Back when Hannah was in the hospital after her surgery in April, we didn’t really meet very many of the other kids who were also on the the 9th floor (the ‘cancer’ floor) at Helen DeVos Children’s hospital. I saw a parent here or there as we passed each other in the hallway, but it wasn’t until Hannah was able to get out and about in a wheelchair the day before she left that we truly met and talked to another family.
We met ‘M’ along with her dad and two of her sisters in the 9th floor playroom – they very kindly shared their paints with Hannah. M had neuroblastoma and had ended up in the hospital here while visiting family in town – they live out-of-state. Her mom and the rest of the kids were back home still. M’s sisters were freckled redheads and although M was bald, her face was just as freckled as theirs. She was 10 years old, the same as Hannah – but so much tinier. I wish now that I’d asked their last name or had made an effort to get to know them better – being from out-of-town, I’m sure they could have used more support in such a situation, even though they did have grandparents in town. I’ve wondered many times since about how M is doing – at the time that we headed back to Hannah’s room, I told M’s dad that I hoped she could go home soon and he simply mentioned that it wasn’t likely.
The next day, we took Hannah home – and she’s progressed so very well since. If you don’t look at the scars on her right leg and ignore the slight hitch to her step (that the physical therapist is working hard with her to erase), you’d never know that anything had ever been wrong. So far the follow-up scans have been clear – and we pray that she continues to remain cancer-free for the rest of her lifetime.
But that’s not the case for so many other kids. Kids like M. And like another girl that we never met in person, but who was also staying on the 9th floor while Hannah was there. ‘B’ was in a room only a few doors down from Hannah’s and we only knew she was there because of the poster on her door that indicated her name and that she had acute myeloid leukemia. Her door was blocked off by a colorful paper chain, as she was quarantined while awaiting a transplant. Her poster was made in the design of giant iPod, and Abbi thought it was so cool, that she had to make Hannah a poster for her door while we were there too.
I wondered about B while we were in the hospital – Hannah was bedridden, which was hard enough. But we knew that Hannah would be leaving the hospital, and getting her mobility back – and I couldn’t imagine what B’s family must be going through with her stuck in a hospital room for weeks, unable to leave at all.
A couple of weeks or so ago, I happened to catch a Facebook page status that another local mom shared on her timeline. The name of the page caught my eye – because it referenced ‘floor 9’ and the name was the same as B’s. After liking and reading through the page, I discovered that the page was indeed dedicated to the same B, and that she not only had been awaiting her transplant while Hannah was in the hospital, but B had stayed in the same room that Hannah had been in (room 913) during a subsequent hospital stay in June.
I don’t know exactly why B’s story stuck me so much or stayed with me – to the point where I’ve returned to her FB page many times since to learn more about her. Maybe it’s that she had just gotten a new puppy, which reminds me of my dog-loving Hannah. Or that we had sort of ‘known’ her, or at least known OF her, and could, in a very limited way, sort of relate to her. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that I still am so grateful that Hannah’s cancer has (at least so far) been something that was able to be completely removed – it could very easily have been something like neuroblastoma or leukemia that is harder to fight. B’s bald head reminded me of M’s – and as I watch Hannah brush her own hair, I can’t help but be selfishly glad that she hadn’t needed to undergo chemotherapy.
Last week, B’s parents shared on her FB page that she was beyond the help of any more treatment, and then came the notification that she had passed to a pain and cancer-free existence, in heaven.
Is it strange that I still tear up every time I think about this beautiful, bald teenaged girl that we never met, but who at one time looked at the very same walls that we were surrounded by during Hannah’s hospital stay? Even now I can’t help it, as I sit and write this. Having learned more about B from her page, I wish so much that she and her family hadn’t had to go through everything they endured, and I can’t help but be inspired by someone who from all accounts, had a such strong, lovely soul.
I haven’t told Hannah about B – yet. I think I will though at some point – not to worry her or scare her about what ‘could’ happen with a cancer diagnosis, but in the hope that the story will help Hannah stay grounded but yet inspire her with B’s bravery.
Every time we go downtown and pass by the children’s hospital on our way to Hannah’s physical therapy appointments, I look up at the 9th floor and wonder about the kids who are staying there right now. And I think about their families and what they must be going through – that we have had only such a tiny taste of ourselves. It’s just plain not fair that kids and their families have to endure so much. I start to feel both incredibly relieved – and yet guilty – that our kids are so healthy in general. Until this year, we’d never had to deal with a major health scare involving the girls.
So much can change so very quickly. And so I hug and kiss the girls tightly every day, and try to remember to enjoy every moment of their childhood while I can. They’re growing up so fast – the past 12 years have gone by in the blink of an eye. In another 12 years, they’ll all be adults and (most likely) out on their own.
B’s parents will never experience that with her. I only pray that M’s parents get that chance. As do the rest of the families who’ve experienced a stay on Floor Number 9.