By Jean Maguire
As I was sitting in the long, lonely hallway, visuals of empty chairs, sterile clean floors and blank faces enhanced my auditory senses. The sounds were inaudible, yet had the feeling of urgency. Maybe that was the pounding of my heart, the racing of my mind and a quick review of life as I had known it a few months prior. As I waited for the doctor to render his diagnosis, it was difficult not to wonder if this was in anyway similar to judgment day. When I think of the word judgment, the words that come to mind are punitive. Why would I, my 17 year old daughter or my family be punished?
As the doctor approached, my heart began to pound harder. He sat by my side to offer comfort and support. The pounding subsided as I searched for solace in his gentle mannerisms. Dr. Geno, how could I ever forget his name? He was tall in stature with blonde hair and soft features. He had told me a few days prior that he suspected my daughter had cancer. Now the test to confirm the biopsy was imminent. Surely we would not scathe by?
What had we done to deserve this . . . especially our daughter? This young, beautiful child who had already been through so much in her life being a child of divorce and being raised by a single mother for a short time. As we continued to wait, I found myself making deals with God; if you would just do this then I would do that etc. Then Dr. Geno stood up, walked into the room where the biopsy was being done and returned with the dreaded news. At that point in time, life was still. There would be a pivot or for stronger emphasis an about face. Life would never be the same. Questions such as; would she survive this, would I be able to help her, or could I take her place began to run rampantly through my mind. I cried like a baby as Dr. Geno consoled me.
I then began to dress in my suit of armor that was so familiar to me. I had seen my mother with this suit of armor during my childhood and young adulthood. I just never realized the fear behind the armor. I must have the armor to help my daughter; the armor that gave me the strength to encourage her and provide hope that it would all be all right.
During the course of the next year, I would come to know and love my daughter in a way that I did not know was possible. She would teach me about courage and how to go on. It is ironic how she taught me what I was pretending to do.
She knew her beautiful long, blonde hair would eventually fall out, so she and her father decided to shave her head. He also shaved his in support of her. My mother and I took my daughter to shop for wigs. We bought two different styles. We would soon find out that we wasted our money as my daughter said, “I’m a natural person. I am not going to wear anything on my head.” She even had a hat collection that she refused to use. The turning heads, stares and gawking eyes as my daughter and I walked through the hospital. Now I know those people needed the armor too. My daughter’s strength seemed to transcend any societal norms at that point.
Due to my daughter’s illness, I had resigned from my college courses to care for her. About 6 months into her treatment, my daughter informed me that I must enroll in a couple of evening courses. She assured me that life would go on and she wanted me to take these classes. I wasn’t sure how this would happen. I was afraid of what may occur while I was gone. There had been many weak spells, falling on the floor and needing assistance to walk. My daughter reassured me any chance that arose. I followed her lead and she was right.
When I think of multigenerational transmission, I think of passage from the previous generation downward. However, I was so fortunate to receive the gift of courage from not only my mother, but also my daughter. The value of true courage, as my daughter taught me, has a strong sense of vulnerability. Now when I think of courage, I believe courage is doing something even when you are afraid to. The strength and courage my daughter taught me during this time, I will carry with me forever!
Thirteen years later, our daughter is well. She has a son who is 2 ½ years old. She has continued to demonstrate courage in her life through the years in her personal and professional life. She went to college 3 months following the end of her treatment. She completed her undergraduate work and then her master level work. She is now a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She is in a committed relationship with her life partner who she has a private practice with. There is and will always be the thought that life can change at any moment. We have had a couple of close calls through the years coupled with fear of the cancer returning. So far we have been very fortunate and choose to live each day with appreciation.
In defining courage, my daughter chose to face her cancer with the attitude that she would move past it and that she would get well. I do not know where she found or learned this type of courage; possibly multigenerational transmission. However, the way she expressed it helped me learn the vulnerability associated with courage.
In closing, the window of opportunity that we each have on a daily basis to learn and grow is ultimately in our hands. If I had chosen to close the door to learning, I would have missed the precious gift of knowing my daughter in this way. She taught me the importance of vulnerability in a way that will help me be a better person and professional. I believe it is important to leave the door of opportunity open in order to learn and grow.
Jean Maguire, LCSW is a 2003 graduate of Tulane University. She has worked extensively in the areas of physical and sexual trauma and hospice. She is presently hoping to return to work in the area of hospice to utilize her talents and gifts with patients at this crucial time in the life cycle. Jean's hobbies are writing, singing and spending time with her family. She is happily married, has two daughters and one grandson who she loves to visit. She can be contacted at email@example.com.