Courage, Dear Heart
From August 14, 2020
Dear Friends --
Fifteen years ago today I gave birth to my daughter, Lucy. After a rather harrowing time delivering her older brother a couple of years before, I was bracing myself for an ominous string of hours and praying for one of those epidurals that might last days, if needed.
As it turns out, August 14, 2005 was one of the most civilized days of that summer. Her dad and I awoke that Sunday morning and cruised down to Swedish Hospital in Seattle, sauntered up to the OB wing and managed to convince one of the labor nurses to give me a looksie in the baby department. Lo and behold, Lucy was on the move. After one visit from the anesthesiologist and two rather simple pushes, Lucy made her entrance. I swear she arrived smiling. All sweetness, which is why her nickname from day one was Sugar.
But I knew she would grow up to be far more than sweet. She'd also grow up to be quite brave. I knew because her namesake is Lucy from the Narnia stories, who was the bravest of all of CS Lewis's characters.
There's a scene from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Lucy and her shipmates are heading into dark and unknown waters. Everyone is scared, and more or less convinced that Aslan has led them astray.
At one point in the midst of some turmoil, Lucy whispers, “Aslan… if ever you loved us, send help now.” After she whispers this, Lewis writes: “The darkness did not grow any less, but she began to feel a little … better.” Then Lucy hears a gentle whisper in reply: “Courage, dear heart.”
And even though she cannot see him in that moment, she knows in her heart that Aslan is near.
I heard this story in the midst of a sermon when I was about four months pregnant and knew then I would have a Lucy. And somehow her story -- like all of our stories -- would require all kinds of courage. And maybe if I did my job as a mom well, she'd grow to even teach me about how to be brave.
So it was all kinds of poetic that today -- Lucy's birthday -- was the day of the most important scans of this year's trek. Today was the day to see if life after 12 rounds of chemo, two surgeries, and time on a lower dose of a maintenance chemo protocol this summer might result in some stability, or maybe a new twist on the trail.
You'd think after a year of scans you begin to sort of get good at them, which is to say your hands don't shake as much or your heart doesn't beat uncontrollably. Maybe someday we'll get there, but not yet.
After the scan, I had about an hour to pretend like it was just another Friday hanging out in the Stanford medical building atrium while waiting for my time with Dr V (!). That pretending lasted about a minute and a half. Fortunately, a dear friend had asked to tag along for scan day and I began to small talk about Lucy's birthday and memories about being pregnant. And I noted something I hadn't yet admitted to anybody yet: whenever I see a pregnant lady these days I often find myself marveling at how it was once possible that my body had two chapters where I was privileged to grow a life. But then how was it possible that over the past year somehow my body decided to grow a version of death instead? When the tumor on my liver was especially large as this whole saga began, I remember it would sometimes push up against my diaphragm and I had this faint memory that it felt like the baby moving from when I was pregnant. I couldn't reconcile how this physical sensation once resulted in such glorious joy, and then, just years later, that same exact same sensation represented pure terror.
I get it. This might be the part of this little entry where you're thinking, A) I'm not sure I may ever volunteer to be scan buddy if this is what Amy considers small talk, and B) What on earth did the scans reveal?
So let's jump right in. There's delightful news to report. No evidence of disease, anywhere. My abdomen is stable and those teeny tinies in my lung are still quite teeny tiny. So teeny tiny we're not even quite sure what they are. My scans were, in fact, boring. Boring has never been so beautiful.
Boring has never been such a perfect birthday present to my brave daughter.
A year ago I wrote Lucy a letter when she turned 14, when we were all feeling like those frightened children on the Dawn Treader. The waters were dark and foreboding and most days it was hard to even talk about where this journey would take us. Many days we pleaded for help to arrive, and quickly make it all go away.
But in her letter, I told Lucy that I hoped it might be a year when we might learn some of the most important lessons of all. Lessons that don't happen quickly, but rather unfold as fog slowly lifts to reveal a few new lighthouses on the horizon.
I wrote that I hoped she and I might experience heartbreak. Because only then would we know how precious love and loyalty are.
I told her that I hoped we might feel occasionally ignored or misunderstood. Because only then would we learn how miraculous it is to be a person who listens well.
I wrote that maybe we would experience a sense that things were terribly unfair. And if so, we would draw closer to the cause of justice, and become even better advocates for others who are surrounded by stubborn barriers.
But mainly my hope and prayer for Lucy this past year -- and for me -- was to find a way to be brave even when we were surrounded by uncertainty and darkness.
With the good news of my scans, it's tempting today to say that the darkness has lifted and the fear has subsided. But that's not the case. The future is still filled with all kinds of uncertainty. There are big decisions now about pausing chemo all together, or tolerating potential long term side effects by keeping chemo as part of the near term plan. We know this is the kind of cancer that comes back, but we don't know when. Months? Years? All a foggy mystery.
But after this year, I know that Lucy and I have been given the most sacred gift of all: We've been surrounded by generous love, which is the only thing that can truly cast out fear.
And this has created a miracle --- a miracle even more grand than boring scans. Lucy the Brave and I have both learned how to love others even better, so that one day soon we might be able to whisper in a nervous friend's ear, "Courage, dear heart."