76: Can Lightening Strike Twice?

76: Can Lightening Strike Twice?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cancer Book

Can Lightning Strike Twice?

They say lightning doesn’t strike twice. And yet, I find myself sitting in the same hospital where, nine years earlier, my husband and I sat, holding hands and pleading with God not to take our beloved daughter.

Sadly, that wish was not granted. Although we were both devastated, we were never bitter. We took the gifts of Jordan’s life and death and let them mold us into better people, never taking anything for granted. We believed that our dues had been paid in the bad luck lottery. After all, is there anything worse than a parent burying a child?

So, how did we end up here again, sitting in the oncology clinic waiting room?

My husband, Rich, and I are the only two people here. Everything has happened so fast. I can’t quite process it all. While we sit again, waiting, pleading with God, our six-year-old son, Zachary, is in one of the rooms with the pediatric oncologist, Dr. Halligan and his nurse, Peg, doing a bone marrow biopsy and a spinal tap to determine if our little boy has cancer.

My head is screaming. This cannot be possible. We already buried one child. We attend church regularly and we live a good life. God can’t do this to us again, right?

I feel as if I might lose my mind. The pain in my heart is real. It seems as if it might stop beating. Just as it feels like the screaming in my head will come out of my mouth, Rich gently takes my hand and quietly talks to me.

“Mom, we’ll do this, too. Whatever it is, we’ll do it.”

I can breathe now. Air has suddenly found its way back into my lungs.

“We can do this. We may not want to, but we will.”

That one sentence would become my fallback over the next eight years.

They call Rich and me back into the room with Zach. Dr. Halligan is ninety-nine percent sure Zach has leukemia. They are sending his marrow out for a test, which will tells us in about four days exactly what kind it is. He tells us that we should hope for ALL. Although the chemo treatment can run up to three years, it has the highest cure rate, at almost ninety percent.

We move up to the oncology unit. As we are being brought to our room, I feel like laughing and saying this is a mistake. This just can’t be right. We are all going to be so embarrassed later when the results come back saying he doesn’t have cancer. Friends and family call over the next few days. I just keep telling them that Zach is sick. I won’t say the “C” word. I refuse to admit it until I have proof. Even as they hang the first dose of chemo, I am still holding firm to my mantra. This can’t be real!

But it is. The news comes. Zach has ALL.

How do you tell your six-year-old son he has cancer? I can’t. Rich and I both chicken out. Dr. Halligan asks if we would like him to do it. We nod.

We follow him into Zach’s room. I watch as this large man, with bushy eyebrows, and the kindest eyes I have ever seen, gets down on his knees besides Zach’s bed. I listen to the conversation that will change our lives.

“Hey bud. Do you know why you are here?” Dr. Halligan asks.

“I’m sick?” Zach asks.

“Yeah, bud, you are. Do you know what you’re sick with?”

“Cancer?” Zach asks back.

How does he know this? We haven’t said anything in front of him. He can’t know what oncology means. He’s only six. Why didn’t he tell us or ask us questions? Did we scare him into not being able to talk? We’re going to have to do this differently from now on. He has to know he can trust us. We have to do this together. It can’t be done alone. I slow my heart down and listen to the rest of the conversation.

“Yeah bud, you have cancer; you have leukemia,” the doctor continued. “Can you die from leukemia?”

Oh my gosh! He did not just ask my six-year-old if he could die! I think I’m going to be sick. Last week, he was playing hockey. Now, he’s talking about dying from cancer.

“Yes?” Zach replies.

“Yeah, you can, Zach,” Dr. Halligan explained. “But I promise you I will do everything I can to make sure that doesn’t happen. Okay?”

“Okay.”

In that moment, Zach made a best friend. Through the coming years, Greg, as Zach would call Dr. Halligan, would be the driving force in what would keep Zach alive and willing to fight.

No parent should ever have to stand over their child’s bed and wonder if they will still be there in the morning. We did that on more than one occasion. There was a brief eighteen minutes that Zach was in God’s hands, and he handed him back to us.

•••

Zach is now fourteen. He’s in a wheelchair, on oxygen, and has a feeding tube. But he chooses to be a teenager who goes to school, has friends, and lives with laughter.

I choose not to be the mom of the boy with cancer. Instead, I am the mom of an amazingly strong young man, who continues to teach others to live life to the fullest.

That is our choice. What’s yours?

~Tamara Kraus

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