At the risk of sounding kind of sappy to my prospective reader who glances through the dust cover and foreword, please know that this book is not about “Love” per se. But it is defined by this common thread, woven by decisions that, while neither right nor wrong, were made with faith, decisions made both for and by the love of a little boy who has dared to defy the impossible.
What follows is on one level a simple chronology of that young boy (Brennan Simkins), his diagnosis with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), his family’s search for a cure, and the unyielding commitment of a support community.
This chronicle contains a lot of detail, some of it excruciating. To those who’ve fought or who live with cancer, this detail will be familiar. To those beginning this frightening journey, it will hopefully serve as somewhat of a guide in illustrating the types of things to expect along this path. But to others, it may provide insight into a real life journey of defiance, faith, and love.
Reading through all of this and selecting what to include in this book revealed a story that cannot be recited in pure chapter-by-chapter form. And while purely chronological by nature, it discloses a layering of trials and issues that could not have been digested all at once. Each entry rather deposits a new stratum on top of the old, each one representing a thicker layer of skin that allowed this band of brothers to survive.
Throughout this story, I found it difficult to avoid the “war” analogy, particularly that of the book and film, Band of Brothers. (Of course, this story is very much about brothers, their devotion to and love for one another in the most demanding and hellish of circumstances.) Just as the D-Day soldier believed, in June of 1944, that the war would be over by Christmas, I doubt they could have accomplished what they did had the crystal ball revealed the much more protracted and costly fight through the next year. Had our family been told that our middle child would be subject to three years of hospitalization and four bone marrow transplants with four donors—with the reality of death becoming more likely after each battle—I do not know that we could have braced for it, much less written about it. With that mountain ahead of me, it would have been too overwhelming for me to write anything.
What began as informational posts from Brennan’s aunt when the verdict was first passed that our son had cancer evolved into more descriptive narratives of the day-to day fight by both his mother and father, and ultimately transformed into a descriptive outpouring of prayer and naked expression. All of this has been cut-and-pasted and revised to a hopefully intelligible degree. The entries that “made the cut” are preserved here because they all share a common source, having been inspired from a very sacred and vulnerable space. I believe that this common thread represents how this writing has affected many others who were kind enough to follow the story as it was happening.
The over three years of blog entries that chronicle that struggle (effectively, a diary) can be an arduous read. But readers of our blog as it was posted were able to digest the story in small—yet often thick—doses. And just as those readers were offered portents of hope as they followed our story, battle-by-battle, so were we.
Throughout our lives, we take note of things “worth remembering.” My drawers and closets are full of photographs, letters, memorabilia, etc., things that at one time I had tagged as worth saving. The blog that evolved from my family’s experience with pediatric cancer serves as my written photo album. Editing through all 800 plus pages of what was effectively three years’ worth of writing, I found some things worth nothing more than snapshots: some whimsical, others simple journal entries not worth much to anyone but me, but others have been profoundly worth rereading. Indeed, I found some entries so powerfully emotional that I had actually forgotten the moment as documented. Like the details forgotten in the trauma of a car accident, these details were almost victim to amnesia, of sorts. Salvaging these links to my life’s chain, I am grateful to have reached backwards.
I have received comments from friends that this story is too dark, that I focus more on the difficulties than the positive lessons learned. I disagree, in that my most poignant lessons have been learned through pain. (Are not most?)
When one finds oneself (more than once) face-to-face with the ultimate sacrifice, that of a beloved child, one can find oneself pulled into one of two directions. The most immediate pull leads toward a path of anger. The other is faith, or as Kierkegaard says, “a passion for the impossible.” Or—as I interpret faith—a belief in the possible.
Many of these words were written from that place. The air is very thin there. When there is anger and confusion, there are no words to describe anything else. But where there is faith there is clarity. And where there is clarity, the words come easy.
When put face-to-face with the impossible, “the possible” begins to erode. In the fight for my son Brennan’s life, we faced numerous experts who told us “There is nothing else to do,” or “You have done enough.” I have felt “the impossible’s” cruel and relentless tug. My kids have seen too many other kids die.
But fortunately, I have also experienced the reflexive pull in the other direction—which, in this case, is defined by my love for my little boy. This book is one small and rare example of what is possible when all seems lost.
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