Sophie – The great warrior

“Keep running!!! Don’t look back!!!”

She was wakened up in the middle of the night by her mother, dressed up quickly, bow placed over her shoulder and put on the horse. Mother knew it’s the only way to save her, give her time to get stronger.  The best thing she could do for her is to put her on that horse and let her go. She told her where to go, where to seek shelter, and just hoped she will make it before he will come and take her.

The horse was steaming on this freezing night giving an impression it was a machine and not an animal. Running through the woods with an enormous speed, omitting all the obstacles on its way. Sophie knew the sanctuary is not more than a day ride, but she felt his heaving breathing on her back and could not afford the comfort of resting, not even for a second.

When next day was heading towards the end, and she could barely hold the horse. Just about the time she started to lose hope, finally in the distance she saw the doors of the orphanage. Few more minutes and with last of her strength she rang the bell. Last thing she saw just before fainting was a monk opening a big wooden door.

“Finally, I feared you will not make it”. Said the monk to himself while carrying her unconcise to the room. He put her to bed, allowing to rest for a while before preparing for next day. As he knew they need to be ready for his arrival.

Early in the morning they heard loud knocking on the door. “In the name of Sir Can, I ask you to open the door!”

“How, can I help?” Asked the monk, opening the door.

“Make way, for the Lord.” Guards pushed him away, opening wide the entrance to the courtyard.

Minute they were inside they started to sniff around like hunting dogs looking for its prey. The courtyard was small, empty square, with nice gallery surrounding it, which lead to the monks’ rooms. Above them ware orphanage’s windows, where you could see little children peeking, and trying to understand what is the rumor about.

“Gather them all here, and make sure no one is hiding!” Order Sir Can to his guards.

Soon after, all the monks and children were standing next to each other on the courtyard, and the only difference telling who is who was their height. As all of them were dressed in the habits with their heads hidden in the hoods.

“Take them off! One with the curly, red hair is the one.” Sir Can order to the guards.

They took off children’s hoods to search for the little, red hair girl but to their surprise each time they took off a hood they did not see any red hair, they did not see any hair. Just bold heads, one after the other.

She was standing in the line, waiting for her turn. For a second she took the hand out of the habit to look at the small lock of her red hair cut day before. Cut by herself to blend in with the rest, to make sure he will not have an easy job spotting her. She looked down on the floor when guard took her hood off and waiting till he passed her. Luckily, he was not spending too much time looking at her before he moved to the next child.

They finished with the last one, fifty children standing next to each other, all of them bold, all hardly recognizable. There was no chance to spot the one they were looking for. Little, beautiful red hair girl. No chance to get his promised one, which drove Sir Can into madness.

“What is this!?!” He yelled and screamed. „Where is the red head one, where are their hairs! I know you’re hiding somewhere in this crowd! Step out or I will kill one of the monks!” He walked back and forth trying to spot little Sophie.

No one moved, all were standing like little stone statues. No one even dared to make any noise. Sir Can came to one of the monks, took out the knife and slip his throat. Monk fall on the floor and the rest just look at him dying, but no one moved, not even blinked to betray the precious one that was amongst them. As they knew that once she will have a chance to get stronger, she is their only hope against him, against his tyranny.

“I will give you last chance!” Sir Can spoke with calmness and firmness in his voice. “I will give you 3 months to grow your hair, and come back to take what is mine. When I’ll be back and see you all bold again, I will kill you all! Knowing that one of you will be her. This is your last chance to spare your lives and give me her instead.”

Sir Can turned on his toes and left the courtyard assisted by his guards. When they left everybody breathe a sigh of relief.

“We don’t have much time, and I know you are young and should be spending time on playing with other kids rather than learning how to fight him off. But you don’t have a choice, so let focus our minds on training you.”

Little, bold girl look at the monk, he was the same who open the door the other day, and with fear in her heart she just nodded, to show that she agrees.

