Thursday, May 5, 2011

Countdown to Graduation, Part Two

Tomorrow I will finally graduate from medical school.  As I have been reflecting on the past four and a half years, these are some of the memories I want to be able to share someday with G-Bear, E-Bear and Baby Bear.

Year Two

I took the summer off between first and second year of medical school.  Students feel a great deal of pressure to land a resume-packing internship, research position or clinical experience for the last summer of medical school.  I, on the other hand, was determined to spend as much time as possible with baby G-Bear.  We did all the things we hadn't yet done together:  we took long late morning naps together on the couch, explored the zoo, went on long walks without flashcards and even took a trip to visit family in Alabama with T.  

GranMo offered to care for G-Bear several days a week when I returned to school in the fall.  I studied and watched lectures from home when I could, and GranMo took G-Bear on days when my presence was required in small groups or lab sessions.  I pumped plenty of bottles at school, but whenever possible I would run home after a small group session or over lunch so that I could nurse G-Bear myself.  

We took final exams every 4-6 weeks during second year.  The material was interesting and challenging, but I had no idea how much harder the year would suddenly become in mid-fall.  In the middle of October, in the midst of neuropathology and sleep training with G-Bear, I came down with mono.  T was getting annihilated on his first trauma rotation and would routinely fall asleep moments after arriving home from the hospital.  Sleep deprived and overly exhausted, I asked Nana to come stay with us for a few weeks.  GranMo had been an amazing help, but she was starting to feel sick herself, and we needed back-up.  Nana got us through two grueling weeks.  It was almost time for her to head home.

Then came the Wednesday night that GranMo called.  She had been seeing a doctor for several weeks. He had run lots of tests, and the results were back.  My mom wasn't just sick.  She had multiple myeloma, a cancer of a cell in her bone marrow.  T and I brought pizza over to my parents.  We sat in the living room, and we all cried.  Multiple myeloma isn't a curable cancer.  Nana cancelled her flight home so that she could stay another two weeks.  Before T and I left my parents' house, mom said, "I just don't want this to affect your year at school."

For the second time in medical school, I was ready to meet with the dean to withdraw from my class.  My mom had cancer.  My daughter was only 6 months old, and I had no backup childcare plan.  My husband was getting obliterated at work.  My mom had incurable cancer.  She and G-Bear were best friends.  G-Bear would be too young to remember all the time they had spent together.

My three best friends met me at the door of our lab session the next morning.  Someone, either T or Nana, had called them to tell them the news.  I sobbed in the hallway and told them my plans to stop.  
"You are not dropping out," they said to me, "we are going to get through this together."

So as GranMo started chemotherapy the next week, I trudged back to school.  Every week I had to arrange a different group of babysitters to stay with G-Bear during my required small group sessions.  I did everything else from home while caring for her.  My study group friends made good on their promise.  They would come over in the afternoons after lectures.   We would sit on the floor with G-Bear and do flashcards or quiz each other.  I watched lectures as G-Bear napped, while we played, when we ate, as I did her laundry, and late into the night.  Just as I would start to fall behind, the study group would come over for dinner and spend all evening reviewing in our one bedroom condo.  They were ruthless in their commitment to get me through the year.   "We are all going to take Boards together on the same day this spring," we promised each other.  I wasn't so sure I would make it.

In January we received our first miracle.  Two wonderful women came into our lives to take care of G-Bear full time while I was at school.  In the nick of time, I was able to go back to class for the marathon spring semester before Boards.  G-Bear flourished with her new routine, and while I was far less thrilled with mine, I could see a light at the end of the tunnel.   A week before G-Bear's first birthday, I found out I was pregnant with E-Bear.  Like I said, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

But, we also received another set back.  GranMo's chemotherapy had done all it could.  A stem cell transplant was the best treatment her doctors could offer.  As I began to prepare for spring finals, GranMo was preparing for her transplant.  We drove the hour-long trip to her doctor together one day so that I could be with her for one of her planning sessions.  I was in the middle of my hematology oncology unit at school.  I didn't miss a single question about multiple myeloma on my final.

GranMo received her transplant as I started studying for Boards.  As sick as I felt, studying for Boards in my first trimester with E-Bear, I knew MoMo felt sicker.  I got to see her only one day during the process, when we drove down to see her for Mother's Day.   She had lost her beautiful hair.  GranMo is a fighter, and even though she was feeling awful, she had her best smile on for us.  G-Bear paused only for a moment when she saw MoMo;  even without hair, she knew the twinkle in the smile.  

Early in the morning on May 23rd, as promised, my study group friends picked me up and we went together to take our Boards.  That evening we had dinner together with our families.  MoMo and Papa called.  MoMo had been cleared to come home the next day.   As we celebrated together that weekend, we announced our news about E-Bear.  

It seemed as though we had been walking through parted waters.   Surrounded and threatened on every side, with God's help, His Name be praised, we had walked on dry land.


SnoWhite said...

Praise GOD!! He is faithful and a sustainer. Thanks for sharing His amazing work in your life.

B-Mama said...

I am a tearful mess by the end of this. What grace and fortitude and resilience you all had. Such a great story. I'm loving this.

Chrisy said...

What a mighty God we serve...even in tears :)