Last night we watched the Patriots win yet another Super Bowl. Kudos to them. It wasn’t that interesting of a game in my opinion. I was in it mainly for the commercials. Part way through the game though, something hit me. That awful panic feeling in your stomach. Where you begin to sweat and your heart rate rises. Your breathing quickens. And suddenly I’m flashed back to February 5th, 2017, sitting in a tiny hospital room with our Kendal Mae, praying that tomorrow we learn she hasn’t really relapsed and that her neutropenia is just from a nasty virus.
I know I’m sitting in my living room in real life but the flash back is very vivid. I’m standing there in St. Mary’s hospital, in the dim lit claustrophobic room we would be banned to for the next 100+ days, watching Aaron hold Kendal’s squirming 19 month old body while 4 different nurses (including the PICU flight team) attempt to get an IV into her tiny hand. Then her foot. Then the other foot. Finally, success. The entire time she’s screaming and fighting back – Aaron dripping in sweat from holding her down. I’m standing there blinking back tears and watching thinking “This is not happening. We are not back here. She has NOT relapsed. No. No. No.” I remember trying to stay calm when they poked and prodded her repeatedly. I grit my teeth to keep from shouting “I know you are just doing your job, but damn it, hit the vein already!”
I remember surprising some nurses and staff with our knowledge of what was going on. With our demeanor and matter-of-fact attitude.
I remember cuddling with Kendal in her sweet flannel jammies that had gold and pink deer on them. It was a two piece set and the top was button down with a collar.
I remember she had a wand and she kept “putting spells” on us.
I remember when Auntie brought Kenedi and Teagan to visit and Kenedi was so excited to see her twin. Kendal was too weak to sit up but she managed a huge smile.
I remember Teagan and Kenedi both sobbing when Aaron took them back to his parents house to sleep that night.
I remember pressing the nurses and doctors to start Kendal on tamiflu since Teagan was diagnosed that day on our drive back to Mayo from South Dakota with influenza.
I remember thinking “maybe this is all just the start of influenza for Kendal and nothing more.”
I remember that in the background of this entire ordeal – this entire nightmare – Super Bowl LI was on.
I can’t tell you the score. I can’t tell you who won. I can’t tell you a single commercial that played. But I can tell you that I will forever associate the Super Bowl with relapse for Kendal.
Here we are, two years out from that scene and I still feel that same paralyzing fear and agony as if it were today. Back in 2017 even though I was filled with fear and uncertainty I was still very hopeful. I still thought she could beat the monster. I knew the pure determination that lived deep within Kendal would serve her well over the next few months. In the face of influenza and no immune system to fight it, I believed Kendal would pull through. And time and time again she did. She proved to be a warrior each and every day. She never gave us any reason to think she would not be fine in the end. Maybe that’s why I never really noticed that the Super Bowl was playing that awful day we checked back in. I never put those two together before: Super Bowl + Relapse. Or even: Super Bowl + Kendal’s Death. But now they seem to go hand and hand. Now we know that was the beginning of the end of Kendal’s life. The end of her story that none of us saw coming or wanted started with the Super Bowl.
It is odd how something simple can trigger such a big reaction. One second you’re enjoying football with your family and the next moment you’re reliving something you wish more than anything you could forget. PTSD related to childhood cancer doesn’t care though. It doesn’t care that you’re having a good family night. It can and does sneak up on you and it will try to break you. But we can’t let it win. We don’t let it win.
Did I go to my room early last night and cry for a good 20 minutes looking at old photos and watching old videos of Kendal? Yes. Yes I did. But then you know what I did? I got up this morning wracking my brain for ways to get more sponsors for Kendal’s 5k. I immediately started thinking about a post to get the word out that registration is now open (click there to register). I began thinking about what else I can do to fight back against the monster that is AML. The monster that has caused all of this heartache. I really wanted to sit around and feel terrible because I know these next few weeks are filled with anniversaries of things I wish there weren’t anniversaries for, but I know that wouldn’t be beneficial to anyone. So I got up and continued forward. That’s what we have to do. We have to keep working to not only keep Kendal’s memory alive but work to beat the beast that stole her from us. Keep working to ensure that there are more and better options if – God Forbid – Kenedi would ever need them. Or if any other person would need them.
We continue riding out these grief waves and moving forward because Kendal Mae wouldn’t have it any other way.