One of the things I’ve written about more than once is the irrepressibility of hope - both mine and Timora's; I believe that resilience is hope's natural corollary. While she was ill, hope burned in me throughout her first year of intensive treatment and through her remission, as it would in anyone. When the cancer returned and we learned that to date no one had survived a relapse following a bone marrow transplant, I managed to push the knowledge out of my mind, and concentrated on hoping it wouldn’t apply to my daughter.
A friend whose wife died of breast cancer a few years ago once told me that he and she had, at one point, “decided to live in a Fool’s Paradise.” I know just what he meant, and remember lingering until the very end in that false Eden. Even as Timora was being rushed to her last sickroom, I was still there. As I wrote in my memoir:
“When I came back to the pediatric ward to get her things after accompanying her to the ICU, one of the nurses came up to me and asked how I was doing. ‘I’m fine,’ I said. ‘I understand that Timora’s in the ICU because she needs to be on a respirator for a few days until we get her lung infection cleared up. It’s good she’s being sedated, because it would be terrible for her to be awake while she’s on a respirator.’
‘It’s really good you’re taking it that way,’ the nurse said.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, most parents get very upset when their child is taken to intensive care, because of what that so often means.’
What that means? Oh my God, could she be saying –
‘No, I don’t think about it that way,’ I said to the nurse quickly, and went out the door.”
Ten days ago, I wrote about my trip to Athens with my high school friend Laurette to visit our friend Danae, who three weeks before had started chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. I’d been feeling quite desperate about her situation; try as I might, I could see no hope. The prognosis for her type of cancer is truly awful. Worse, she’s been a widow and a single mother for eight years now. What will be with her boys?
But the visit cheered me up, because we found Danae in much better shape – with more energy and fewer chemo side effects – than I’d feared. It was especially encouraging to see the resilience I’d always admired in her. She's staying far from the depression into which someone in her position could so easily sink, but rather calmly going about doing all she can to optimize her medical treatment, get her affairs in order for her children, and enjoy as much of her life as she is able. She also has loyal Athenian friends who want nothing more than to help her any way they can, some of whom are very close with her sons.
Being with Danae kicked me back into my hopeful mode. Now I look at the situation differently: Even though I lost my daughter, I can say that if Timora could be on the bad side of good statistics, Danae can be on the good side of bad statistics. As long as there is still something to try, there’s no reason to assume the worst will happen. Despite bereavement, despite lasting grief, hope’s embers were still present in my heart after all, and my visit with Danae stirred them back to life.