For the past few weeks we were finishing up the treatment stage called consolidation, as in consolidating her remission. The hard part of consolidation was weekly spinal injections. Thea began waking up from these in a hostile state that would last for a half hour. The nurses once tried to calm us by saying, "Don't worry, we don't think this is post-anesthesia delirium." (Mmmhmm good. Wait, so that's a thing?)
After the injections we enjoyed a wonderful two weeks of high counts and zero hospital visits. We took full advantage of the respite, making sure Thea stocked up on play dates and outings while she can, suppressing our anxiety about exposing her to something.
Thea herself started getting more confident again about physical activities -- trying the monkey bars, running fast, skipping. For a few moments towards the end it almost felt like no one was sick, if not for the new behaviors we’ve shared here before.
Those days made mental space too. Space for me to reflect and relax and deepen my thinking in ways I can’t access when I’m running on fumes and full of anxiety. I want to share some of my realizations with you. Mainly they are an abundance of gratitude for some obvious and not obvious ways that our community has supported us since the beginning. For some reason they’re coming at me in the form of help wanted ads.
Grandparents Wanted: You will fly to SF in order to operate a 24 hour diner. Do not make eye contact with “customer”. Do not speak to customer unless spoken to. Bring treats. Sanitize the sanitizer. Never stop doing laundry. When not visiting, reach out for updates, but not too much. Qualified candidates will stay upbeat but not ask too many questions. Travel costs are not reimbursed, although room and board (but not door) are provided in the form of a tool shed in SF’s vibrant, gritty Mission District.
Siblings Wanted: Candidates should have between 1 and 2 babies (young children acceptable if also pregnant with twins) to show evidence of multitasking skills for required daily mix of FaceTime, text messages, and calls. This is not a 9-5, so don’t apply unless you’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada. Must randomly send inside jokes from childhood. You will run interference with extended family by providing updates and setting up all infrastructure for future updates and visits. Make us laugh, clown.
Unpaid Internship for Friends: The core duty of this position is that you must constantly offer help while we repeatedly turn it down. Check-in with text messages daily. Generate endless creative lists of self-care options and eliminate all barriers to partaking. Scoop me up when I’m feeling like the worst parent ever. Take the kids sometimes. Never issue one single word of judgment. When you see a gap on the meal train schedule, you plug it. This is unlikely to be deductible on your personal tax return.
Coworkers from Prior Employment: Although I left you, your duties have now just begun. You may do any of the following: Write earnest, gracious notes. Share ridiculous workplace stories to bring distraction. Send random photos, must be funny. Show up for meals, a drink, a chat in the lobby.
Playdates Wanted: All children and adults must have flu shot over two weeks ago. Must be in perfect health. No sniffles or no play date. Must be willing to cancel at any time due to illness. Opportunities will not be given with more than 3 hours notice. Must adore hand washing and hanitizer. If you’re skittish to either SEND or RECEIVE notification of recent exposure to head lice, this is not the job for you.
Gig Economy / Lyft of Childcare: You will use the “text messages” app to provide on-demand childcare. Take Siggy when Thea needs mom and dad at the hospital. She’ll come empty handed so feed her. Be flexible on end time. You may have her all day, and she may remind you that you are not her mommy. Unlike other gig economy jobs you will neither set your own hours nor be your own boss. Siggy is your boss.
Universe-Flooder: In this role you send me messages about that friend of friend who had leukemia too and is now CEO of XXX, running triathlons, finishing med school, etc. You will tell me that your church, tribe, or family is sending prayers and good thoughts. Leave a thoughtful voicemail. Prior people in this profession have: Sent a heartfelt email, hosted a digital fundraiser for leukemia, or run a race in Thea’s name. (Seriously. All that happened.)
Secret Supporter: In this optionally-anonymous role you will send random care packages all the time (really, who are some of you?) filled with perfect dollar store crafts, stickers, pictures, and seasonal stuff. Knowing our family from before cancer seems to be optional. Examples of going above and beyond include 1) showing up with a ready-to-decorate gingerbread house and all fixings and 2) custom-crafting beautiful, fun, unique advent calendars so girls have a reason to race up stairs every morning. The currency you will be paid in is hugs, or for some, reading this paragraph will be the sum of your compensation.
Unpaid Internship for Family Chef: The chicken, the mac n' cheese, the lasagna, the burritos, oh my! You will come up with brilliant combos that please all ages. You will surprise us with food we didn’t know existed in the city. Every now and then pull out all the stops - the authentic paella, the fresh Tartine grilled cheeses, the shortbread cookies from my fav place. Food that nourishes like a hug. Food that alleviates one more thing to worry about after a hard day. Food that means one less meal after I’ve prepared and cleaned up after what feels like 12 meals in a day.
Social Enthusiast: Could be on any topic. Like to do magic tricks? Have some advice on how to eat ramen? Want to give a dance lesson? Cool new toy you’re excited about? Cute baby smearing baby food all over the place? Send us a video. Make me laugh and distract Thea right when she most needs it. Inspire Thea to learn about all sorts of things and make her own videos.
I could go on and on. This is probably like, 12% of the love and help we’ve received. It’s utterly amazing. You restore us. You give us strength. We are so so lucky. And we see you. That’s mostly what I wish I could shout to each and every one of you when you give. We see you and we love you so much.
Thankfully, there is one traditional help wanted ad that has been filled. We have a new nanny joining our family, Brynne. This was no easy role to fill as it requires being comfortable with the whole leukemia thing and how to attend to all that. Sometimes swapping girls, sometimes hang out with me for extended periods, or take both girls at once, or be flexible on plans each day based on how everyone is doing. It’s been just a week but so far she is FABULOUS. Both girls already adore her. She brings energy, joy, and creativity into our house each day.
It was a gift to have these past weeks and now I find myself bracing for the next stage, Interim Maintenance. We’ve heard from other cancer parents that it’s not all that bad. Still, the plan, which is to increase her chemo dose until her side effects become unbearable, does not exactly sound peaceful. Things will likely get more subdued on our end. Soon, no more social outings and play dates. Likely lower neutrophil counts means back to the full court press of defending against infections with constant sanitizing, laundering, and wearing masks. No guests, no flowers. Oy. I’m getting myself worked up. Just wanna be like:
To end on a sweet note, here is Thea singing a song from Doc McStuffins, an animated show about a kid doctor that fixes toys. She was glued to an episode about childhood cancer. To our surprise, she taught herself a song from the show that “makes toys feel better”, according to her.