When the Doubt Kicks In

Jono Nagel Stories

My daughter lies back in the tub on a white towel in the warm water, overjoyed with herself as she splashes. She is 8 months old: beautiful, smart and happy. Her soft brown hair swirls in the water and her blue eyes crinkle. I should just be overjoyed at this happy moment, this quiet ritual before bed. A little crazy before calm with the joy of splashing and then snuggles in a warm bed should make me happy. And for a moment I am. Happy. Then, thankful.

Then I remembered why I always feel thankful. I look at her tummy, full and round from chicken and milk. And the doubt kicks in, and the guilt. All in a moment. Does it just look full? Or is it distended? I couldn’t tell with my son…

I palpate her tummy with the knowledge of where her organs are and how they should feel. Liver, kidneys, and spleen. The spleen can be an early indicator of something wrong. It seems to get agitated and enlarged when something is wrong. I think about how I would feel if she got diagnosed with cancer too, and wonder if I would feel as shattered and pulverized as I did the first time.

As I’m looking at her she grins at me and says, “Ma Ma Ma Ma” and clasps her hands together. I wash her little rolls and I am grateful again.

Then I get to her chest and I know exactly where they would stitch the central line in and where it would trail under the skin to a larger vein in her neck. I place my finger on the depression in the sternum where my son’s line was and remember exactly what the looping black stitches looked like that held the white tube in place. I am sobered and sad and grateful at my daughter’s scar-less chest.

Written by Ames Ziemba 
Ames is the mother of Joey and Nancy. Joey, now 3, was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma when he was just 18 months old. Read Joey’s story, A Button of Bravery.

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