It was like old times.
When I awoke this morning, I challenged myself to make a great stack of pancakes. Pancakes have been a Saturday tradition in our house, but I stopped making them months ago because the electric stove in our new place is temperamental and doesn’t cook the batter evenly. I’m quite finicky about my work product. But the kids have been pestering me to make our favorite breakfast and I decided Christmas Eve was as good a time as any to surprise them.
After making the cakes and a batch of bacon to boot, I tried to wake the kids, with predictable results. Luc opened an eye, grunted, and went back to sleep. Jordan sat up immediately and said, “sure thing, Dad.”
A few minutes later Jordan and I each sat before a warm stack of pancakes, crispy bacon, and warm cups of tea and coffee. Luc wouldn’t come down for another half hour, which gave time for Jordan and I to chat like we have done so many times over breakfast. Those chats always vacillate between endearing sentiments straight from her heart and dizzying puzzles of non sequiturs hijacked from her random stream of consciousness.
She was about four bites into her pancakes when she hit me with cancer talk.
–Dad, I bet Santa is proud of me because my cancer is shrinking.
–I’m sure he is. But, you know, there’s a chance it’s actually gone.
–Remember, I told you that the doctors think the cancer may be dead. They call it remission. They think what they see in your scans is scar tissue. Think of it like cancer’s skeletons.
–Cancer has skeletons?
–No. I’m just saying, they think you really have kicked it’s butt.
–Well, the only way to know for sure is surgery. They’d have to poke around in your head and test some of the tissue. We don’t want to do that.
–No way, Jose.
When she thinks, she has a habit of looking just past you. She stares in your direction, but you know she isn’t looking at you. Her pupils fix on a spot and she knits her brow a bit. That’s when you know she’s thinking hard.
–I bet there are a lot of people who are happy that my cancer is shrinking.
I agreed with her and shared some of the wonderful messages she’s received from friends over the years. It excited her to realize she has so many friends. She was particularly thrilled to learn of those friends she’s never met who live far away in places she wants to visit one day: Australia, England, Denmark.
She ate the whole stack of pancakes and then made her way upstairs to prepare for a long Christmas Eve. I watched her climb the stairs carefully, one clumsy step at a time. I realized that Jordan is struggling with the strange reality we all feel in this house. The diagnosis a week ago delivered closure. None of us feel comfortable accepting it. Every time we thought we had it in the past, life dealt a ‘gotcha!’ In our minds, we’re taking the conservative path, like Jordan. She’s been told several times that the cancer appears to be gone. She continues to say, “it’s shrinking.” And I have half a mind to stop correcting her.
“Better she always be on guard,” I think.
The truth: Jordan has reason to be very thankful this year. It may be the merriest Christmas she’s ever had. And while her journey is certainly not over – she has some painful surgeries ahead – she has more reason to hope than ever before. If I live to be 100, I doubt I will ever again observe such strength in a child. She’s stronger than most adults I know. And she enjoys life gregariously.
Jordan inspires me and many others because she doesn’t see boundaries. And when she finds them, she jumps at the chance to shatter them. That’s why I love her so much and why I am so proud of what she has achieved.
Yesterday, Luc and I returned from Park City, Utah, where we celebrated our annual father/son snowboarding getaway. We had a great time, although Luc broke his wrist on his third day of snowboarding. Jordan called us as soon as she learned he was hurt.
Her voice was full of concern. She asked which wrist he broke. She told me she was worried about him. She asked if he would be okay.
The little nurse kicked in.
I shared her thoughts with Luc, who smirked and told me he was kind of glad he wasn’t home. He knew that Jordan would kick into high gear and drive him crazy if he were in Los Angeles. She would insist on doing what she thinks nurses do, which is a bossy regimen of careful pampering and stern medical procedures. He confided to me that he knew she cared, though.
I think she has rubbed off on him. He shied away from my constant offers to assist him. He insisted on doing things for himself, adapting his habits to care for himself with one arm. And he didn’t want to take the pain medicine. I finally insisted that he take what the doctor prescribed after he got sick to his stomach and nearly passed out.
My initial fear was that he had hit his head and didn’t realize it. But after calling the urgent care clinic on the mountain, I realized he was sick because he was in pain. The kid is tough. It’s not so surprising when you realize what he has been through these past six years; how he has supported his sister. And he’s seen how strong she can be. Though he probably won’t admit it, she inspires him, too.
The girls met Luc and I at the airport yesterday. Before I had even made it to baggage claim she ran towards me at full gallop. She tilted her head down. It looked like she planned to ram me. In fact, she crashed into me with her arms wide opened and hugged me so tight. I was blocking the way for other passengers, so I sidestepped with her still clinging to me. She told me she missed me and that she was so happy I was back. Now, that’s a welcome I’ll take any day.
She held my hand while we waited for the bags to come, and she chattered constantly, catching me up on current events in Santa Monica. When we had all our belongings, we made our way to the car as a family and I felt this overwhelming sensation course through me. I felt so lucky to be amongst them all.
Jeanette, Lucas, Jordan: a family that together has kicked cancer’s butt. A family that survived a six-year ordeal that often tears families apart. A family that fights and laughs and loves like so many others, and tries very hard to treat each step on this journey as though it were just a different variety of ‘normal.’ I love them dearly.