Seize the Day. If not now, when? Time flies. Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May.
Silence like a cancer grows…and in this light, taking silence to task, Hannah, my 15-year old daughter, a sophomore at Nothfield Mount Hermon, and I presented an assembly this week on “The Face of Cancer.” It was Hannah’s tale to be told. I followed her lead. Her idea. It was also the first time I really heard her full view of what she experienced during those initial calamitous days.
She has already launched the “NMH Cancer Team” for students whose lives have been affected by cancer or who simply want to become involved in providing resources and support. She organized a walk for breast cancer for Baystate Health Foundation, Rays of Hope, bringing in nearly $4,550 with her classmates. There are now over 50 members and she is thinking of taking such an initiative national. I am sure she will. She was brave and courageous. Standing in the Chapel, before the entire school population of nearly 700 students, faculty and staff, she was proud and radiant.
We recognize that not everyone is comfortable with any of this. None of us really are. Many were moved. Some were a bit shaken. Cancer, or any disease, illness or trauma is a deeply personal, private matter. There are no “rules” for managing this sort of event. But we believe no good comes of silence when you are fighting something so deadly and devastating and if by raising the awareness and consciousness of those around us we can help demystify, encourage understanding and the need for more resources, including research and support, then all the better.
Hannah, who in first grade, we were told by loving teacher Ms. Gravel, “runs deep” has taken this proverbially insane cancer bull by the horns and thrashed it to the ground. Her younger sister, Libby, has also stared down this animal with bravery, courage and compassion. I am deeply proud. We are all holding on, together. Sometimes quite literally.
November 7, 2011
Hannah Rose Green and Mark Richard Green
Nothfield Mount Hermon School, MA
Hannah: Good morning NMH. I am here today to introduce you to an amazing person, my dad. He is like me in a lot of ways; he has been my main role model since I can remember. He has a way of making friends with just a single sentence, maybe because he’s always smiling, always optimistic, and constantly cracking jokes. He’s also extremely active, and has more energy than any other middle aged man I’ve ever met. But he’s not just my role model, he’s also my best friend. I could never ask for a better father and friend.
Mark: There are moments in life that are completely out of our control. Some are minor disasters and others are of epic proportions. There is a particularly unstable glass shelf in our medicine cabinet, loaded with various items which from time to time comes loose, sending everything sliding and crashing to the sink below and you find yourself watching helplessly as the whole bathroom falls to pieces.
Hannah: This past summer, on a beautiful August day, the medicine cabinet fell. I came home from the pool to find my dad very sick. His eyes wouldn’t focus, his speech was slurred and slow, and he couldn’t walk straight. I knew something definitely was wrong when he didn’t touch his dinner. He said he was having a migraine, and went to his room to sleep. A few hours later, he came to tell me he had just thrown up and that my step mom was going to take him to the hospital. “He just has heat exhaustion,” my step mom assured me. She said that there was no reason for me to come, because they would probably end up waiting in the ER all night for him to get an IV stuck in his arm and sent home. So, I went to my moms to get some sleep.
But I didn’t sleep at all that at night, I was so worried about my dad. I waited all night for a text message from my step mom to tell me that my dad was fine. That message never came.
Mark: Once I arrived at the emergency room, I was given a CT scan and within 20 minutes the doctor delivered the news. I had a golf ball size tumor and it was serious. What happened next was like riding on an awful carnival ride. The feeling of shock and bewilderment we will never forget. Was the Dr. kidding? Surely he was just kidding…
I was immediately transported by ambulance an hour north to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Hospital. All I recall was the muffled sounds, the darkness, the whir of the tires speeding up the highway.
Hannah: My mom delivered the news the next morning. She told me the doctors believed his illness could be attributed to something inside his head. I almost started laughing. Something in his head? I remembered a time when I was little, when my dad would stick pretzels in his nose to make me and my sister laugh. What’d he do, get pretzels lost in his brain? I thought. “Mom what are you talking about?” I asked.
She answered with a word that changed my life. A word I would hear a million times in the days to come, and a word I still think about every day, and will think about forever: “A tumor.”
All I remember after that is uncontrollable crying, for hours, up until we drove up to the hospital to visit my dad, when my mom told me I needed to be strong for him. I was so scared to see him. It meant that the tumor was real and that I was not stuck in some crazy nightmare.
He was heavily medicated, because the tumor was putting pressure on his brain, causing him immense agony. He faded in and out of consciousness. When he was awake, he would vomit, cry, and ramble drunkenly about rainbows and unicorns. When he was asleep, he would curl into a crumpled ball, pale and weak.
Mark: I was stuck in a car crash which never seemed to end. I awoke, groggily, to a cacophonous riot of hospital machines, telephones, pagers, and people speaking softly and sometimes loudly, bright lights, a blur of sound and movement, and most painfully, the look of shock, fear and worry washing over my family. All I could do was think of my two daughters. I didn’t want to die. Not now. I’m not ready, I thought. The pressure on my brain was expanding. I was told later I had less than a week to live before the tumor, with no room left to expand, would have herniated into my brain stem, killing me instantly.
