To Dodge a Curse

We savored every last bite of our Mexican food before making our way to the patio to carve the pumpkins. Luc was already in his costume, a white t-shirt inscribed with a self-designed iron-on that read “this is my Halloween costume. Deal with it.” Jordan was halfway through her transformation into the Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty. It was a thoroughly Southern California holiday, with the temperature lingering in the mid 70’s, and our family was ready for a celebration. In fact, we had just corked a bottle of champagne and toasted Jordan’s health. She had broken a curse.

People are usually surprised to learn how superstitious I am. I’m not one of those black-cat-in-your-path kind of guys. In fact, I think my superstitions are perfectly rational. I never speak of Macbeth in a theatre because it’s bad form, not just because it is believed to welcome an accident. I don’t discuss the plots of stories I’m writing because I worry that letting the idea flow before it gets on paper will soften my creativity, not because it will jinx the story. These predilections make sense to me, but I wouldn’t say that they lead me to believe in curses. Yet a curse plagued our family for four years. It was the October curse, and it is the reason I did not post to the blog for a month. It was the reason why every time Jeanette’s phone number popped up on my caller ID, I shuddered a bit. It was the reason why all of us demurred somewhat whenever we were asked to share how Jordan was doing last month. “She’s doing great,” we would say. And leave it at that.

October 8, 2004. We sat anxiously in the surgical waiting room of Children’s Hospital. Jordan was up in the O.R. The neurosurgical biopsy had taken over two hours. Minutes after we watched the Angels swept by the Red Sox in the final game of the ALDS, her doctor greeted us to tell us that the surgery went well. It is the first time that we are told she may have cancer. And in the days that follow, the diagnosis is confirmed and cancer joins our family.

October, 2005. After an unexpected onset of seizures in August, Jordan’s medical team begins a more aggressive chemotherapy regimen. By Halloween, 2005, she is thinner, paler and developing an usual gait. By Thanksgiving, she is in a wheelchair, crippled by a rare side effect from the chemo drugs.

October 16, 2006. Jordan visits CHLA for a routine chemotherapy appointment. She is brilliant, cooperating with the nurses and managing her anxieties well. Minutes before she is to be de-accessed and sent home, the team notices unusual behavior. Her speech is slurred. One side of her face is drooping. There is fear in her eyes. She is admitted and slips into a coma for nearly a week. At one point, the seizures are so severe that they last for over an hour and put her into respiratory distress. It is the darkest hour our family has faced, putting a damper on our zest for autumn. Though Jordan is home in time for Halloween and she displays a remarkable ability to bounce back, we are convinced there’s something about October. We spend the next eleven months dreading it’s return.

When October 1st rolled around this year, it became the month that must not be discussed. I believe you can squelch your phobias by shining a light on them. That’s why I acknowledged the curse outright at a family dinner.

–You guys watch. This will be the year that Jordan crushes the curse.

Jeanette locked eyes with me over her dinner plate. She looked slightly annoyed, perhaps shocked that I would speak of the curse so openly with the children. But she’s learned to tolerate my spontaneous pronouncements. I was, however, on my own with this one. The questions started rolling from the kids–Jordan in particular. Within a few minutes, we were all talking about Octobers past and our wishes for a healthy autumn. Somehow, the curse seemed less daunting. We had exposed it prowling over there in the corner, robbed it of its mystery and empowered its victim to take it on. Still, it was early in the month, and we were reluctant to taunt the monster. We worried she would trip and bump her head every time she grabbed the hula hoop in the backyard. We winced whenever she visited the hospital. We hovered over her and shortened the leash of activity we’d normally allow. This was October and we were determined she would be healthy. So was she.

October came and went and Jordan is well. She’s on a brief break from chemo to let her counts increase. Despite spikes in her moods and ongoing fatigue, she bursts vibrantly into life with wit and charm and hope. October’s passing doesn’t make us rest that much easier, but we mark the milestones we can, for there are few times we’ve had cause to celebrate in Jordan’s Journey. It’s all too easy to surrender to fear and allow ourselves to slip into melancholy. Worrying casts a pallor on the journey and weighs each new step with unnecessary dread. We’re on a path we cannot chart and a destination we must imagine bright. So we celebrate victory over our fears and the stamina of a heroine who breaks curses and lives eager to battle the next foe.