Pushing Up Daffodils
by Hannah K. Robison
You think of plants popping up through the ground those first few days as sunshine pierces through the clouds in early spring, when daffodils begin to grace pastures and trees begin to show signs of life again. You think of children you have babysat, whether in high school or college, and now you are attending their teen birthday parties or graduation ceremonies. Images come to mind of that haircut you got that you thought you would love, but rather hated so you waited for months, maybe even years until it returned to your desired length.
For me, these are a few things that come to mind when I watch the growth around me. The story about to unfold started with a small growth in my mom, but turned into an entire alteration of my life.
About a year ago my mom began to notice abnormalities in her health. Things that shouldn’t have been seen began to appear, but her doctor assured her all was well and she went on her way.
In October, she would begin to get ready in the morning and noticed clothes weren’t fitting and her weight was shifting. She teaches elementary music and I happened to have a presentation at her school one day during this season.
It had been awhile since I had really seen her. Not in her pajamas or loungewear, but in a professional setting and a cute outfit. Her voice sounded different, she showed true concern and she told me she had made an appointment. Looking back, I knew this was the moment when we both finally knew something greater was growing, something was certainly “not right.”
Her appointment was a couple weeks later and we were all anxiously awaiting the outcome, but unsure how to respond. I was at work, it was a normal day, until she texted my Dad and I and said they had found something. I immediately called her and was answered by an overwhelming amount of tears and emotion.
Her nurse had performed an ultrasound and found a mass the size of a cantaloupe on her ovary. Emergency surgery was even discussed because of the pressure it was putting on her other organs. Not the news we were expecting, but peace-providing all the same, because Mom finally stated, “I am not crazy!”
Bloodwork was ordered, other appointments were made and I was left to call Dad and tell him the news. In those moments, I felt like I assumed another role. I became an advocate for her when she was too upset to speak, unable to remember answers or just burdened with the bad news that kept coming. When her doctor reviewed her results the following week, she was immediately called in and given the measurements of the “tumor,” they began calling it, and a plan of action.
She was referred to one of three gynecological oncologist in the state of Arkansas and a surgery was scheduled for the tumor’s removal. I currently work in a hospital and hearing the word oncology is not a comforting term. Up until this point I just kept thinking, “OK, there’s a growth that has to be removed, we’ll get it taken out and she will be fine.” Her blood work had not indicated cancer, and no other signs or symptoms did so, either.
Her surgery was scheduled for Friday, November 18. Days before the Thanksgiving holiday. I took the day off, arrived at the hospital in Little Rock at 7 a.m. and met my parents, aunt and grandparents in the surgery waiting room. I quickly had to become acquainted with the unit because I would spend hours walking through its white-walled maze.
If you have ever experienced waiting for someone to get out of surgery, it may be the slowest grains of salt falling through the hourglass of time. Four-and-a-half hours later we received word the surgery did not go as well as expected and Mom would be immediately admitted to the Intensive Care Unit.
They found a tumor that had grown to the size of a basketball, attached to her ovary, bladder and pelvis. During the operation she lost half of her body’s amount of blood and multiple units had to be used to account for the loss. The moment I finally got to her room and saw her, it was as if the gutters had been holding fall leaves and they finally decided to collapse.
With a twinge of relief that she was alive, but also terrified at how pale and ghostly she appeared, I began to walk out of the room, covering my mouth, holding my hands up to my face and wailing. We’re not talking my usual silent tears behind closed doors or in the privacy of my own car, but rather full on sobbing while passing nurses, doctors, people I had never seen and would probably not see again.
The whole time I was looking for an escape. Somewhere to hide. To process what I had seen and heard and experienced. The only public bathroom on the entire floor was occupied. I was left vulnerable in the outside hallway, between the bridge of surgery waiting and ICU admittance.
After the initial shock and sadness, I made my way back to my Dad. “You OK?” he asked. “Yep. I finally let it all out.” The hours went by much faster as family and friends made their way to her room. Seeing her come awake from anesthesia will also be one of my favorite memories of the whole ordeal.
My younger brother and I were sitting on the couch in her room when I started asking her silly questions to gauge her consciousness. “Mom, who’s your favorite child?” “Rudy and Mojo,” she answered. Rudy is my parents’ Shetland Sheepdog and Mojo is my English Springer Spaniel.
