Day 12 of Blogging for TSC Awareness
by guest blogger Hannah Lorraine (St. Louis, Missouri)
I was standing in the nail polish aisle in CVS when I got the call. I rarely ever paint my nails, so that was odd enough, but getting a personal call from my OB was even stranger. She had news, she told me. They saw a mass at our 20-week ultrasound. In her heart. Maybe nothing, maybe serious. A specialist, she said.
And I don’t remember taking in a real breath after that for a very long time.
I held my breath through the first appointment with the cardiologist when he told us he saw not one, but two tumors taking up a large area, one in each ventricle. I held my breath three weeks later when one of the tumors grew so large that they sent us to consult with a surgeon. I held my breath through learning the ins and outs of what heart failure looks like and praying I’d make it to at least 30 weeks without seeing any signs of fluid build-up around my baby’s tiny heart. I prayed and wept and pleaded with God that he would have mercy. I had so many ultrasounds, I learned how to look for all the markers myself. I always felt so relieved to see her heart pumping away, the largest tumor dancing inside rhythmically. I saw her little hands, always in the fighter position, a good sign I thought. I held my breath when they told us that she probably had a genetic condition that caused the tumors and that she could have them in other parts of her body as well. And still she kept growing and thriving.
Through the incredible fog of hope, confusion and fear, I gave birth, against all the odds, to an otherwise healthy, full-term baby girl. Not to a genetic disorder, not to a defective heart, but to a person. One whom I had loved so intensely through it all, but had only just begun to know. A person with my eye color and her daddy’s chin and a personality as unique as her fingerprints. A person with countless other genes besides the broken one–all making up bits and pieces of the whole beautiful baby that is my daughter. And I am so unbelievably grateful. To know her, to have her as a part of my life. To have the honor of being her mother and walking with her through life. I can barely remember what I was thinking before the day that everything changed, before hope and fear became two almost indistinguishable sides of the same reality for us.
Then a part of me shattered when we found the tumors in her brain, too. Oh, please, God, not her brain. The diagnosis was confirmed now: tuberous sclerosis. I had never heard of it before this, never met anyone with those kinds of symptoms. Sometimes I look at her soft, fuzzy head and cry, wondering how it could be filled with tumors when she looks so normal, so beautiful.
Elise is now seven months old and our waiting game has changed. Instead of worrying about her heart, we wait and watch for the seizures that usually result from the brain tumors she has. Every day that goes by without one is a joy. No healthy moment is taken for granted. Elise is growing and developing beautifully. She is babbling and sitting unsupported and already crawling. I have learned to enjoy these healthy days, and yet in my weak moments, I find the familiar fear returning and worry that she will lose the milestones she’s gained. I worry that someday seizures will steal the clarity in her eyes and dull the sparkle from her smile. And so we wait. And refuse to let it define our lives.
We had an EEG this week that showed a number of spikes while Elise was sleeping, upping our concern and our seizure watch. Our neurologist told us that if those spikes turn into seizure activity, the likelihood is that it’s going to happen in the next few months. Statistics are not our friends, but they are not our story either. I am scared and sad, but I refuse to allow the seizure wait to steal my joy in the healthy days. My girl is a fighter. We decided to name her Elise so that she would always know that she is “dedicated to God” and that God is her strength, no matter what suffering she might face. None of us are certain of our tomorrows, but we will rejoice in gifts we have been given today. And carefully watch and wait.