Second Annual “Blogging for TSC Awareness Month” Day 27
by guest blogger Susan (last name withheld) (New York, New York)
And with those two words, said seven years ago today, Marc and I were made husband and wife. Richer, poorer, sickness, health. Sure, we agreed to all of these things, but did we really know what we were bargaining for? Were we just looking forward to the cocktail hour? The honeymoon? Some amorphous version of the future that involved 2.1 kids, a white picket fence, and a golden retriever? Suffice to say, the future we envisioned probably didn’t involve our child having a rare genetic disease.
But here we are, seven years later, with an incredible son who happens to have a disease called Tuberous Sclerosis Complex. If you are reading this post, you may already know a little something about Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC). I’ll give you a very brief synopsis of our journey with it.
In April of 2012, Elliot was born. He was declared perfectly healthy and we brought him home to begin our life as a family of three. Within the first few weeks of his life we began to notice that he was always looking off to the left side. By the time his three-month checkup had rolled around, the gaze preference was notable and we mentioned same to his pediatrician. He referred us to a pediatric ophthalmologist who referred us to a neurologist and ordered an MRI of Elliot’s brain. Everyone assured us that the MRI was merely a precautionary measure. They were incorrect. The MRI revealed many tumors in Elliot’s brain, consistent with a diagnosis of TSC.
We consulted with several doctors and hooked ourselves in with two TSC clinics. Elliot’s neurologist determined that the gaze preference was likely persistent seizure activity and started Elliot on an anti-seizure medication. Within days he began having infantile spasms and another medication was added. Only several weeks later did that medication seem to control the spasms. His EEG revealed he was having other types of seizures so new medication and dietary therapy were added. We began to notice the developmental delays. Eventually it became clear that further intervention was needed and Elliot underwent a series of brain surgeries before his first birthday. A few months later, he underwent a second series of surgeries. More medications. Trips to the Emergency Room. Daily battles for Elliot’s myriad services and therapies. Acronyms I still don’t understand for tests I still don’t understand. In and out of the hospital for weeks on end. Bleary-eyed husband and wife. Can we go back to the cocktail hour, please?
Marc and I entered into our marriage young, excited and excitable. We were both starting careers and ambitiously laying the foundation for our future. We were ready to travel, embracing our new sense of “adulthood” and learning how to navigate people and life.
Nothing could have prepared us for Elliot’s diagnosis. The shock of being told that your child is stricken with a life-long, complex medical condition is enough to rattle even the strongest of bonds. The endless uncertainty and the constant anxiety caused by this confounding disease produce stress that others really cannot understand. It is very easy to see where people start to break down and therefore relationships start to falter. We have to make decisions like who will go into the MRI machine with Elliot and which one of us has to hold him down as the nurses try to get an IV for the umpteenth time. We have discussions about what medications to put Elliot on and whether he needs surgery. Again.
Notwithstanding, I am very fortunate to say that I feel much the same about our life and marriage as I did seven years ago today. We share a life in which we get up everyday ready to tackle the world together, where nothing seems beyond our reach, and where we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We know it is important to take care of each other, with the mutual understanding that we must also take care of ourselves. Though I am lucky to say that our marriage does not ever feel like work, life itself, especially this life that we have, requires tremendous effort and motivation. And I couldn’t imagine spending this life with anyone but Marc.
Just because our life is different than the one we envisioned does not imply that it is bad. We have no picket fence, but we have Central Park as our backyard. We have no golden retriever, but we have some amazingly cute stuffed animal puppies for Elliot (waaaaay less mess). I don’t even know what .1 child means, but you catch my drift, right?
It is preachy of me to even suggest that I can understand the complexities of anyone else’s situation but I hope that if you struggle with the stress on your marriage, perhaps you can just take a moment to remember why you chose this person to walk through life together. What hopes and dreams did you share on your wedding day as you gazed into your future? Despite a more complicated life than you envisioned, can they still be your hopes and dreams today?
There is a great scene in the movie “Parenthood,” in which a grandmother gives an analogy to her grown grandson and his wife, as they face the prospect of adding a fourth child to the family. She says “When I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a rollercoaster…Up, down, up, down. Oh what a ride…I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”
So today, on our seventh anniversary, I take this opportunity to thank my husband for riding this rollercoaster with me. And I hope everyone can take a moment to appreciate their own version of the same.