for children afflicted by cancer. Please join our family in supporting worthy causes such as the Lance Armstrong Foundation and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Thank you.