Time was passing by quickly and with each day Sophie was learning how to hold the bow, aim properly, and shoot to hit a bullseye from far distance. From the early morning till late night, with freezing fingers she was practicing and practicing. And there were days where she wanted to give up, just give herself to him, but soon, she saw a picture of her loving family, of dying monk, and this was giving her back the motivation she needed.

Sophie was learning fast, and started to shoot with high precision from longer distances, she even manages to hit the bullseye on the moving target. This gave her confidence that when he will be back, she will stand a chance against him.

“You are very talented, and learning fast.” Said her teacher. “But this is still not enough to beat Sir Can. We will start now our last phase of training.”

The monk opened right hand and showed her piece of cloth that he was holding. He blindfolded her and said. “You will not see him, you will not hear him and you will not feel him. He will come in most unexpected moment, and will attack you with his full power. Now you need to learn how to sense him with your intuition.  Know where he is without any of your senses, as this is the only way to beat him, only way to win with him, so he will leave you once for all.”

Hair grew longer and longer on her head, remaining each time, she looked in the mirror, that she has less and less time to master the skill of blind shooting. The beginning was very difficult, Sophie could not even hit the area outside the target, shooting arrows in all the directions. The monks asked children to avoid courtyard gallery, to ensure that none will get hurt.

“This is the end. I will never master that.” She wept.

It was any time soon, when Sir Can was to arrive again, during one of cold night, when She decided not to go to bed but practice. Her teacher approached her.

“Please take off your blindfold.” Asked her quietly, almost whispering. The gallery was lit by torches placed round main square, giving a magical appearance to this place. When she looked again she saw first flakes of snow coming down from the sky.

“I have asked one of the girls to draw his effigy. Take it and place it on the target. Stand there for a while and try to remember how he looks, what you felt the day you saw him. Try to remind yourself how he walked, talked, what emotions were coming from him. And place all those feelings to this target. Let your heart guide you.”

Sophie came back after a short while. “Now close your eyes. Spin and stop. Don’t shoot! Wait a second. Bring back again that picture in your mind, bring back all those feelings, and don’t aim. Now, clear your mind, shoot before thinking.  Let the arrow find the target.”

When she opened her eyes again, arrow was sticking from the bullseye.

”But how? Did I?” Sophie asked surprised, not fully believing that it was the same arrow that she released a second ago.

“Yes, you. Now, go to sleep as I sense he will come tomorrow.”

Late evening, they heard same knocking, which disturbed their peace over 3 months ago. This time they let them into the main dining room. This was the place where each day children ate before and after hard work. Everybody was already standing in two parallel lines right next to the walls. Room was lightened by torches hanging from the walls. The monks were standing next to each of those torches having the children stand in front of them. There was a dense silence in the room. Everybody waited for what was about to happen. Sir Can entered accompanied by his guards. “Take them off!” He yelled. They were uncovering their head one by one. Each showing short, freshly grown hair. Sir Can walked close to each one of them, making sure he will not miss her. When they were close to the end and still none of the children were showing those beautiful red hair, he turned around, and as he was about to say something, she walked into the room carrying a bow and arrow in her hands. She stopped right in the center of the room, opposite to the Sir Can, uncovered her head to show her beautiful hair and look deeply into his eyes. In this right moment the monks, blew out all the torches making the room completely dark. You could not see even what is at the extend of your own hand. Complete silence was building up the suspense, as Sir Can knew, that even small noise will reveal his position to the girl.

Suddenly the silence was broken by the noise of three arrows bursting through the air and sound of body falling to the floor. Followed by the noise of guards trying to scream, make a sound, but their voices were quickly disappearing. When the torches were lightened again, everybody looked to see all of the guards laying on the floor dead. In the middle of the room, it was him, Sir Can laying on the floor with three arrows piercing his heart. The silence was present till next morning, as nobody dared to say a word. Everyone knew that they need to take this secret to the grave.

