After Aiden’s July 22, 2011 MRI he was taken back to his room to sleep off the sedatives he’d been given. Tim and I sat for a while before deciding we should eat something before the doctor came back with results. He left to get our late lunch. I sat on the edge of the hospital bed and tried to watch the old black and white movie that was playing on the little TV hovering over us.
The doctor came in much sooner than expected. He trailed in a couple of other doctors and some nurses. “Hello, Mrs. Vergori. I’m a pediatric oncologist. We need to talk.” I only needed the specifics at that point; I knew an oncologist I’d never met wouldn’t be the one to break good news.
The trouble was that Tim wasn’t there. We waited a few minutes. I could feel my heart pounding through my ribs. My mouth was dry and my stomach cramping. The medical professionals huddled awkwardly in the background while Dr B asked if I wanted to go look for Tim. I took a quick turn around the food court and skimmed through the convenience stores without finding him. I hoped I’d missed him and he was back in the room. He wasn’t.
I waited a few more minutes before telling Dr B that he would have to talk to me alone. He answered that I would need Tim with me for the news. I told him that I already knew it was bad news and that I couldn’t sit there while they all stared at me with the knowledge of my son’s condition. I couldn’t wait. He conceded.
I followed him out of Ward C (the pediatric oncology ward, I would later find out—they had suspected cancer all along, even checking him in there before he was diagnosed), and into what I later knew to be the Pediatric Day Unit. It was where kids with cancer went for treatments that didn’t require hospital admission. It was closed for the day. I was led by Dr B into Room 4, and followed by our medical entourage. They filed in and took seats facing the doctor and me. All eyes were on us. He and I were the show.
His English-accented voice was soft and direct. I tried to catch what he was saying but it came in hard, earth-shaking waves. I could only hear small threads of the total monologue: The brainstem should be narrow, but it was big and bulging. A tumor. No cure. Radiation supplying a small amount of time. Treatment. Our family was American. We might want to move back home immediately. I don’t remember saying anything but I must have because he answered: without treatment Aiden had months; with radiation he might have a year.
What struck me as absurd, and still does, was that after his talk our audience let out a collective sigh and someone exclaimed how brave I was; “not even a tear”. Had someone knocked me silly with a cast iron frying pan I may have looked and acted much the same as I did then. If you’ve ever had a car accident, you may have experienced the slow-motion moments from when you realize you’re going to crash until the seconds after when the damage is done. That’s where I was: slow-motioned shock.
The entourage filed out and I was left with Dr B. I can’t tell you if we spoke. I have the sense that we did. Somehow he knew when Tim arrived and went to get him.
I could see through the windows into Ward C from my hard plastic seat in Room 4. I saw Tim walk down the hall, shopping bag in hand. I saw the doctor pull him aside, and Tim gesture that he would put the food in the room. I could see his tension. His face didn’t show emotion, but I saw the intensity of his eyes.
And then I experienced my first wave of conscious emotion: I felt unspeakable sorrow that Tim was going to be told his son would die.
It’s strange, the way the mind parcels out bits of emotion slowly so one isn’t overwhelmed. It was days before I had a coherent thought concerning my own feelings about the cancer. I actually apologized to others when I told them about the tumor. “I’m so sorry I have to tell you this…” I remember the shock on a friend’s face when I broke the news- I fully comprehended her thoughts and feelings. I couldn’t tell my own for anything in the world.
And so it was with my first emotions: I was horrified and broken that Tim would have to walk into Room 4. When he did, he took on the weight of the new world we lived in.
Tim’s thoroughness and hope were apparent from that first meeting. He asked intelligent questions, seeking to understand. He heard the name of the diagnosis: diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma. He gleaned information from Dr B, and throughout that night formulated more questions to ask in the morning. (We stayed a night because Aiden remained very sedated.) He expressed deep concern for the pituitary gland that would be killed off due to radiation, even though we were told that it wouldn’t matter- the doctor said Aiden would be gone by the time that became an issue. Tim refused to believe that. He only agreed to radiation when he was assured what was lost with the pituitary could be replaced with a pill.
Once we got home, he spent hundreds of hours researching possible therapies for Aiden. Since so many cancers have gone from terminal to survivable, it’s reasonable to assume that DIPG has a medical cure as well. Tim set out find it. His studies ranged from natural treatments to legal drugs. While I did much of the hands-on work for Aiden, Tim did the virtual work via the internet. He read many studies and eliminated options while pursuing others.
He reminded me of the father in the parable of the prodigal son. He never gave up. His eyes remained on the horizon, looking for the signs of hope. While we were told to accept the inevitable, Tim wouldn’t. Giving up on Aiden wasn’t an option. Eleven months after the diagnosis, he remained so singly focused on Aiden’s recovery that I had to call his attention to the signs of Aiden’s last minutes approaching.
I’ve learned volumes on Tim’s character through this experience. I have seen the deepest level of loyalty, faith and determination possible. What must have looked like denial to some was actually one of the deepest loves known- a father’s for his child.
Tim has a famous family saying that, honestly, drives the kids and me a little nuts: “Stick together!” We don’t walk through a parking lot in a broken group without hearing him call it out. But now it means something more to me. I don’t just hear “stick together”, I hear “I won’t leave you.” That’s what he said to Aiden and what he would say to any of our kids, and to me. It’s not that Aiden was the special exception that received this devotion; Tim initiated it because of who he is. He wants to provide for us, to protect us.
I’ve learned so much of God’s love for us. The pain I endured seeing my son suffer and die, my heavenly Father endured for my sake, though His son Jesus was perfect in every way and needn’t be subject to human suffering. The dedication Tim showed to Aiden is only a shadow of what God shows to us. God’s love is Tim’s love, perfected and multiplied. What Tim showed in months, God shows outside time. Tim is limited by the boundaries of his skin; God hasn’t a single boundary. His love is perfect.
“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father,the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)