She looked over at us and in all seriousness said, “I don’t love you equally, I love you differently.” John Mark and I looked at each asking, “What?” She said, “you know like the number 11—Hannah you’re 6+5, John Mark, you’re 3+3+3+1…” “That’s 10, Mom,” John Mark said. “Plus one,” she whispered with her eyes closed. We all burst into laughter, a moment of much needed levity.
The days to follow she was transferred to a room, where I assured her I would make it feel as comfortable as possible. I had bought her flowers and gifts and of course loved ones from all over sent arrangements to be placed on any and every surface in the room.
Her three closest teacher friends brought in cards her students had made her, all with cute pictures, funny comments and a butchering of our last name. My personal favorite said, “Feel better soon, Mrs. Robseon.”
Though she has no memory of those days, I always will. I’ll never forget what it was like to grow from being the child taken care of by the parent, to the child taking care of the parent. I felt like I had aged at least a decade in a matter of a few weeks.
There is rhythm to the hospital life. I see it in my profession, but seeing it from a patient’s perspective was entirely new. I was overly protective, always asking questions and meticulous about making sure Mom had everything she needed. I stayed with her one night, perfecting the routine of unhooking the oxygen, unplugging the IV pole, wheeling her to the bathroom and back to the bed.
Mom’s incision, being so extensive, required a machine called a wound vac to be worn until the area was sealed. She had the machine placed onto her stomach in the hospital and that pesky little thing made its way into our lives for what we expected to be weeks, but in reality turned into months.
Her tumor had been taken for a biopsy after surgery and on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, Dad let us know via text that he had good news and bad news. Not thinking much of it, I checked the phone and in a message between my brothers and I he wrote, “Good news! Mom is getting to come home today.” Next text: “Bad news. There is cancer.”
I was standing in the cafeteria of my hospital, trimming Christmas trees throughout the campus for the holiday. I exclaimed “Oh no,” slowly and unknowingly, out loud. Friends and co-workers surrounding asked for the news and after telling them I called Dad.
Hearing his voice made me tear up for a second, but I was determined to stay strong and hear what he had to say. Mom was fine, she had a suspicion the growth would be cancerous, even when we all believed it wouldn’t, and chemotherapy would be inevitable. I ended the call, went back to decorating and spent the rest of the day hearing the words, “My Mom has cancer,” running through my mind. I only let a few friends know at first, and I finally posted the outcome online.
I have to say that day sucked in more ways than one. I was scheduled to work at an outdoor event where the town would light up in Christmas lights, hot chocolate would be shared and we would hand out items to visitors.
The event brought a torrential downpour in which my closest coworker and I set out to distribute as many fleece headbands as we possibly could. Our tent was dripping with rain, our bellies were hungry and my heart was hurting. We wrapped up the night and went to a local bakery where I dearly love the owner. We picked out scones and right before I paid she asked, “How are you doing?” Not one of those, “Hey, how are ya?” types, but the full on, look into your soul, already knows your story, truly cares and wants to know, “How are you doing?” “I’m OK.” I said. Just hearing those words brought that sting that accompanies tears that you’re holding back. She grabbed my face, leaned over the counter and hugged me. A daughter knowing the hardship of a sick parent, and a friend loving fiercely even when there is chaos among a demand for scones and cookies.
Side note, I was also rear-ended the week of my Mom’s surgery, so while she was obviously not going to be driving anytime soon, I was driving her baby blue Prius. As an avid lover of all musicals, Mom had the Hamilton soundtrack in the CD player. I hadn’t quite made it through the entire album, but through divine intervention, “It’s Quiet Uptown,” played and leveled me.
“There are moments that the words don’t reach. There is a grace too powerful to name. We push away what we can never understand. We push away the unimaginable.” Lin-Manuel Miranda y’all. Mhm.
Your parent having cancer seems so unimaginable. The thought of coming home to a house where there will be no normal Thanksgiving and knowing you have to face the future with the notion that your Mom may never be the same is pretty scary stuff.
But she was home nonetheless and hours of watching Gilmore Girls ensued. I would care for her, tend to her needs, listen to her snore and watch her cry at the smallest parts of the show and one particular scene had her hysterical. So much of our relationship is similar to Lorelai and Rory’s, and in hours before Rory leaves for her first job, she questions why Lorelai is being so practical preparing for her to go. "If I stop to think about you leaving now, I’ll fall apart. We still have time left. It’s too soon."
