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Is This Where I Leave You?

By AAKP Ambassador, Kelly Cline

Pediatric Kidney Pals E-Newsletter, Dec. 2018

As I walked down the stairs of my daughter’s new home, i.e. her residence hall at Virginia Commonwealth University, the reality that it was the end of what I had known for 18 years began to hit me. With each step I took down I walked further and further away from the daughter that I had devoted every worry, every sleepless night, every teardrop, and every heartache to.

But was it really the end of one thing or just the beginning of something greater?

Hannah is my first child, the baby girl I never really knew I wanted until I found out I was pregnant. Dreams of pigtails and gymnastics classes slowly gave way to doctor appointments, bedtime pills, lots of blood draws, and tears. Boy, were there a lot of tears – from us both. Hannah was 13 months old when we found out that she had a cancer of the kidneys called Wilms Tumor. My world was quickly rocked to its core and nothing was ever the same again.

A flurry of surgeries, chemotherapy, and very long medical words later gave way to a childhood for her that was never quite what I had imagined. She was diagnosed with kidney disease when she was 2 and received a kidney transplant from her dad when she was 11. But this was her childhood and it is what got her to where she is today.

The where she is today is VCU, a college in the state capital of Virginia, right in the heart of downtown Richmond. She is not gracing the walls of my house with her laughter, she is not carelessly leaving her dishes on the coffee table, she is not keeping me up at night until her curfew so I can be assured that she is in safe and alive. Instead she is getting to hang out with her friends, she is responsible for taking her medicines, and she is learning independence and growth in a way that I would never quite be able to teach her. In a word, she is Living.

Moving day for college came way too quickly for my comfort. Senior year seemed like it had only just begun, and surely graduation had not happened yet, had it? And yet, graduation was just a distant memory, the stress and worry of submitting college applications, visiting schools, and waiting to see if she was accepted were things of the past. And now, knocking on the door of my heart was my daughter, my firstborn, my child who had been chronically ill for 17 out of 18 years of her life who was not only getting ready to start a new chapter, but she was on the verge of writing a completely new book – her own.

Mommas, it is tough. Our kids, the ones who have been chronically ill for all or some of their lives, they are our dearest treasures. We don’t know what our lives look like other than through the lens of being their caregiver, their main support, their nurse, and their loudest advocate. But you know what? We still are. Because I can tell you right now that no matter what, when Hannah is sick, even at 18 she knows. She knows that her Momma wrote that specific chapter on what to do. She knows that her Momma wrote the Cliffs Notes on how to comfort her and how to know when an illness has become more serious than we thought. Her Momma knows when to tell the doctor what we are going to do and when to listen with ears that are attuned to the compassion in his voice for this child that he has cared for as well for so long.

So, is this where I leave you? In a college dorm with your laughter dying as I close the door behind me and walk away? On a college campus where I get a text with a stray picture or two because you know I am dying a little on the inside, but would never ever admit that to you? Or am I leaving you on the threshold of a life brimming with possibilities, success, and happiness beyond what you or I could ever imagine? We know the answer and together we will move through this rollercoaster of heartache, ugly tears, and laughter to come out on the other side even more amazing than either of us were before.