18 April 2006

the miracle of the season

what an amazing range of experience this incredible city has to offer. i only wish it hadn’t been so long since i last posted anything, so i could focus on the details of every moment, every subway ride, every conversation, every latenightdrunk cabride home, every blossoming pear, cherry, dogwood, tulip.

last time i highlighted a baseball game, of which there have been more (go mets). also the view from my temporary roof of a spectacular sunset, of which there will always be more. i only wish my poached internet connection was reliable enough to post pictures regularly, but i can’t tell you what a struggle it was to even get online those few shots. so bits here and there will have to suffice.

there have been some momentous events in the past week or two, but there's something that trumps it all. maybe in my next entry i'll get to the funny stuff.

my cousin aaron is six years old. he lives in minneapolis with his parents jen and charlie and his sister leah (seen below in the egyptian collection at the brooklyn museum). when aaron was quite small, he developed a cyst near his collarbone that turned out to be cancer. and not just any cancer, this was such a rare form that aaron has been poked and prodded by experts from all over the country wondering, how did such a young child develop nerve sheath cancer? and what can we do about it? i (and many of us) were initally left asking, what the hell is a nerve sheath? after chemo on his tender young body and two years of clean scans, it looked like he’d beaten this extraordinarily rare disease.

and then, a few months ago, it came back. chemo was no longer an option. the doctors in minnesota discussed some horrendously radical surgeries that could leave aaron without the use of his right arm or even without the arm itself. the cancer is tucked under his clavicle in the midst of the brachial plexus, a mass of nerves that run out from the spinal cord into his right shoulder and down his arm. so avoiding lasting damage looked difficult. because of the complex nature of his case, the tumor board at memorial sloan kettering here in new york decided to take his case. aaron and his family arrived two weeks ago, and although i wish they were here under better circumstances, their presence and our time together has been a gift. MSK may well be the most advanced cancer hospital in the world, and right from the start it was a great relief to sense the incredible confidence with which the surgeons were approaching aaron’s surgery.

he went under the knife on the 12th. they cracked his sternum and peeled away his ribcage to get at the cancer. hours and hours after they’d begun, the head doctor came down to talk to aaron’s parents, his grandpa bob and myself. we held our breath until the doctor said the surgery was successful, at which point all four of us immediately wept out of the corners of our eyes until the doctor left, and which point we burst into tears.

i saw him the next day in the pediatric ICU, morphine eyes, immobile, in and out of consciousness. i managed to catch an early moment of lucidity, when he moaned in pain, cried out for his mother, requested that we put on the cartoon network and promptly asked us to go away before he fell back into his drug-induced sleep.

whenever i’ve had the time, i’ve been at the hospital with his family, but this morning, just five days after his surgery, i didn’t go to the pediatric ward -- because he had recovered so effectively that he was discharged. the shirt brought to him by his grandmother says INVINCIBLE, and it seems to be true. you can keep an eye on his progress at http://www.caringbridge.com/page/aaron/index.htm

this year i feel no great need for the story of the passover, no celebration of the resurrection, for this child and his precious life are my miracles of the season.

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