The tears welling up in Hannah’s eyes as she looked on with confusion and fear were the most devastating. I thought of Libby, away at camp, not knowing any of this. “What was happening to my dad?” Hannah seemed to be saying without even speaking.
Hannah: In the 10 hours I spent at the hospital that day, I watched my dad decline from bad to worse. He needed more medication every hour, woke up less, and became paler, more delirious, and more uncomfortable. The only part of his body that had any color was his neck, where the bleeding from his brain was pooling. I understood then that if that tumor was not removed as soon as possible, my dad would not be alive much longer. The surgery was moved to the next morning. Saying goodbye was the hardest. I begged to sleep at the hospital, but neither the doctors nor my family would allow it. I was positive that if I left, it would be the last kiss goodnight I would ever share with my father.
Mark: But, I did make it through the night, and at 6 the next morning my skull was opened up, the tumor removed, titanium screws and plates inserted, and sewn back up.
Hannah: His surgery finished with no complications, and I was rushed into the recovery room to visit him. My dad was awake and ready to party. He was cracking jokes to the staff, and to the other patients, trying to make friends and have fun.
I remember this as one of the happiest moments of my life. The trials of the past day were over, and my dad and my life were both almost back to normal. Until, a few hours later, when the doctor returned with the diagnosis of the tumor.
Mark: Stage III Brain Cancer. Anaplastic Ependymoma, to be specific. An already rare cancer, it occurs over 95% of the time in children. Not much information for the doctors to work with. What the doctors do know is that the cancer is incurable and is a lifelong diagnosis. They said despite all efforts to radiate it, the tumor will eventually grow back, and could be operated on again, but not radiated again. There is no other treatment, save for experimental trials for which I will be eligible when the tumor returns. We didn’t know when the tumor will come back. It could be in a year, it could be in 5, 10 years or more.
Hannah: The doctor hadn’t even finished explaining before I was gone. I ran from the room, and cried on my mom’s shoulder for a very long time. “He’ll never see me graduate, never see me get a job, never walk me down the aisle, never meet his grandchildren.” She didn’t deny it like I wanted her to, but instead told me advice everyone should live by. “You can’t live your life worrying about the future.” It took me a long time to accept this, but it became easier when my dad returned home a few days later. He recovered quickly, and soon, his illness was almost forgotten.
Mark: Until several weeks later, I had a second brain surgery to remove the remnants of the tumor. At the end of this week, I will complete 33 treatments of radiation therapy to kill what they can of the cancerous tissue which remains. I will have, for the rest of my life, to monitor things with tests and MRI’s. It is the emotional mountains which appear to be the steepest. Cancer is a sinister disease and will now always be lurking within.
Hannah: I was already back at NMH when my dad had the second surgery, and I felt enormous guilt for not being at home to support him. But I quickly realized that I was not alone. My story is one in over 11.7 million. The story I just told happens every day to countless families around the globe every day. In the time I’ve been talking, 4 people have died in US because of Cancer. And I can guarantee that every single person in this room will be affected by cancer at some point in their lifetime. And maybe some of you already have been.
This was my inspiration to start the Cancer Support Team. To support kids on campus who have been affected by cancer, and also to support cancer patients in every way we can.
The cancer team has already raised almost $5,000 dollars for cancer, and this past weekend participated in a cancer walk in Greenfield.
There are a number of ways you can get involved in fighting cancer, and helping prevent any more of these stories from happening. Whether you want to commit to joining the 50 of us who are part of the cancer team, or make it a 1-time thing, there is a force in numbers.
This month, we will be selling t-shirts and also holding a haircutting event if you would like to donate your hair to cancer or even shave your head to show your support
As most of you are aware, this month was breast cancer month. But tomorrow is the first day of November; I would like to bring attention to the most fatal cancer, lung cancer. The lung cancer color is white. Please show your support by participating in an all school white out. Thank you.
“In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love, you invest your life
In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love, you invest your life” – Awake My Soul, Mumford and Sons
Guaranteed, Eddie Vedder
On bended knee is no way to be free
Lifting up an empty cup, I ask silently
All my destinations will accept the one that’s me
So I can breathe…
Circles they grow and they swallow people whole
Half their lives they say goodnight to wives they’ll never know
A mind full of questions, and a teacher in my soul
And so it goes…
Don’t come closer or I’ll have to go
Holding me like gravity are places that pull
If ever there was someone to keep me at home
It would be you…
Everyone I come across, in cages they bought
They think of me and my wandering, but I’m never what they thought
I’ve got my indignation, but I’m pure in all my thoughts
Wind in my hair, I feel part of everywhere
Underneath my being is a road that disappeared
Late at night I hear the trees, they’re singing with the dead
Leave it to me as I find a way to be
Consider me a satellite, forever orbiting
I knew all the rules, but the rules did not know me