Soon after Sophie returned save to her mother, who anxiously awaiting her. Her heart was full of confidence and courage, that whatever evil will come to her, she has strengths and skills to fight it off. Her mother was happy to see her, have her finally back in her arms. Still with all the happiness she saw that her heart changed. Her heart from now on will always fear, that this may happen again and she might lose her for good.

Round Six – High hopes

„This is unacceptable!!!” Captain Blind entered our room and tossed the recent test results on Szymon’s bed. “We put so much effort in making sure your Son will make an early cut! We have listed him into European Space program, supported with Neupogen, in between chemotherapy injections, to ensure proper tumor growth, and all for nothing!! Instead of growing his tumor shrank. Now it’s almost half of the size it was when you were listed. Marrow is clean and bones are showing much lower presence of cancer cells…”

“Yell, scream… spill all that anger on me. The second you leave the room those words will bring me to tears… but for the first time in the long time those will not be tears of sadness, those will be tears of joy…” I looked at her trying note all what was she saying but my mind suddenly went somewhere else. To the place where I wanted to be for a past few weeks. I heard her voice but second she told me the good news, rest was not important.

“…this puts us back in the whole training program. If this will be his way of reacting to the training I am not sure if he will make the flight at all!!! Do you hear me!?! There is a risk he will be cut of the program!” Captain Blind stop for a second to catch a breath. “It doesn’t make sense anymore. I had such high hopes in you and you ruined it all.” With much calmer voice, hearing here ambitions just collapsed. “I need a break… long break. I am going for an annual leave.” She paused for a second with her thoughts wondering off to some other place. “Your test results are not showing any risk of sudden change. You can go home for couple of days. We will inform you who will take your son when you will be back. Thank you! And have a nice trip home!” She left the room.

Mag and I looked at each other and fall into our arms. We waited so long to hear something positive, to have some proof that our prayers are being heard and it finally came. Our hearts finally felt a relief. Huge burden was taken from our shoulders and tears, which fall on our cheeks, were not coming from sadness but from happiness.

“We are going home!” Szymek shouted and energetically started to pack his things. He looked so adorable, bustling round, lifting his hands up and down, showing how much he is busy with packing.

“Yes, we are going home!” We replied looking at him with all the love we had in us.

“And Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday and aphooo”. Szymek looked at us smiling.

 “Yes! And birthday cake!” Mag replied with a smile. “It is our new tradition, to have birthday cake each time we leave the facility! And blowing up candles”. She lifted him up and I finished picking up our things, so we could head to the car.

We walked the corridor to the elevator and suddenly saw this place in much more cheerful colors. Warmer, sunnier tones, feeling that not only terrible thing can be encountered here.

We left for home, having Captain Blind’s words in our hearts. We left for home much lighter, much younger, and full of hope. Hope, which for the first time, was something more than just our wishful thinking. Hope giving us first signs, that it is possible for Szymek to be cut from the program due to lack of any signs of cancer in his body.

Close to our home we spotted Granny, Bunia – Szymek greatest companion, walking back home from grocery store. As we stopped to ask her if she would like to ride with us those couple of meters back home, it was good reason for Szymek to get anxious and get out of his seat. It was also a good reason for him to ask if he can fulfill his new passion, which was driving a car while sitting on my laps. I took him on my knees and we slowly drove those few meters to our driveway. And as much as I tried to forget the nightmare he was going through, pretend for a second that we are just a normal, typical family, as much as I loved seeing him having a time of his life, turning the wheel left and right, as much as I tried to take the most from this very moment, I could not quiet this one horrific thought, which hunted me in past few weeks. The thought telling me, that in a year or so what currently brings me so much joy and happiness, what is so much important in my life – time spend with my son, in few months’ time may just be another memory of him cherished in my heart. Memory treasured so deeply and constantly return too, as this is the only thing I have of him. The only thing I was left with from the day he flew to heaven.

