Since "Ay, Mama!" is a blog for moms written by moms, I've invited MY mom, Diane Bobek, to share her story and reaction to Atia's leukemia diagnosis. She's been a part of our experience since the beginning.
She is always the first one I turn to in good times and in bad. She's an amazing mom and has always been a source of strength, wisdom, comfort and unconditional love.
Here's her story:
The Phone Call...
Around 7:30 am eastern time, Wednesday, three days after Easter, I was sitting with co-workers in a hotel lobby, drinking my Starbucks latte, waiting for my conference to begin. My cell phone rang and it was Laura. I was surprised that she was up making phone calls so early in the morning. It was only 6:30 am Chicago time.
I greeted her with a "Hi, Honey, what are you doing up so early?" When she hesitated, then began to speak, I knew there was something terribly wrong. In an almost demanding voice, not wanting to hear something bad, I asked her "What's wrong? What happened?" She gave me the news that Atia was admitted to the hospital and the doctors thought she had leukemia.
I felt like someone had hit me with a baseball bat. I was stunned, shocked, but didn't want to upset Laura more than she already was. I was at a loss for words.
I had been concerned about Atia not feeling well and her temperature spikes, the previous week and over the Easter weekend, but how could this be? How could I console my daughter? I was in Washington, DC attending a conference through the end of the week. I felt so helpless.
Laura told me that there were more tests being run and she would keep me updated. I think we tried to rationalize that the additional tests would probably show that Atia had something, but not leukemia. At least that was what I was telling myself. I told her I loved her, Atia and Steve. I asked her to give Atia a big hug and kiss from Nana. We said goodbye and ended the call. I went numb all over.
As I sat in the conference room with about 300 other people, I was in a daze. Several speakers took the stage. I knew they were talking, but I couldn't hear them. All I could think was how could this be happening to them, to Laura, to us? How was MY daughter, MY baby going to get through this? How could I protect them from the pain they were all facing? Hadn't they already been through enough? Why, why, why?
I couldn't stay in DC. I had to get to Chicago. I was on the first flight out of town. The journey to Chicago was so strange. I looked around at all the people at the airport. No one seemed to know that my world, my daughter's world had suffered a terrifying jolt. How could life continue, like any other normal day? Didn't they know what was happening to my family? Was this just another day to all of them, while it was one of the most frightening days in our lives?
I Flashed Back...
The flight was uneventful for the other passengers. I, however, was silently freaking out, rerunning the phone call from Laura in my mind, over and over again. I flashed back to the day in July 2004, when my mother called to tell me she had liver cancer. Then one year later, Laura called to tell me she had been diagnosed with melanoma.
I remember sitting out on the front deck of my house. I called my mother, who had been going through chemotherapy for almost a year by then, to tell her the horrible news. I cried and cried. "Mom, my baby has cancer." Those words are etched in my brain; remembering that conversation brings tears to my eyes, even now.
My mom, then my daughter.
I experienced several terrible days of sitting with Steve and some of their closest friends in the hospital waiting room, waiting for the results of Laura's many surgeries; hoping for the best news, fearing for the worst.
Laura was so brave. We held up to the best of our ability in front of her, but there were many hidden tears we kept from her. Fear is a powerful thing. Faith and prayer were our weapons.
One afternoon, when Laura was home recuperating from her first surgery after the diagnosis, Steve was in deep despair and in fear of losing Laura. I reassured him that we would get though this. I told him that I knew that God had sent him from heaven to be Laura's angel to get her through the tough times. I still believe that.
As parents, we try to shelter our children; protect them from harm, fear, sorrow. I was unable to keep Laura from getting cancer. Now, again, I was unable to keep her from the unspeakable sorrow and fear of watching her precious child experience the treatments, surgeries and pain that are necessary to save this precious young life.
Laura knew in her heart, from personal experience, what loomed before them...for Atia...too horrible for the mom of an 18-month old to contemplate.
I thought back to the days when my two daughters were little girls. How would I have handled this? Could I have stayed strong for them? I don't know that I would have had the strength to deal with something so traumatic. I was lucky. My girls were healthy, normal children; nothing more serious than a broken arm for Laura, when she was a pre-teen.
Now I found myself having to watch and support my daughter as she went through the same thing I did, but to a greater degree. This time the child was only 18 months old. To complicate matters, Laura was in her first trimester of her pregnancy. I was so worried that the stress she was going through would be detrimental to her pregnancy.
From My Heart...
It's been almost a year since Atia was diagnosed. I've witnessed her unspeakable pain; her little scars and marks from needles and surgeries.
Throughout these past months, Laura has exhibited such strength. At times, the medication makes Atia scream uncontrollably and throw tantrums. Atia gets scared because she doesn't understand why she does it or what's happening to her.
When these events occur, I've seen Laura speak to Atia in such a calm, soft and reassuring voice, no matter how crazy the medication makes Atia behave. It would be so much easier for her to close herself in a bedroom and let Atia cry it out, but she doesn't.
She has the strength of Goliath, and the tenderness of an angel.
Steve has been amazing. This type of trauma could strain any marriage to the breaking point and believe me it's been stressful. Steve has had to balance his need and desire to be at the hospital every day during Atia's long hospital stays, with the family's financial needs. He is so dedicated to his family. He somehow managed to work and spend long hours each day at his wife's side, supporting her and caring for his daughter as she was being treated. There was little sleep for either of them during those first months.
Steve and Laura are a formidable team. They are two of the most amazing people I've ever known. Their underlying strength and great love for each other and their little girl has been so inspiring to me. They've only been married for 5 years now and have had to withstand Laura's illness, Atia's illness and the loss of several close family members over the last few years....a lot for a young couple.
I'm so proud of both Laura and Steve. I admire their strength, their faith and their commitment to each other and their children. Together they can overcome any challenge that comes their way.