Boom. The words she said encompassed the way Mom felt. Her greatest hurt in all of her struggle was not the physical pain, not the beeping wound vac attached to her body or the impending thought of chemo. It was the realization she could potentially be leaving her life and family far too soon.
We watched in silence, but her crying spoke volumes. There were no words to say. She would sit in the recliner my Dad bought for her on Black Friday and I would sit on the couch and hold her hand.
It was a weird time. Christmas came and went, the brothers’ birthdays, the New Year. And finally came the consultation with Mom’s oncologist. She would receive her treatment at a center only steps from my office. When we finally sat down to receive the details, her treatment time was cut in half and her prognosis meant that chemo would take her from being good to great. Her hair would still fall out, she would experience the peaks and valleys of the medication and she would undergo all the side effects that occur with such a strong dosage. For each treatment, I tried my best to be there with scones from Wild Sweet Williams and a smile to cheer up the long day of sitting, dripping and waiting.
On March 13, days before my Dad’s birthday, he had scheduled an appointment with one of our hometown cardiologist because he too had suspicions something was wrong with his health. After further examination the doctor wanted to admit him that night, but due to my Daddy’s stubborn request, he was admitted at 7 a.m. the following morning for a dye test.
When I got to their house the night before the exam, Dad called me out to the yard and told me he needed to talk to me without Mom hearing. He started the conversation with, “If something happens tomorrow…” Great. I am about to hear where his will is, how the property is being divided, where he hides things, etc. Before I launched too far into fear, he explained that he had gotten out money to buy Mom a red, Mustang convertible to drive home from her last chemo treatment in and he had planned to test drive one the next day. He gave me instructions and hoped his plan would prove to be possible.
We all got to the hospital bright and early the next morning and before the test was even over, he had a stent inserted and his doctor determined there was 90 percent blockage and signs showing an upcoming major heart attack. What’s even crazier is that when I left his hospital to go back to mine, I got rear-ended. Again. Talk about a double doozy.
After spending the day with him and before leaving the hospital, I snapped this shot of my Mom and Dad. It shows how pathetic and precious they are at the same time. They will also not be fond of the fact I am sharing it, but seriously, how sweet are they?
The following week my Mom received her last round of chemo and my Dad found a convertible just in time. He asked me to film and photograph the event of surprising her and as I waited behind the beam outside of the cancer center, witnessing my Mom come through those double doors, hearing my Dad tell her it was hers, and seeing their expression of love for one another, it GAVE. ME. ALL. THE. FEELS. She kept asking, “Is it really mine or do I just get to drive it home for the day?” “It’s really yours!” Dad said.
She was ready to pull out before I even had the camera ready, but she assured me she would let me take a few shots. “This is definitely going on Facebook,” she beamed.
I finally felt like those little daffodils bulbs, ready to push straight through the earth with their tall, dark green shoots and their big beautiful blooms. I had grown to realize so many things about myself and about the love the Lord has for us and our people.
Growth is a process full of pain and purpose. You ache when you are stretched, squeezed and burdened more than you think you could ever bear. You have visions full of fear, dreams full of dread, and questions left unspoken that keep you up at night and eat at you in the early hours of morning.
Growth is also full of moments of the purest faith, the deepest pursuits of letting your prayers reach your Father’s ears, and the most honest acceptance of help as you surrender your time, money and talents aiding those who need you most.
I don’t know if I have ever truly experienced the power of prayer as I did through this season. People I didn’t even know knew our story and reached out. It was hard reciting the facts to people over and over again, but it’s like any story and THE story we must be willing to share… “Wonderful story of love, tell it to me again.”
My growing came from giving up. I had to relinquish control, respect time and healing, and ultimately trust that God would work everything out for the good of those who love him. (Romans 8:28)
So to those of you feeling like you’re a seedling waiting to break the shell, stuck and waiting for rain to reach your roots, you’ll soon be a blooming daffodil, bursting from the earth, singing a song of praise, letting the Spirit move and work through you. Don’t be afraid to grow.
Hannah Robison is a hospital marketing coordinator, daughter to David & Kathy, sister of Mathew and John Mark, and mother to her dog, Mojo. She is an avid fan of all publications, photography and plants. She's a singer, writer, babysitter, Arkansas lover, and Christ follower. Find her on Instagram and Twitter, and follow her blog: pastpresentperfectionist.tumblr.com