Last summer Kid A began dating a boy she had become friends with at school. She told me all of these nice things about him first (too good to be true?) and then she broke the news to me that he was going to be a senior and was almost 18-years old (she was 15 and starting her sophomore year at the time). Immediately I had a flashback to my high school days and being asked out by older boys while wearing my catholic school girl uniform (it was mandatory; I wasn’t just being all slutty) and the warning sirens went off in my head. But knowing very well what happens when you tell a teenage girl that she can not do something, I decided to take a different tack. I told Kid A that it was fine that they dated, as long as she brought him to our house so we could get to know him. So she did. A lot.
It turns out that Kid A was right about the boyfriend being a great kid. He is smart, witty, a little bit sarcastic, a lot cynical, well-read, comfortable around adults, and he has street smarts too (he lived in Washington, D.C. with his dad for a while). He was on the cross country team at school and he held a part-time job waiting tables at a restaurant. Plus, he listens to good rock music and not that odd, hipster stuff by Lights or Meg & Dia. He is just the right amount of scared of Sheepdog and he is always respectful of our family and our rules. He plays with Kids B – E and he rarely seems to get sick of them (I don’t get it because I get sick of them all the time). Most importantly, he is very respectful and sweet to our daughter.
So time has passed and they go out on dates and hang out here and talk and text and have continued to build their relationship. They have had mostly ups, but they’ve experienced some downs too. It is pretty amazing to watch both of them handling a high school relationship with such maturity.
Then last Thursday, the boyfriend (although technically he is now her manfriend, as he turned 18 last November) was admitted into the hospital for suspected epiglottitis (an inflammation of the epiglottis, which is the flap that covers the windpipe during swallowing). While there, his doctors ran a bunch of tests. By Friday he was in the ICU, where he was diagnosed with leukemia. He was then transferred to the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. He shaved his head on Monday and started chemotherapy Tuesday afternoon. It has been a whirlwind. I really can’t believe it has only been a week since his diagnosis.
I am in shock. Sad. Scared. Heartbroken. Worried. Angry. Frustrated because I have no control. Studying to learn more about the medicine. Yearning to make it all better.
Then I look at him. I am in awe of his strength, even in his vulnerable moments. My heavy heart gets a little bit lighter every time I hear him make a joke or laugh about his disease, because it takes a very strong person to laugh in the face of adversity. Everyone knows it’s not really funny, but what else is supposed to take down the elephant in the room that makes its presence known every few seconds with a click-click as the poison gets pumped directly into his heart. Kids should never have to contemplate their own mortality. Sarcastic optimism really is the best medicine in my book. That’s how you face down a monster.
News of Manfriend’s leukemia is now starting to reach people in the community. He’s getting a ton of friend requests from people on Facebook. He gets texts and phone calls and cards and visitors and cancer presents (DVDs, video games, hats, warm socks… all excellent gifts) every day. People want to reach out and show their support and let him and his family know that they care and they want to help.
Some people know all too well what this disease can do to people’s lives. But others have been lucky enough to never have been touched by the clammy hand of cancer themselves. It is most interesting to see how people act around someone who is sick. Some say or write just the right things. Some are extra nice. Some do the nervous talking thing. Some are cautious. Some are the same as they ever were. Manfriend seems to be responding to everyone with a natural extension of his already sardonic teenage personality and I think it is going to serve him very well through the inevitable ups and downs of his recovery.
A friend came by the unit to see him the other day. When he knocked and entered the room he saw his sick friend wearing a gown, lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to tubes and monitors and machines. Seeming to gloss over the unmistakable, the friend simply asked, “What’s up?”
Ever the smart-aleck, Manfriend responded, “Nothing much… got leukemia.”
Yeah, I think he’s doing just fine.
Wish me luck for tomorrow (and please keep the manfriend and his family in your prayers)…