On August 31, 2015 we brought Shawn to the doctor to try to find out what was going on with the oddly patterned vomiting. It would be another week until we returned to his pediatrician and were sent to the CHOP Emergency Department when the pediatrician thought she saw papilledema, swelling of the optic disc, during an eye exam. It would be another 7 months until we received his cancer diagnosis and another two months after that until we received the medulloblastoma diagnosis after the results of the genetic testing came back.
With one exception, I have spent every late August since I was five years old preparing to return to school or begin a new academic year at work. The start of a new school year feels more like New Year’s Day to me than January 1st does.
Last Wednesday Shawn asked for dumplings from a Chinese restaurant near Penn’s campus. It was the first of two freshman move-in days at the University of Pennsylvania. I love the energy and excitement of the start of semester so I lingered for a bit. I watched the students. I watched their parents. I listened to the cicadas humming at full force the way they do in late August.
The next day I walked up there again, this time to get Shawn some cookies that he asked for but didn’t eat. Along the way I saw a father that I’d met on the oncology floor. I waved and said hi but he seemed to be in his own world and kept walking without turning his head. Later he told me that he had left the hospital and gone for a walk at his family’s urging but he regretted it. There’s too much life out there, he told me. So many young people starting school and families living their lives. He couldn’t stand to be around it. I can’t stand to be away from it.
Today is August 31, 2016 – the first day of the fall semester at the college where am currently employed. I’m not there. I’m on leave to take care of Shawn.
Happy New Year.