Be Your Bravest!

October 20, 2013

I first noticed something was wrong with Steve my Step dad when were goofing off one night. Sitting at opposite ends of the sofa, I had my legs stretched out over the middle cushion. He reached over and slapped my foot, then looked at me as to say, “What are you going to do about it?” I tried to stretch out to kick him in the leg but having short legs made that kind of hard to do. I was barely able to press my big toe against his leg, but he reacted like he had just been stabbed. I did not mean to hurt him, I saw tears in his eyes and I was scared. I wished I could take it back, I wished I had not tried to kick him.
I remember the day that Steve was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) like it was yesterday. May 28, 2010, it was a Friday and we were getting out of school early for the Memorial Day Weekend. I was so excited; we were supposed to go camping. When I got home from school my grandma was at my house waiting for me. She told me that my mom had taken Steve to the doctor and she was going to be home late. Grandma said she was going to stay with me for awhile and that we would go out to dinner. We ate Mexican food.
When my older brother Tyler came home early I knew something was wrong. Tyler was 19 and he never came home right after work. My grandma and my brother were both sitting in the living room but they were not really talking. They would not tell me what was happening; I was really scared and mad. I wanted to shout at them, “I am 14 years old I am not a baby, tell me what is wrong!” I heard them start talking quietly and I was sure my grandma said “cancer”. I really wanted to scream now, “Does Steve have cancer?” The only other person I ever knew with cancer was my Grandpa, but he died when I was only 4 years old. I had heard my mom tell Steve earlier in the week that she was going to make him see the doctor. She told Steve she was worried that he had Leukemia because he was having the same symptoms that her friends husband had when he was diagnosed with Leukemia. I do not think she knew that I had heard them talking. Was Leukemia the same thing as cancer?
Finally my mom called. I could tell that she had been crying and that she was trying to sound cheerful. She asked to talk to my brother first and that made me really mad. I wanted her to talk to me first, I wanted to know what was happening, when was she coming home, were we still going camping or not? I asked if Steve was coming home with her and she got really quiet. She started to cry a little bit and said “no honey, he is not coming home with me today.” I literally felt my stomach hit the floor, it felt like everything was spinning. I asked her “why not?” and she told me that he was very sick and the doctor’s want to keep him at the hospital for a little while. “What’s Leukemia?” I could tell she did not know what to say when I asked that question. “It is cancer of the blood” is all she said.
When mom got home we met her out in the kitchen. Seeing her made me start to cry, Tyler started crying too. She had not said the words yet, she did not have to say them, we already knew. Tyler asked if Steve was going to die. The room started spinning again, I felt my stomach dropping, and it was as if I was under water hearing people talk. “He can’t die, he’s supposed to be my dad, what about the adoption, what’s going to happen to me?” I heard the words but I was not sure if I was actually saying them or not. This can’t be happening, why was this happening?
Why do bad things happen to good people?
Steve was legally just my Step dad but to me he was my dad. My real father turned his back on me when I was only 10 years old. I could not lose Steve too. Mom promised me that they would do everything they could to make sure that nothing interfered with Steve adopting me and legally becoming my Dad. I was still going to be Kristin Thomas, she promised.
Mom sat both Tyler and me down at the table and she started explaining what was going on. She explained that Steve had been diagnosed with a very aggressive form of Leukemia. The doctors were going to do everything they could to kill the bad cancer cells. He was already having his first Chemo treatment when she left the hospital to come home. She told us that the next couple of weeks were very critical for Steve and that he needed all of us to be strong for him. She said the best thing we could do for Steve was to take care of everything at home and to take care of each other so he did not have to worry about us.
The next day mom and I went to visit Steve. We took him some of his own clothes so he would not have to wear the hospital stuff all the time. I freaked out a little bit when I saw him. He had these tubes sticking out of his arm with IV bags hooked up to it. Steve told me it was called a PICC line or a “catheter” that went thru his veins all the way from his arm to his heart. This is what they used to give him his Chemotherapy and IV fluids. He looked like an alien! I still did not realize just how much our lives were was going to change.
Twenty Eight days, that’s how long Steve was in the hospital. My adoption hearing was set for July 2010 but no one knew if Steve was going to be out of the hospital or not. I was scared he would die; I just knew that he was not going to be able to adopt me. I hated cancer. Cancer was trying to keep me from having a real dad, one that wanted me, one that loved me. I could not believe it when my mom came home one day and told me that our Attorney had talked to the Judge and the Judge had agreed to do the adoption immediately. We were going to the Judge’s chambers the next morning and he was going to perform the adoption with Steve over the phone from his hospital bed. June 16, 2010 my wish came true, I had a real dad and I knew that he loved me very much. My last name was changed and now I, my mom and my dad all had the same last name. Cancer did not get to take that away from us
It has been almost three years since my dad was first diagnosed with ALL. I am now 17 years old and a senior in High School. My dad received a stem cell transplant in January 2011. He has been in remission since that time but he is not free and clear yet. I still haven’t fully relaxed. Every time my dad has blood work done we hold our breath until the results come back cancer free. He is suffering from Graft vs. Host Disease (GVHD) of the skin. His donor cells are attacking his body and he is fighting rejection. Some days he looks like he is severely sunburned. Other days it looks like he has extreme cases of Eczema. His appearance has changed so much; he has lost over 70 pounds and he looks like he has aged 10 years
Every day I still worry about when he is going to get sick again. I spend more time at home than most teenagers do. What if I am out with my friends and he gets sick or my mom needs me to help her with the animals? Even though my parents encourage me to live my life and not to worry about them, I can’t help it. I learned at a young age to worry. I learned to not take my family for granted, to appreciate and love them. When I would leave the hospital after visiting my dad he always said “Be Your Bravest” and I would say it back to him.
As horrible as cancer is, my parents never questioned why? I never heard my dad say “why me?” I remember listening to my mom talk to someone on the phone and she said that she believed this happened to our family because we had what it took to get through this. She said that this was a wake up call that we needed to slow down, we needed to appreciate all the good things we have and to not dwell on the bad things. She always reminded me that no matter how unfair I thought all of this was or how much it all sucked that there would always be someone who had worse things they were dealing with. I learned to have empathy and compassion for others because of this experience. My parents never stopped laughing; they never gave in to the evils of Cancer. I now know that as I begin preparing to move onto the next step in my life that I have the strength to be successful. I have the character to take on any challenge that comes my way. You never know how strong you are until you are forced to be your strongest. Continue to be your bravest dad, I am.
Kristin Thomas