Riley

September 14, 2001

My brother and his wife had their first child together last spring. Her name is Riley. Her maternal grandmother's maiden name was Riley so this was a family nod. To add to that tie Riley was born on the same day as her grandmother, March 13th. To say that the arrival of their first grandchild unhinged my parents would be an understatement. Who knew they were this nuts about grandchildren. It has been a joy to watch them enjoy their granddaughter.

It has also been hard to watch. I am extremely fortunate that I found and married my perfect partner. Michele is my friend, my very best friend, and my lover, and my companion, and my hero. We are wonderful together. We both knew before we walked down the aisle that children would not play a part in our life together. This is not an easy position to realize on our society. We have both struggled with strong feelings of quilt and inadequacy as a result. When my brother and his wife presented my parents with a grandchild I was very jealous. It has been very painful to watch the attention and focus be lavished on them. For a long time as the oldest son I had a favored position, at least from my perspective. Now in a flash it was gone. I have struggled greatly with feelings of jealously and hurt.

Before Riley was born the doctors discovered an enlargement of one of her kidneys. Her mom had dozens of ultrasounds as they tried to determine what this meant. At birth she was happy, healthy and outwardly perfect. Riley's parents were told to bring her back at six months for a series of tests, including a CAT scan to further investigate this enlargement.

Everyone's worst fears were realized when the word was neuroblastoma. This childhood cancer can be deadly. The early discovery and localized appearance of the tumor were in her favor. Within two days she was admitted to the hospital. More tests resulted in surgery being scheduled.

To further set the stage you must know that 28 years ago my sister died from leukemia at age 11. She would have been Riley's aunt. My family has never faced or overcome the scars left by Amy's death. I have fought and struggled for years to understand and cope with the emotional baggage left by that event. The prospect that little Riley's may die from cancer as well sent me into a tailspin.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001 the terrorist attack on NYC and DC happened and the world became a very scary place. The enormity of this global horror hadn't begun to sink in when I had to set all of that aside and go to be with my family at my brother's side during Riley's surgery on Wednesday.

Her procedure lasted for more than 5 hours. In the end the were able to remove all of the tumor. Riley is recovering nicely and should be allowed home in a few days. There will be one more procedure to collect bone marrow but that can't happen until the airlines and air freight carriers are working again as the sample must go to Boston of all places.

In the span of 6 days the entire world stopped making sense. On Friday everything was fine. That evening Riley was diagnosed as maybe having a malignant monster inside her. On Tuesday a monster reached out and altered our reality forever, and ripped our sense of freedom from us. On Wednesday a brave little girl underwent life saving surgery with barely a whimper of protest.

We live in a terrible and tragic world, which also contains great good and heroism. A week ago I had priorities in my life. I knew what I needed to accomplish. Today none of those has any importance to me. How can I be at all concerned about work deadlines or gas prices when in 24 hours time I watched in horror as thousands lost their lives on live television and waited while a few dedicated people performed a miracle on one small girl? I feel adrift in a sea of emotions and images. I can barely concentrate long enough to brush my teeth and yet I find myself doing familiar things with ease.

I don't know what any of this means. I know there are lessons here for me to learn. I learned a long time ago that life was fleeting and ephemeral. I have been rudely reminded of that this week.

I say to you dear reader, I love you. I care that you are here in this life. You make a difference, you are vital to this world. Treasure who you are and what you bring to the lives around you. Stop and tell those you love how you feel. Share the only thing that is truly yours to give - your love.

I love all of you.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.