Tuesday, January 26, 2010

…So why isn’t Bronco calling?

On New Year’s Eve, B had a final check on his shoulder following his eventual season ending injury in week 4. He had been wondering whether trying to walk on as a wide receiver somewhere next year was even going to be a possibility. He received great news that the nerves carrying vital messages from his brain to his arm and shoulder seemed to all be firing. He was told that he still needed to continue to rebuild strength, but through diligence, he would return to full use and ability. Thus he is cleared to play football next fall. B’s hip had been bugging him whenever he played basketball hard for 45 or more minutes- constant running. Since he decided not to play high school basketball this year, the pain was not daily- more like weekly, or so. His orthopedic x-rayed his hip. At the bottom of the screen was a questionable mass near the center of his femur. They x-rayed the femur and saw a large tumor.
We were referred to an orthopedic oncologist in a larger city nearby who ordered MRIs and CT scans to be completed prior to our office visit. I was a little sneaky and thus able to secure a copy of all of the radiologist reports. Obviously, there was a chance this was cancer. I wanted to google all of the terms and possibilities so I felt somewhat educated when we met with the doctor. Basically, it was one of two possibilities: osteosarcoma (cancer of the bone), or a healing fracture. I wondered what the possibility was of his leg having been injured to 'that' degree and warrant no complaining. I had recalled him saying, at some point, he got hit in the thigh and expected a banner bruise big enough to brag about. He hadn’t even remembered that. He reminded me that playing football meant something hurt everyday.
I spent hours day after day during the first week of January watching every down of every game to see if any of the hits could seemingly produce the impact that would have been required to fracture his femur. He would come home from school and look at the plays I had highlighted over the days videos. It seemed more often than not he had two defenders on him when he caught the ball, and always had to make leaping heroics to secure a catch. After the second full afternoon of watching game tape and B saying “no” to all hits that I had him review, I was frustrated. I know the frustration was not out of lack of success in finding the hit. It was the frustration I felt when it seemed evident that somehow I’d have to adjust from being a mom in the bleachers to a mom in the doctor’s waiting room. My comfortable role of making brownies had changed to my role of readying B for his biopsy surgery scheduled for Tuesday, January 12.
I stayed in at the computer, watching more football, wishing things were different, not just now, but then. Sadly- there were only a few games to review tape of. I delighted in spending some time -just watching him. Whether it was running a route, or blocking for a gain on the ground, I was reminded of how tall, strong and quick he had become over the previous years. I was also reminded of how fleeting some moments in life are.
As I stared at the computer screen, B hollered in at me from his plate of pre-workout pasta at the kitchen counter. “Mom.”
“It was the first home game of the season…just before halftime… I was running a crossing route over the middle…I had double coverage… I didn’t catch it…check out that one.” With that announcement, he followed it with a final bite of pasta, and a “see ya” as he headed off to the gym.
I dug up the tape his dad made of that game. Our camera produces a less grainy copy than the coach's and usually had a little zoom to B. I found the play. I watched it over and over in forward, slow motion and reverse. It looked similar to all the others. He ran a crossing route across the middle. He had double coverage. The pass required a large vertical leap. He couldn’t snag the pass, but was greeted by two defenders. One of which possibly seemed to have his knee collide with Bren’s left femur. He landed on the ground. He shook it off as he ambled back to the huddle. The last play before the half, he sprinted in seemingly effortless form on an under thrown post pattern. Then off to the locker room with the team at half time.
After he came home from his workout, I had him watch the play. “Yep.” He said with surety. “I remember grabbing a heating pad at halftime- to keep those muscles from tightening up.”
So-I was holding on to the slight chance that the five inch tumor in my son’s leg was the result of a fractured femur, and not a cancerous mass. Over the next few days, I thought less about his possible injury and more about the likelihood that it was cancer. I thought about the impact this may have on the other kids. As I drove home from some errands that afternoon, I attempted to drown out my thoughts with some loud music. Unfortunately, I started thinking louder.
Saturday night, I found some time and space alone outside for awhile enjoying a quiet soak in the hot tub. I surveyed the beautifully bright stars and began to speak with God. I told Him I would do my best to be strong. I asked Him if He was going to take B early from our family. I told Him I would understand why He would want him. I know B would be a valiant worker on the other side of things in continuing God’s work. I told Him that I would love to have B’s stay with us extended, but would understand why He may have a different course laid out for him. I felt peace and love-- for the short term- and the long term.
Monday morning, our bags were packed and the younger kids were set to stay here. B, W and I began our easy road trip to the city. We were scheduled to see the doctor in the afternoon. He would at that time let us know Tuesday morning’s surgery schedule for the biopsy. The biopsy would need to be “open”, meaning a large incision in his leg to remove a piece of this new bone tumor. We felt prepared for the course ahead- as much as possible.
We arrived early and transitioned from the aches of a long sit to a chair in the waiting room. I watched other patients come in and wondered what their stories were. I thought about the possible friendships that would be formed with other families with similar plights. B distracted himself with his cell phone, a new one he received for Christmas.
Before too long, B’s name was called. We were led to a small sterile room with one chair and short exam table. After a time, the doctor’s PA entered the room. After quick introductions, she pulled up B’s images on her computer. She commented on how she had never seen anything like this before. That was comforting- - not! She asked B a few insignificant questions, and said the doctor would be in shortly. Before too long, the orthopedic oncologist entered this cramped exam room. Introductions circled around. I was distracted by his inside out looking scrub top tucked unevenly into his black tight jeans. I missed the fact that he called me “mommy” despite me clearly stating my name. He too looked at the images of B’s leg via CT scan and MRI. He said twice, with greater certainty the second time, “This is not a malignant tumor. --Somebody just kicked your butt.” He explained that he must have fractured his femur playing football a few months prior, and gave him kudos for being so tough. Because he sought no medical attention, the body grew its own support system. Moments later we were excused. I stumbled out into the waiting room, a little shocked by our abrupt dismissal. The receptionist asked if we needed to schedule again.
“No- actually, we don’t.” I said.
Her eyes got a little red and her face broadened with a smile as she said- “I was really hoping for you guys.”
We exchanged parting pleasantries. I quickly looked around the room on our way out as I began to feel guilty that we were getting off so easy.
By the time we exited the building, I was already sending Y a text message: “ Nothing is wrong with your brother. We will be home tonight!” B decided we shouldn’t waste our big city road trip. We spent the next few hours shopping and eating at Red Robin.
As I munched on a steamy french fry (stolen from my husband’s plate because I ordered something healthy) I had to wonder. Was this doctor right? Could B really have fractured his femur and played through it? I guess if that’s true, he must be tough. And if he’s so tough, then why isn’t Bronco Mendenhall calling?

A week after returning home, I was trying to piece together this short yet intense life journey, and define what I had learned from it. All week, I had been very tired. I had geared up for tending to B laid up on the couch and a slew of appointments to follow. I was aware of the need to be mindful of the other children and their day to day needs. I was ready for the challenge. When there was nothing, instead of new found energy, I felt exhausted- exhausted, but grateful. The epicenter of tragedy on January 12 was in actuality far away from my home and my child. While my heart aches for the devastation the Haitians are seeing, and living, I understand my role a little more. I understand my faith a little more. And truly, I understand the need to be grateful for the today that I –we have. I am grateful that B can still run, jump and play- at least for today!!