This post is #98 in a year-long series ... Through this series of posts I plan to share our family's experiences during our 17-year-old daughter's year-long battle with brain cancer, which began in February of 2008. My desire is to process through the events of that year from the perspective that a decade of time has brought ... for myself, really. But if you'd like to follow along, you're welcome to join me.
At this point in time, it seemed as though things couldn't be going better as far as Hannah's cancer treatments were concerned. She was coping well with the side effects, her platelet issues had leveled out, and she was in a good routine at school. Her bimonthly MRIs resulted in an "all clear" every time.
It was time to have a little fun.
So ten years ago today, Hannah, Bethany and I went to the American Idol concert in Tulsa, Oklahoma. If you've followed Hannah's story, you know that she was a huge American Idol fan. She watched the show faithfully from the second season on (the Ruben/Clay year). She was one of those fans who would pick a favorite and vote for two solid hours every Tuesday night. From the third season on (the Fantasia/Diana year), we went to the American Idol concert every year. We would always plan our trip to arrive early in the afternoon and hang out around the venue trying to meet the singers ... and we were usually successful, getting lots of autographs and pictures with her favorites every year. It was something we looked forward to doing together, and we would always order our tickets the first day they went on sale.
That year's concert featured David Cook (the winner) and David Archuleta (the runner-up), along with the other top eight contestants. I didn't order the tickets right away, because I just wasn't sure how Hannah would be feeling by September. As the summer went on and I saw how well she was doing, I ordered tickets for the three of us girls. We were excited about the concert and were really looking forward to it. Hannah was a big fan of David Cook, and we had followed his story with interest because his brother was also battling brain cancer.
We spent that weekend with Brad's mom and dad, who live in Van Buren, so we would have a shorter drive to and from the concert in Tulsa. This was a blessing, because the weather was awful that weekend. The remnants of Hurricane Ike were blowing through Arkansas and Oklahoma, and we drove to Tulsa in heavy rain and strong winds.
I remember that Hannah seemed somewhat tired when we left Van Buren that afternoon, but that was not unusual, as the primary side effect of her chemo was fatigue. It was too rainy to do our usual autograph-seeking that afternoon, so we went out to eat instead. I noticed that Hannah seemed a bit relieved that we would not be "stalking" our favorites for a change, even though she had been talking excitedly about it in the days leading up to the concert.
After dinner we headed to the concert venue, ran through the rain to get inside, and showed our tickets to an arena worker, who directed us to the stairs. As we walked up the stairs, Hannah mentioned that she felt a little dizzy. This also was not really unusual ... the radiation treatments had left her with a constant feeling of being "off balance"; in fact, her world was never completely level.
We finally found our seats in the very top row of the arena. And I do mean the top row; the only thing behind us was the wall. The delay in purchasing tickets had put us in the nosebleed section. As we sat waiting for the concert to start, Hannah again mentioned that she was dizzy, and we attributed it to the dizzying height at which we were sitting and the long climb up the stairs.
Hannah was unusually quiet during the concert ... not singing along and yelling for her favorites like she usually did. Right about the time David Cook came out to sing (the winner was usually saved for last at these concerts), she asked if we could leave. We immediately stood up, descended the dozens of stairs, and began the long drive back to Van Buren. We still had the incredibly heavy rain and the tropical storm force winds to contend with, and now it was pitch dark. But that's not really what made the trip feel so long.
As I drove through the stormy weather that night, a storm began to build inside of me. While the car was battered by the weather and the girls dozed in the back seat, the realization gradually grew in me of how seriously ill Hannah really was. For the first time, my mind began to entertain the possibility that Hannah might not survive this.
At the time, as far as we knew, Hannah was cancer free. The clear MRI just six weeks earlier was surely proof of that. But deep down inside, I knew ... I knew something was not right. It was the first time I felt like we might be losing her. I allowed the tears to flow silently as I drove through the storm that night ... but by the time we reached Grandma's house, I had tucked these secret thoughts and fears back into a little filing cabinet in my mind and locked them away. Time to dry my face and carry on. Hannah was going to be fine.