February 20, 2008
Tommy entered the room and pulled that third chair up to where we were sitting, so Hannah and I were basically knee-to-knee with him. He gently explained to both of us that the MRI revealed a tumor in the pineal region of Hannah's brain. Hannah and I were both pretty tearful, but his words had a calming effect. He asked if we would like to see it, and we must have assented, because we soon found ourselves in the technician's booth staring at a ghostly image of the invader in Hannah's brain. The tears returned. Even our friendly technician was crying by this point.
We moved back out into the waiting room and sat back down in our three chairs. Tommy explained that this tumor would require immediate intervention and we should plan to go to Arkansas Children's Hospital that night. Or, since Hannah was not in any acute distress, we could go home and head to Children's in the morning. Either way, he would call ahead so they would be prepared to receive us when we got there. For me, there was no question ... We would go home. Somehow I had to share this news with Brad and Bethany and give our family time to process it.
As we sat in our little circle, Tommy took our hands and prayed with us. He placed Hannah into God's hands and prayed for the wisdom of those who would be treating her. I don't remember anything else he prayed, but I do remember the feeling of peace that flowed over us in that moment. He gathered up all the MRI films into a big envelope and walked us out of the hospital through a back exit so we wouldn't have to walk through the public areas in our emotional state.
We stood outside our car for a few minutes and Hannah asked Tommy if they were going to have to shave her head. He replied that they might, and said, "but it is what it is." For some reason, those words were oddly comforting ... a confirmation that this whole thing was out of our control. Tommy offered to drive us home, but I assured him I was capable of driving and would be fine.
I remember very little of what Hannah and I discussed on the 20-minute drive home. I do know that, as any typical teenager would be, she was concerned about how her friends would react. She said that she didn't want anyone to know, and I assured her we'd protect her privacy.
As we got closer to home, I knew I needed to call Brad and let him know what was going on. He was at his job as a high school principal, and it was about time for the buses to run. I got him on the phone and told him I needed him to come home. That was all I could get out before my throat closed off, and I hung up.
He arrived at home just a few minutes before Hannah and I did, and waited for us in the garage. He had no idea what was going on ... in fact, he thought maybe this had something to do with Bethany. We were awaiting her ultrasound report from the day before ... He certainly wasn't expecting MRI results so soon.
We pulled into the garage, and stepped out of the car. Hannah spoke first ... "Daddy, I've got a brain tumor." We held each other and cried for awhile together while I filled him in on some of what Tommy had said. Then it was time to go into the house and break the news to Bethany, who had been home alone sick all day. More tears ensued. Once we pulled ourselves together a bit, we had a prayer time as a family, placing Hannah in God's hands, acknowledging that we had no idea what was ahead of us, but affirming our trust in Him. The peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) began to make itself known.
The rest of the evening was a blur of phone calls and visitors. Brad made the hardest calls (because I couldn't even talk), which were to our parents, informing them of what was going on. He also called our neighbor, a retired pastor who had become our girls' adopted grandpa. Bro. Gerald came down the hill from his home and prayed with us, sharing a scripture with us which became our theme verse throughout the next year ... "The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him" (Nahum 1:7).
Hannah had told me she didn't want anyone to know ... and I don't know how it happened, but suddenly everybody knew. We lived in a small community, and word travels fast. This was a Wednesday evening, and somehow Hannah's name appeared on every local church's prayer list. About 10:00 that evening, a group of her friends and their mothers appeared at our door with a basket full of gifts, including a soft purple blanket which they had all signed. That blanket would go with her into surgery a few days later.
Our phones rang incessantly, and one of those calls was the ultrasound report on Bethany. With the results of her bloodwork, and the enlargement of her spleen and liver, her diagnosis was changed from pneumonia to mononucleosis. That certainly explained the fatigue and malaise she'd been experiencing.
Another call was from Tommy, saying he had made arrangements for us to check in through the ER at Children's Hospital first thing the next morning. Things were getting real ... even though the feeling of disbelief that this was actually happening to our family was also very real.
In the midst of the chaos of that evening, Hannah remained calm. I remember her saying at one point, "Now I'll have a story." I was in awe of the strength that God was clearly giving her. When she went to bed that night, she posted this on her Facebook page ...
"I will praise Him in the storm! I'm going to children's hospital in the morning..."
And I sent the first of what would become a year's worth of emails, this one just to our close family and friends ...
"After several days of strange symptoms and doctor visits, we found out today that our 16-year-old daughter, Hannah, has a brain tumor. We are headed to Arkansas Children’s Hospital first thing in the morning for a biopsy. God’s hand has already been involved…the ophthalmologist that we were sent to yesterday is a great Christian guy who sang in our wedding 20 years ago, so he has been taking good care of us. We also found out today that our 12-year-old daughter, Bethany, has mono, not pneumonia, as she was originally diagnosed. So…please keep all of us in your prayers. Both my parents and Brad’s parents are coming to LR tomorrow, and are going to help us out with Bethany for as long as needed, so that need has been met, too. We are looking forward to seeing God working through this situation!"