Over two years ago, our youngest son, Aaron, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. The news was so overwhelming, it paralyzed us. Even though my husband and I first chose not to tell our three children so we would have time to digest the information, our distress overpowered the household, causing more anxiety. We recognized immediately that we needed a serious attitude adjustment so that our family could cope with the long haul ahead of us. By grabbing some familiar old sayings as buoys and truly believing in the wisdom of these sayings, we found a way to cope.
First, we began to “count our blessings.” Initially we used this as a prop to tell our children about Aaron’s brain tumor, listing for them all the good things that we had going despite the cancer. But eventually my husband and I found that “counting our blessings” actually propped us up because we did have many blessings. We were blessed with a supportive family and friends. We were blessed with wonderful doctors who could guide us in proper treatment plans. Aaron was blessed with incredible determination and endurance so he could tolerate the treatments with minimal invasion to his active life. When counting blessings became a natural habit, we began to see the world in a new light. My husband and I would not allow the family to dwell on Aaron’s cancer. We did not tolerate our children feeling sorry for themselves, nor did we tolerate any pity from others. A long marriage was now appreciated for its amazing strength and love. My husband and I marveled at our children’s sociability, intelligence and wonderful judgment. Holidays, graduations and birthdays became even sweeter and more enjoyable.
Our second family mantra was the adage “You can’t change the wind but you can adjust your sails.” Problems always have solutions. When our kitchen appliances broke down all at once one holiday weekend, we shrugged our shoulders, used paper plates, barbequed instead of baked and built a new kitchen. When Aaron developed a fear of swallowing pills, we went to Plan B and melted the pills into liquid. Again, we did not dwell on our problems; we just fixed them as best we could and moved on. The adage came in handy when doctors discovered another brain tumor in Aaron 18 months after the first one. We were shaken but we adjusted our sails and faced Aaron’s newer, harsher treatment with determination. However, for me, this mantra lasted only as long as Aaron’s six month treatment lasted. Once the treatment was over, Aaron happily went back to school and sports; my husband dived back into work; my oldest son celebrated his high school graduation and planned for college; and my daughter made plans for a summer trip to Europe. I was left behind fretting over Aaron and what the future might bring.
The doctors say that I should enjoy that fact that at this moment, Aaron is doing remarkably well, enjoying himself and flourishing in school and in athletics. I am told that the new adage to follow is to “take one step at a time.” I have had trouble following this advice but I am starting to figure out just how to do it. Recently Aaron went to a friend’s party at a rock climbing gym where Aaron and his friends had no problem scaling the walls, each racing to the top with fearless determination. At the end of the party, Aaron bullied me into climbing a wall. His advice to me as to “take one step at a time.” He told me not to look down or behind me and not to look up too far, just to the next rung. I did just that and before I knew it, I was at the top of the wall. I didn’t panic or slip. I just took it one step at a time. So now, whenever I find myself overwhelmed with fear for Aaron’s future, I stop myself from looking back at the ordeal we just went through, I don’t allow myself to think about the ordeal that may be ahead of us, I just think of the wall I scaled at the gym and I just take the next small step towards the future.
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