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Busy Mama: When faced with the unthinkable, all thinking changes

‘There’s no sign of lymphoma or other cancer,” my son’s doctor said.

And as if a switch was flipped, I re-entered the real world.

A short while later I realized that the days leading up to that moment in the doctor’s office had been filled with everything but thoughts of, well, the unthinkable.

At first it was easy to keep scary thoughts at bay because almost immediately after our son’s tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy, we were thrown into survival mode.

We figured he’d bounce back quickly like so many of our friends’ kids had. He didn’t.

Instead, he was in severe pain, throwing up and rapidly losing weight.

As parents, it was the toughest thing we had ever experienced. There were moments, especially during the first four days, when we thought about just loading him into the car and driving him to the hospital so that trained medical professionals could help him. We were overwhelmed and terrified.

My husband stayed home with him for the first 10 days, but I returned to work about six days later. One morning, I stumbled into the newsroom with a four-shot espresso drink in my hand. I’d had four hours of sleep, and none of them was in a row. It felt like we had a newborn in the house again, I said, half-joking.

Right after the surgery, the doctor had talked to us about the irregular shape and size of our son’s tonsils. One was deformed and significantly larger than the other. He said everything would probably be OK, but he was sending the tissue to pathology to check for a tumor.

He talked for a few minutes more, but I don’t remember the rest of the conversation.

When the doctor left, I looked at my husband and said, “That was weird. Did he say that he’s going to have one of the tonsils checked for a tumor?”

I only told a handful of people about the tests. I told myself I didn’t want to scare anyone, or make a big deal out of something that was probably nothing. Maybe pathology was routine for that type of surgery.

Look on the bright side, one of my friends said. It’s good that the doctor is looking for answers, and this might save your kid’s life.

I tend to obsess about information, but I didn’t even Google the words, “deformed, enormous or asymmetrical tonsils.”

If it was anyone else’s kid, or even myself, I would have researched it to the point to where I knew what they were looking for, every possible disease or disorder, typical treatment plans, side effects, homeopathic remedies and government studies. I would have known the best- and worst-case scenarios. I would have walked into that doctor’s appointment armed with plenty of information, as if that would have prepared me to handle any kind of news.

A few days after the surgery, I met a friend for coffee, and told her I thought it was strange that I hadn’t done on any research on you-know-what.

“I think that’s normal,” she said. “This is about one of your kids. Your brain isn’t letting you go there.”

Besides, she said, what good would all of that information be? It couldn’t change the outcome of the tests.

As our son was feeling stronger, I managed to fill every free moment in my life with an activity.

I worked on crafts, solved crossword puzzles, and practiced new chords on my guitar (which I hadn’t picked up in about a year).

I baked a peach pie with homemade crust, read a murder mystery novel, and sorted through a big stack of papers that had been on our desk for months.

By the time we got to his post-op appointment, I had managed to wipe the word “pathology” completely out of my mind. Instead, I had moved on to finding ways to make sure he didn’t fall behind in his schoolwork.

My son loved looking at the photos of his tonsils in the lab report. The doctor explained that his condition was due to chronic infections, not cancer.

Yep, there was that ugly word that has affected too many of our loved ones; the one that I refused to think about. The one that could just take a hike because there’s no way it was getting near my precious little boy.

It wasn’t until after the appointment, as my son was trying to match my step in the parking lot, that two weeks of stress and emotions caught up with me.

I blinked back tears, whispered a quick prayer of thanks, and took a deep breath. After all, it was time to come back to reality.

Staff writer Lisa Pemberton is one busy mama with three children. Reach her at 360-754-5433 or