Some kids throw up in the car because the irregular motion messes with their vestibular systems; and then there are the small number of adolescents who have Glioblastoma Multiformes (GBMs) the size of grapefruits attached to their brain stems. They throw up because pediatric brain cancer has ravaged their cerebellum, and so you keep vomit-holding vessels in the old, wood-paneled, white Jeep and then in the blue, rectangle Astro Van.
It was the size of a grapefruit—she was five. She rejoiced after the appointment where they told us she had six months to live, because now she wasn’t crazy. Now the migraines and vomiting and mood swings made sense and she became the skinny, freckled captain of her own seas again.
At the market, when I pass grapefruits, I think no, there’s no way that fit in Ellen’s head. And in winter, when I slice one of the those sherbet orbs in half, the smell and tang hits my nose, causing a flood of saliva to swell in my mouth. Why do I enjoy this awful bitterness?
Because they’re just sweet enough, especially with a little time to ripen and a pinch of sugar.
That tumor uprooted our lives, it saved us too. Sharp, acidic, totally unpalatable, with a heap of pain—and yet—holy, eternal, good. No, Good with a capital G, like flossing or therapy. The Romans 8:28 kind of Good.
I don’t know of a better way to find out that life is worth living than through the crucible of cancer, or any chronic illness (substance use disorder included). We are the luckiest, also the neediest, and the baldest. Very needy and hairless and lucky.
A trip to Bruin Woods, UCLA’s alumni family retreat center in Lake Arrowhead, was scheduled for the week of July fourth, but her Independence Day brain surgery conflicted with our fishing plans.
“If we reduce the size of the mass and blast her with radiation and chemotherapy she could make it another year, maybe.” Doctors consoled.