Have you ever made a promise, you feared you couldn’t keep?
On the last night at the community hospital, prior to being transferred to the Brain Tumor Research Center at UCSF, Brittany’s mood had naturally sunk. She had been abruptly told she had a fatal tumor as the doctor exited the room. I watched as my girl spiraled into a dark and hopeless place, an understandably angry place. Where else do you go when given zero percent chance of defeating a cancer that is strangling your brain?
In spite of what was a perfectly understandable reaction on her part, I was firmly in the land of denial. We were going to find someone that had answers. I was holding onto hope while Brittany was knee deep in the reality of her diagnosis. I couldn’t understand how Brittany had gone directly into acceptance mode. What happened to the other stages of grief, denial and bargaining?
Brittany was in so much pain. Pain that interrupted every conversation. Pain that pinched her brow. Pain that glazed over her eyes. Pain that robbed her of empathy. Pain that deprived her of sleep.
Despite our best efforts to keep Britt off her laptop, researching her diagnosis, she was knowledgeable and well versed in treatments, surgeries, and life expectancy. She knew what would happen as her tumor progressed. She knew…more than I wanted her to know. I wanted her to stay hopeful and optimistic. That was a difficult task when there was little to provide hope.
As she laid in pain, I listened as my intelligent daughter shared with me. “The prognosis isn’t good. Primary brain cancer is rare, so research isn’t funded. If I had any other kind of cancer, it’d be better. A primary tumor is like an outlier. It is not curable. It’s a death sentence. Stage four brain cancer is cruel. I’ll be paralyzed. I’ll lose my memory. I might not even know who you are anymore. I’ll lose everything that makes me who I am.”
“My brain will turn to mush. My eyes will bulge out of their sockets.”
The image of my child’s eyes, the window to her soul, protruding from her sockets from so much intracranial pressure, was hellish. My stomach churned. I remembered what I had read about the brain.
“Promise you won’t let me suffer, Momma. Please don’t ask me to lose my sight, hearing, and speech. The pressure inside my head is so bad. It feels like it’s going to explode.”
“I promise,” I whispered. “I promise, I will help you, darling.”
Brittany locked eyes with me. “Promise me. I need to know that you won’t let this tumor slowly torture me.”
I looked down at her precious, worried face and promised again. “I will not let this tumor torture you. I will do whatever I need to do.” As I said those words, I realized that I would have to keep this promise, no matter what. I’d do whatever I had to do.
At that moment, I didn’t know how I could help her. I just knew that I wanted her to stop talking about dying. I wanted her to sleep. I wanted to wake up and find out that this had all been a bad dream.
Nothing is Alright
Unfortunately, the reality came knocking on our door shortly after, when I was awakened by a nurse moving us out of Britt’s ICU room.
12 hours after we were transferred out of the ICU department, at the community hospital, in preparation for transfer, a nurse came to remove Brittany’s IV lines. I rode with Britt in the critical care transport unit to UCSF, a trip that was made more miserable for her by getting caught in rush-hour traffic. I’d specifically told the critical care nurse that Brittany had just been taken off all intravenous meds and a saline drip and was urinating frequently. Yet, there was no bedpan for Britt to use.
When we got stuck in traffic, the nurse and I told Britt it was alright to just wet herself, and we’d clean her up at the hospital.
Brittany answered, “Nothing is alright. I am fully aware that life will never be ‘all right’ again.”
My brave, intelligent girl. She knew more than her Momma at that point. I was grounded in hope and miracles. She was grounded in the reality of a grade four glioblastoma.
Book Club Talking Points:
Part One – Catastrophe
- Foreboding 3
- Bad News 15
- Willful Child 29
- Not on the Same Page 35
- The Two of Us 43
- Promises 51 (Click the links above for previous discussion topics.)
1.) On page 52, I discussed our efforts to keep Brittany from doing research on her diagnosis. Looking back, I understand her need to know more and feel well informed. What would you have done? Would you do your own research, rather than relying on others for information?
2.) I made a promise to Brittany. A promise she needed to hear in that moment for comfort. It was a promise, I was unsure I could keep. A promise I was scared to keep. But, a promise she needed to hear from me for her own well-being. If you had been standing there, what would you have done?
3.) In this chapter, I spoke about the transfer of Brittany to UCSF. The process seemed harsh and lacked sensitivity. Have you ever been in a similar situation? Did this surprise you? I guess I expected more. More kindness…more compassion…more humanity.
Please continue to keep me updated on the conversations taking place in your book clubs. It brings me much peace to know that Brittany’s life might continue to open hearts and minds.