I was worried about it, as any mom would be. I even kept a measurement of it, so that I could know firsthand if it was growing. It was as easy to miss as it was hard to miss. Splashed on his bottom lip was what looked like a dark ink blob that simply became part of the beautiful landscape of our son Ian‘s face.
No, it wasn’t bestowed as a beauty mark from birth. This doozy came to Ian after the world’s worst case of chapped lips. He was probably in middle school and was just beginning to discover his extreme love of the ocean. After a long weekend of fun in the sun, Ian developed miserable dry, cracking chapped lips that hurt like heck and made it hard to smile.
For some random reason, once his lip healed and natural moisture returned, a permanent dark splotch remained as a reminder of the painful incident.
I open my brand new 2020 Weekly Calendar to begin my annual ritual. I carefully carry over the events that repeat year-after-year and log in those new activities scheduled over the past few months. There are birthdays, anniversaries, car registration renewals and volunteer work. There’s a trip to the airport, an upcoming dentist appointment and the long-awaited conference.
I mark them carefully onto the pristine, unspoiled pages that have yet to see any signs of white-out or scribbled entries added in the rush of a busy day. For now, my handwriting is neat and tidy. The yellow highlighter adds emphasis to those especially important entries.
When I’m done, I close the book and stare hard at the gold embossed numbers that grace its cover…2020.
What I expect to feel next simply eludes me, again.
There is no swell of hope and promise that should come with the dawn of a new year. No rush of joy that I’ve felt for so many decades before. Not this year, or last year, or the year before that. Not since 2016…when you left for heaven.
In a study of Genesis, I listened to a pastor taking about rainbows. He spoke about the scientific definition of the rainbow: A beautiful multicolored arch in the sky caused by the reflection and refraction of the rays of the sun shining on falling rain.
Then, of course, he spoke of the biblical significance: The rainbow as a token of the covenant which God made with Noah when he came out of the ark that the waters should no more become a flood to destroy all of humanity.
The rainbow in the sky is the “sun in the storm” AND the “son in the storm.” The son, my Lord and savior.
Today, more than two years since Ian left us after an eight-month battle with cancer, I live my life under the Rainbow.
The storm, I fear, will never completely blow over.
There will always be clouds in my sky; the unrelenting soul-crushing missing that happens when you lose your child.
But, now and then, when the conditions are just right, the sun shines into my clouds and creates surprising beauty.
At first, it is faint … just a light hue of color as I gaze onto the faces of those I love and a glimmer of hope falls over me. Yet, slowly but surely, over time, I find myself in moments of vibrant colors. I am surprised to find that my smile is real, my laugh is deep and a sense of happiness feels true.
But there is no weather forecast on this journey.
Today, it may rain, the sun may come out, or — on the best of days — the rain and the sun may interact to create a rainbow over me.
Those days have tears and pain brought on by bittersweet memories. And, they have hope and love brought on by — those very same memories.
We walk in faith, looking forward to a day of reunion with Ian and all our loved ones who already call Heaven, home. I thank the Lord for his faithfulness to walk with me through this storm and for the rainbows that cover me.
There I sat wiping away tears in a crowded restaurant – again.
I gazed down onto the three letters I – A – N … strung together in a manner so that I could pick it out in a line-up of a hundred other “Ian” signatures. It was his actual signature cast perfectly into a delicate silver ring. The signature looked exactly how I had seen it so very many times before when he signed his name to an important letter, note, and later in life, on a sales contract.
The ring featured the “neat” version, not the signature he used when signing a check or on one of those ridiculous credit card machines. In those cases, you’d only see the “I” and the rest was barely more than a straight line. I remember that I chuckled the first time I saw it. I think he was in middle school and I asked him if he thought he was a doctor or a rock star. Actually, I love that he learned to use the sloppy signature at such a young age, as if he intuitively understood that sometimes it mattered and other times it simply did not. Sometimes you steal away a few seconds to keep for yourself – because seconds add up to minutes, minutes add up to days.
We know — all too well — that every single second matters…
One day, in the middle of the chaos, I dared to dream that the hedge would make it.
I imagined how we would later tell the story of the dying hedge in our front yard as a metaphor of how you faced down your near-death experience with cancer, but you came back with vigor to live out the rest of your days with renewed focus and perspective.
We would explain how the dry branches appeared beyond resuscitation. It was that pesky, destructive white fly that snuck in under the radar and spread relentlessly beneath the abundant beautiful green leaves and orange hibiscus blossoms. Continue reading “The Hedge”→
The hospital bed in the middle of our living room was surrounded by sofas that served as seating for those who came to say goodbye. Hospice workers came and went, addressing Ian’s “comfort” needs that changed drastically with each passing day.
Pastor Glenn arrived on Monday to pray with us, again. This time, he gently told Ian that while we continue to pray for a miracle, it was time to consider that God was preparing a place for him.
But Ian was not ready…
Even Jesus asked God to “let this cup pass from me” before going to the cross.
Pastor Glenn later reassured us that even if Ian wasn’t ready to leave, God had him – his child – by the hand and would not let go.
Six days after returning home from our Hail Mary attempt at the naturopathic treatment center, the good Lord dispatched his Angels for our precious Ian.
“Ma, can you show me around?” Ian asked as daybreak arrived.
Grimacing in pain, Ian slowly sat up in bed. I pushed the wheelchair as close as I could to the large king-sized bed. Taking hold of him under booth arms, I moved him onto the wheelchair. I then pushed him very carefully over the sliding-door track so as not to put any more pressure onto his aching neck.
