We first met about four years ago, she stopped me as I was walking up our street, pushing the double bus with two almost two year olds, the beagle tied on to the side. At the time I was trying to help an older woman corral her dog who had escaped his leash and was running towards us, the older woman falling further and further behind. Krissy grabbed my stroller, I grabbed the dog and we introduced ourselves. Her first words were something along the lines of "they are twins? And you look rested, reasonable". She may have said normal, I was laughing too hard to be sure.
Her twins were brand new, just two months old, and she was not rested, nor reasonable, in her mind. She was exhausted and not certain that she had the will, the strength, to continue on without sleep, or sanity. We exchanged information, both happy to have found someone, a neighbor, who could understand the unique madness of raising twins. In many ways it is an oddly lonely situation, so few able to really empathize with the foggy days and catatonic nights. With almost two years experience, I was somewhat removed from the total exhaustion associated with the first few months of multiples, but not so far away that I didn't remember.
If I was evidence that it was possible to survive the early months, Krissy was proof that it could be done with energy and enthusiasm. Working full time as a nurse, she juggled the early schedules with their dad, a teacher, and somehow found more time at the park at the end of the street than we ever did. Last year she switched gears, taking a job teaching at a private school, assuring her twins acceptance into their kindergarten program, ironically as she had done far more research on schools than I had even considered. She was more than generous in sharing her findings when I was scrambling for a school.
In my inbox, sometime in late June, I found a Facebook message from her, the subject read simply “my son”. "My son has cancer" it began, and followed with a haphazardly written account of her last 24 hours. Maybe it was a hoax, certainly it was not real, certainly this was not happening to the family down the street.
Zen had blood in his urine, a tumor was found, and then the diagnosis that immediately blurs your eyesight and makes the still room spin, cancer. A very rare form, he is now in stage IV of Wilms, seen in only 20 children annually. It has spread, from kidneys to lungs and heart. The prognosis changes daily. He is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. He has had multiple surgeries. His heart is responding, the lungs and the kidneys are problematic and struggling. Zen, the keeper of all of this, bravely fights.
As we know, having recently spent two nights at Children's Memorial (for a now insignificant bump on the head), time spent at the emergency room can be costly, even when you have very good private insurance. Our portion of that bill is easing towards $1,000; Kris and Carlos are facing medical bills difficult to truly comprehend. Imagine the emotional lob hurled at you when you deplete your child’s college tuition fund to pay for the medical care to save his life?
Support comes in many forms. Neighbors have come together to raise money, a local coffee shop is planning a fundraiser, coworkers and students are working together to support this family. Cancer is horrid, pediatric cancer even more difficult to grasp and, as the mother of twins, watching this battle being fought by one of two, more than I can reasonably understand. Solstice, Zen’s sister, is herself a mighty brave four year old. My children struggled this year with separation, two first grade classrooms, a departure from being together in kindergarten. Solstice’s own battle certainly makes two first grade rooms seem quite workable.
Two years ago, at our annual holiday party, Zen pulled on one of the Christmas stockings, bringing it, and the large metal snowman holding it on the mantel, down on his face. Zen was brave, just a little crying, I suspect possibly from fear more than pain. Last year the large snowman was gone, replaced by little hooks that, if tugged on, would fall and do no damage at all to the small curious face below. I will think of Zen then, as I do almost daily now, when I hang the Christmas stockings this year and marvel at what a truly brave and remarkable little boy he continues to be.