Jordan, as photographed through the MRI

It has stalked her for five years, this amorphous sickness called cancer. She’s heard us whisper about it, exchange knowing glances, even openly discuss the process by which it challenges her as she goes about being a kid. But yesterday, for the first time, Jordan saw the disease with her own eyes. Staring into the luminescent glow of the computer screen, she smiled a little. Her eyes studied the peculiar topography of her brain and the deceptively non-threatening blurs of white that marked the fringes of the tumor.

“You were right, Dad,” she said with a hint of pride. “This is interesting.”

Jordan has had so many MRIs of her brain and spine that Jeanette and I have lost count. It’s a two-hour process that requires anesthesia in order to keep her very still. Jordan has rarely had much interest in the results. She’s generally more concerned about getting accessed and fasting hours in advance of the process. This time was different. It started about a month ago when she and I sat down to record a new “podcast”: During my interview with her she mentioned that she had an MRI coming up. I asked her why the doctors ordered an MRI and she said, “so they can see my cancer.” I asked if she had ever seen the pictures of her cancer. She paused briefly and then, in a voice that piqued with new-found curiosity, she replied, “No. But I would like to see those pictures.”

On her last visit with the oncologist, as she was heading out the door, she revisited the issue and made her request. He applauded her interest and made the arrangements for our family to get a disk of all the images.

I wasn’t sure how Jordan would handle this experience. She’s so brave. Few things we imagine will disturb her actually do. Benign things in life, like moths flittering in the corner of her room, are the traumas that send her into a panic. But she’s never had to really look at her disease before. It was always an abstraction. She knew it only through its side effects. Today, she would be looking at it as more than a shadow.

Perhaps more interesting than her casual acceptance of the data was the way in which she handled the entire experience. Jordan grows more mature every day, and with that maturity comes the self-realization that she’s battling something serious and challenging. When she was younger, she behaved as if cancer was as common as a cold. Today, she is slowly realizing that it is life-threatening. A year ago, a friend she met at Children’s Hospital lost her battle with cancer. Without any prompting, Jordan prayed for her comrade at dinner on almost the exact day of the anniversary of her death. For the first time in her life, she links the cause and effect. We think she thinks about it a lot, but true to her personality, she doesn’t let the thoughts slow her down. Instead, she chatters about the disease more frequently, and at times she releases her anxiety in ways that demonstrate her new-found maturity.

Minutes before she was to start the MRI, when the nurse needed to access Jordan’s port and connect the IV, Jordan asked for a minute. The nurse backed away and Jeanette gave Jordan space. Jordan rolled over and put her face in the pillow. Then she screamed, her shoulders hunching with the might of it, then relaxing gently. She rolled back over and signaled she was ready. Jeanette stopped the nurse.

“That was very good. I’ll bet it felt good. Would you like to do it again?”

Jordan looked up, smiled and nodded. Then she rolled over and soaked the pillow with another hearty scream. When it was done, she looked away and let the nurse connect her. It wasn’t long after that the milky white anesthetic crept up the IV tube and Jordan relaxed her grip on her mother’s hand. She would spend the next two hours asleep in a cold metal tube. When she awoke, she would come face to face with the specter that made her scream in the first place. And she would take another step with a little less mystery.