Event Horizon

Physicists and astronomers believe that there is a spacetime boundary that surrounds a black hole. They call it the event horizon. If you were to observe a black hole, you would never be able to see anything past the event horizon. Even light cannot escape. If you watched an object fall into a black hole, it would appear to slow down to the point of stopping as it got closer to the horizon. It would never fully disappear, it would just appear to stand in a suspended state of animation. The object would meanwhile continue at its normal rate of speed, passing through the event horizon with everything seeming quite normal.

Life on Jordan’s Journey sometimes feels like it is on the border of an event horizon. To each of us individually, time hurtles on. But when we watch the events going on around us, life seems suspended in time. Take Jordan’s cancer. It has been a sluggish adversary. When most people think of cancer, they think of urgency–the need to stop a bully that is hungry to invade its host. But Jordan’s cancer has never behaved this way, and her treatment has been governed by prudence and patience. It has been a blessing, but it has also led to a strange state of being. We face risks and setbacks but they are always accents on an otherwise monotonous composition. We only measure the time by marking her progress, no matter how gradual or marginal.

Today, we met with Jordan’s neurosurgeon. My friends in the medical community describe the guys who operate on the heart and the head as the biggest cowboys in the operating room. They speak of the God complex and hubris. But those words could not be farther from my mind when I sit with her surgeon. When he speaks to me, I’m more confident about her chances. I feel I can ask him anything, and that he will answer me with candor, compassion and great wisdom. He was the man who told us, six years ago, that Jordan had cancer. I remember it as though that day were suspended on the event horizon. While it was hardly good news, I remember feeling relieved. I finally knew what I was dealing with and I had a doctor standing next to me who took the time to explain it to me moments after he had performed a complicated procedure on my daughter and returned her safely to me. If anyone was justified to have a God complex, certainly it was he.

Surgery is part of the conversation again. In an earlier post, I said that the tumor was growing around the T8 section of her spinal cord. It’s actually T2/T3. This fact doesn’t change her diagnosis much, but it does explain why she has had discomfort around her shoulders. The issue is the degree of growth. In three months it has grown enough to make everyone wonder if it might be a different kind of tumor. Unlike the rest of her disease, this one is making changes that can be readily observed. That’s why her oncologist believes surgery is necessary. We don’t know if this one is the spreading variety, he reasons, so let’s get it out.

Her neurosurgeon walked us through her scans. He showed us how the tumor has grown within her spinal cord. It isn’t huge, but it is clearly noticeable on the film. “I’m a conservative guy,” he said. “I usually try to talk the oncologists out of surgery. This isn’t an area where I’m eager to go in.” But he explained that the alternatives are also risky. It is risky to use radiation or chemotherapy on a tumor we don’t understand, and radiation along the spinal cord can cause nerve damage that carries its own risks. It is possible to wait, but if the tumor continues to grow–or worse, it spreads–the surgical option may be too late.

It is odd to say, but the two neurosurgeries Jordan had years ago were less risky than this surgery. While there’s minimal risk that this new surgery would create a life-threatening situation, there is a high degree of risk that she might not be able to use her legs the same way afterward. In fact, she could lose the ability to use them completely. She could lose the ability to control most of her lower body. It’s not a certainty, but it is a risk.

We did not agree to proceed with surgery today. We are meeting with another oncologist soon to get a second opinion. We have pencilled time in the O.R. for late August. That will give her time to go to summer camp and enjoy her 12th birthday.

We told Jordan that we would not make any decision until we had discussed it as a family. She would have a say in what we decide to do.

–Is Lucas going to have a say?

My head skipped ahead to Jordan being Jordan. I imagined that she didn’t want him to have a say on this.

–Not if you don’t want him to.

She didn’t skip a beat.

–Yes. I want him to help me decide. Can I borrow your phone?

We talked her out of calling Luc then and there. At that moment, she became most interested in getting out of the hospital and going home. We signed a few forms and headed to the bank of elevators. The office is on the 10th floor, and while we waited we could see the entire Los Angeles skyline before us. Jeanette said something to me about that feeling–the feeling we’ve come to know so well–the dread of having to make tough decisions and take the next step. But before we could dwell very long on these circumstances, Jordan asked what was wrong.

–We’re just feeling bad that you have to think about this stuff. We’re sorry we have to have this discussion.

Jordan smiled at me in a resigned way.

– If this is what we have to do, we’ll just have to do it.

And there we were again, staring at the horizon of the black hole, all of us appearing somewhat suspended, some of us feeling like we’re speeding in.