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Thanksgiving Journeys

by Mary E. Plouffe

The sun is not yet up as the train heads to Boston and I plan my Thanksgiving menu.

I don't know yet where we will eat. Hopefully, we'll all be around my dining room table, which carries the stains of almost 25 Thanksgiving feasts. But maybe not.

Maybe we'll gather in the small apartment I'm heading to this morning just across from Mass General Hospital. I'll need to bring extra silverware, I remind myself. The unit is sparsely equipped-just enough for short term stays for traveling executives and families like ours, spending 6 weeks receiving treatment at the only proton radiation facility on the east coast.

Later this morning, I'll take my granddaughter into my arms and help her wave goodbye to her Mom. We'll watch her walk into the huge facility that houses a machine the size of a city block whose only purpose is to send a beam of protons to destroy tumors like the one embedded in the motor cortex of my daughter-in law's brain.

Sandra has the most beautiful smile. It's the first thing people notice when they see the wedding picture next to my dining table. My son towers over his petite bride, but it is her smile that pulls you into the photo and captures its joyful promise.

Who could have imagined they'd have less than two years of that innocence, before my 28-year-old son would hear the ominous words "Your wife has a brain tumor"

The journey since then has been one of giving thanks.... for the neurosurgeon who happened to be on call that night in the ER, and whose skill brought her through surgery, but whose gentleness and hope kept us all focused on a future; for the PT and OT professionals who helped her regain the left side function impaired by the surgery and for the many other professionals who alleviated the persistent and frustrating limitations that followed.

But most of all I am thankful for these two young people who faced this challenge and chose life.

"The way I see it, Mom," my son said, " is that we can live in fear and let this change all our plans, or we can go on with our lives and accept that dealing with this may be an ongoing challenge. If we do the first, the tumor has already won."

So, 2 years later, I'm watching the sunrise while the Amtrak Downeaster takes me from Maine to Boston to care for their happy and serene 9 month old daughter who has her dad's startlingly blue eyes and her mother's wide smile.

On the strength of that smile we all do our part.... 2 grandmas sharing childcare, my son working at his job in Manhattan and driving up to be with "his girls" on the weekend, and Sandra, walking resolutely into that proton treatment room each day, choosing life... for herself, for her daughter, for all of us.

The sun is coming up now as the train winds its way along the coast and my thoughts return to Thanksgiving. It will be the last week of radiation treatment, and our table will be set wherever Sandra's energy level and the treatment protocol demand. Wherever that is, we will give thanks for the blessings of our family, the care of dedicated doctors and the example of one young couple; my resolute son and his courageous wife with the beautiful smile.

Mary E. Plouffe Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and writer who lives and works in South Freeport Maine. She has written essays for NPR, and On The Issues Magazine, among others, and is currently completing a memoir. She is the mother of three grown children, and one very cherished granddaughter.