We exited the room onto the grounds of the naturopathic treatment center where we were scheduled to stay for the next 14 days. I wheeled him through the property that featured lush trees, hammocks and a mostly empty lava pond. He soaked in the beauty for about five minutes but suddenly said, “Let’s go back.”
I knew the pain and pressure on his spine had caught up with him. I rushed him back into the room. As I transferred him back into bed, he sweetly thanked me for taking him outside. “I just wanted to be sure I wasn’t going to be stuck in this bed forever,” he added with a small smile.
The very hard truth is that Ian would not leave that bed again under his own power, as paralysis continued to take over.
When we arrived at the treatment center the day before, Ian was too exhausted from the plane ride over to notice the beautiful surroundings. As soon as we arrived, he was placed into a large, quaint room with ample space for us to stay by his side.
My heart surged with hope for the first time in weeks. We made it to the Big Island. The center was beautiful and very unlike the harsh hospitals Ian had come to know all too well that year.
If positive vibes and hope could save a life – as so many of us innocently believed during Ian’s cancer trial – then Ian would be alive today. But, sadly, positive vibes and hope did not halt the cancer that continued to advance.
The reality of this relentless cancer came crashing upon us, yet again, when Ian’s mid-section became completely numb, just days after his 23rd birthday . Was it growing tumors pressing on nerve structures within his spinal cord? Or, perhaps a severe case of peripheral neuropathy, a side effect of one of the many harsh chemo drugs that pulsed through Ian’s veins for many months.
Ian was no longer a candidate for chemo trials on the mainland or immunotherapy, an emerging cancer treatment discussed at length with Ian’s oncologist. Ian decided — with our full support — to hang his hope on naturopathic treatment protocols designed to wake up his immune system so it could fight the cancer naturally.
I knew what treatments Ian needed, including the highly touted high-dose intravenous Vitamin C. However, driving him around to various appointments on Oahu was getting more and more difficult as Ian became weaker. In addition to his core being numb, Ian’s hands soon malfunctioned, just as his legs had. In time, he could no longer hold a fork, write with a pen, or text on his phone.
I searched and prayed for a one-stop facility that could care for Ian and provide all of the naturopathic treatments in a concentrated manner. My prayer was answered when I came across a naturopathic treatment center on the Big Island. It sounded perfect.
They could administer all of the treatments we desired and more, all in one place, under the care of an experienced naturopath doctor. They administered the world-renowned Gerson Therapy diet, a strict diet of juicing and specific whole foods – much as we had been doing on our own for the past month. Plus, they could administer progressive protocols commonly used in Europe to treat cancer.
Ian was sitting in the recliner in our living room when I gave him the news about the treatment center and what they could provide. He listened carefully and then a huge smile came over his face. He looked over at Lei and said, “Want to go to the Big Island?” Of course, she did.
We all could feel the extreme urgency of the situation; this was Ian’s final stand.
We huddled around and watched intently as Dustin, Ian’s extraordinary hospice nurse, disconnected the tube that snaked out of the port in Ian’s chest. With clean, gloved hands, he meticulously wiped both ends with antiseptic wipes.
“Next, insert the needle into the vial to draw out the dose of Dex into the syringe,” Dustin instructed and demonstrated in a deliberate and patient manner. “Then point the needle up and push gently to remove any air.”
This was the most important crash course we would ever take in our lives. Dave, Zach, Lei and I were suddenly intimately involved in not only loving and supporting Ian, but trying to sustain his very life. Now, together with hospice nurses who visited daily, WE were Ian’s new medical team.
Ian’s surgically installed port, once used for the administration of chemotherapy, was now called into duty for other purposes. A split line delivered self-administered pain medications through one side, while the other side was available for ongoing daily doses of Dexamethasone, an anti-inflammatory medication prescribed to help keep swelling down in his central nervous system. It was our job to administer Dex intravenously four times a day.
But, Dexamethasone soon became a dirty little word.
Among its many harsh side effects was insomnia. Ian knew that if his body had any chance of fighting, rest was critical. Determined to control what he could with his now precarious, precious life, Ian determined to forsake western medicine that unfortunately failed to eradicate the cancer. He requested that the doctors wean him off of Dex and all pain meds.
Ian had made up his mind. He would keep fighting, but he would do what felt right to him now … no matter the outcome.
I stretched out on a piece of furniture with my eyes closed in a waiting room just down the hall from Ian’s hospital room. From the TV mounted just above my head, I could hear the NBC commentator calling what must have been an exciting swimming event at the Rio Summer Olympics. Our family had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Summer Olympics, a beloved event in the Coronas household.
But now, I didn’t care.
Today, it was simply meaningless.
Surrounded by family members who came (daily) with food, hugs and disbelief, I tried to rest my fatigued body and soul — if even just for a moment.
We were gathered down the hall because Ian’s room was full. Family and friends came. It seems like they all came…long-time family friends, friends from Maryknoll School, University of Hawaii, T&C Surf, Xerox Hawaii, prayer warriors from church, and, of course, friends from the downhill skate community.
I worried that Ian might be overtaxed by all the visitors. The struggle was absolutely real, as he fought major bouts of nausea and clung to his pink hospital-provided container – just in case. His legs continued to malfunction and a walker was required for a trip to the bathroom located 10 feet away. Still, it appeared that the visits were helping Ian’s spirits. He was touched by each and every family member, friend, and co-worker who came to visit.
Ian was resting quietly on Monday afternoon when world-renowned Big-Wave Rider Aaron Gold and Joel Centeio, one of Hawaii’s most beloved pro surfers, walked into the room. It took just a second to register. Then, Ian’s face lit up. No introductions were required. Ian knew these guys. He maneuvered his bed position and soon they were talking surf – big surf, small surf, surf around the world. And, they were talking about God.