Coping with Reversals

In a story, there’s nothing so pleasing as a good reversal. The reversal is the moment in the story where the hero’s life takes an unexpected turn. In a comedy, it’s often what causes us to bend over with laughter. In a drama, it’s the moment in the story where our heart feels like it has moved to our throat. Reversals provide cathartic moments that give a story momentum and engage us with the stakes our hero must respect.

In real life, reversals can be agonizing. It’s one thing to empathize with a character on stage or screen. It’s quite another to be that character, to experience a sudden change that engages you with the stakes of life.

Yesterday, Jordan’s MRI revealed that the tumor has grown again. Between her scan in November and the scan today, it grew 1.2mm in size. Compared to the rapid growth it demonstrated in the spring and summer, this growth was stunted. But it has grown and Jordan’s risks are increasing. Though no definitive course of action is yet determined, it is likely that we will switch to another chemo protocol and radiation is being discussed for the first time on her journey. The tumor board at the hospital meets Tuesday, where her case will be discussed and a therapeutic protocol will be determined.

Jordan is aware of the reversal. She took it somewhat in stride, as she so often does. She told me there was good news and bad news. When I asked her to tell me the good news first, she said she couldn’t remember it. Then she told me, “my tumor grew again.” I hugged her and told her I was sorry.

–Yeah, but they’re going to give me a new chemo

And then it hit her.

–Oh, yeah. Dad, that’s the good news.

She laughed at this and I stepped back and marveled at my cancer slayer. While Jeanette and I were both feeling so down and so defeated, Jordan was making jokes about her predicament. She later sat with us and watched television while pecking at her iPad. She waxed chattily about her favorite movie stars on the People’s Choice Awards and multitasked by listening to some favorite tunes while playing a round of Angry Birds.

Until yesterday, our lives were trucking along beautifully. We all had a restful holiday. We’ve been having work done to the house. I’ve been making progress on my book project, and life at work is thriving. The reversal that came my way via a text message from Jeanette at 5:20pm pacific time was quite unwelcome. I felt my mood deflate like a slow leak in a tire. As I sank into a funk, I got angry with myself. Jordan has faced many challenges and setbacks during her 8 year journey. We should be accustomed to them by now, but they still shock me and leave me emotionally spent. My head skips forward to so many circumstances that don’t yet exist. I begin preparing myself for pain only to turn around and see Jordan laughing and carrying on as though life were an invitation to look for fun. Jordan’s Journey is full of reversals, but the one constant upon which I can always rely is the optimism, the faith, and the spirit of my daughter.

We don’t know what to expect in this next chapter. Chemo has taken a lot out of her over the past several months. She’s thinner and so is her hair. One of the chemo protocols being discussed requires a 3-day hospital stay. The radiation she might receive is administered in 2 minutes doses every day for several weeks. I’m sure there are side effects, but of course we are more interested in the potential outcomes. I have steadfast confidence in her medical team, and I have a strange flow of hope in light of the bad news because my family is strong and Jordan is resolved to win. As in storytelling, reversals reveal the true nature of the characters who encounter them.