“Why are you crying?” Mag saw my tears and asked.

“I am stilling memories. Trying to store them deep in my heart.  If we will not succeed those will be only thing I will have left of him…”. I replied.

Her tears came without asking for permission…

We have entered the house, decorated with balloons. Soon cake with lit candle was waiting for Szymek to blow it. And for the first time with joy in our voices we sang birthday song.

 “Happy birthday! Happy birthday!” Szymek tried to sing with us.

”Dear who?” We asked.

“Shiimek!” he replied with a big smile.

Smile hidden deep in my heart and warming me up during cold winter nights.

The nightmare of letting go

“I will walk you through the path of fear and sorrow, holding you by your hand. I will gradually prepare you for what is inevitable, so when the day will come, your heart will stay calm, as you will watch him received the greatest gift one could get – eternal life.”

“Amm! Amm!” One of the worst things we had to cope with was a sound of Szymek begging for food and us saying “no” as he needed to be on an empty stomach.

“Amm! Amm!” From asking, to begging, to angry yelling, and finally ending with despair. “Amm! Amm!”

Seeing him falling on the bed with eyes closed, as he has no more strength to keep them open, emotions aroused in us. Emotions, you try to control, to have your mind clear. The anger mixed with helplessness, pushing you to your limits, as you would do all, just to end your child suffering. At the end, you know all you can do is just wait and watch. Wait for hours, as we needed to refrain from feeding him from midnight the previous day, to sometimes even 2 p.m. Each testing day the que of cadets waiting for their turn was long and not much we could do to speed up the process.

The reason for all that suffering was a fact, that cadets could not move during the tests, not to distort the results. Therefore those, who were too young to understand it, like Szymek, were put under sedation. And for an anesthesia to work properly, he could not eat nor drink eight hours before the test. Since nobody knew exactly what time the test will be conduct, we need to be on this horrible standby mode until Captain’s performing the test called us in. For us there was nothing worse than telling Szymon, that he can not take any food or drink. Telling our two-year-old child, who suffered enough already, that we can not do anything about his hunger or thirst.

“Ammm. Ammm.” This time with much weaker voice and tears in his eyes, while he was trying to point to the cupboard standing next to his bed, where normally he could find a sandwich, pretzel, or boxed juice. Now all was hidden from him, not torture him with the sight of the food.

“Just few more minutes. Soon we will go for a quick test and then there will be amm.” Mag tried to calm him down, which in most of the cases just made him even more angry.

“Szymek, your turn” Said the corporal entering the room. “As always please take a blanket with you, as it can be cold in the corridors.” Mag took Szymek from the bed, as he did not like to travel in it. And we walked to the elevator pushing his bed along the way.

Road to the testing room begins with a labyrinth. Leaving the elevator, we need to cross almost whole basement, constantly making right or left turns, passing by doors to either technical rooms or, lost in the depth of the basement, Captain’s clinics. Once, one of the corporal admitted to us, that after two years of working here, she still, from time to time, gets lost in this little maze. The final turn and we are at the straight, long corridor where at the end, on its left, there is glass door leading to the testing area.

Szymek never liked going through this corridor, especially when he needed to travel is his facility bed. Due to lose tiles, the beating wheels were making him nervous and he preferred to pass it in Mag’s arms where he felt safe. The look of this place was also not helping. Although on the left side there was a wall full of windows, giving a bit of natural light inside, old paint on the walls, dirty windows, and those loose tiles, were making an impression like we were in b-class horror movie.

The testing area was divided into two sections, waiting room – well known to many parents, and two cabins with the testing equipment. When we arrived there, we needed to wait for few minutes, for the previous test to be over and then they called us in.

The testing cabin is a huge room, with lots of equipment. Funny how all this new, high tech equipment was kept in the old, not renewed for years, building. They kept low temperatures inside, so that once everything will be turned on, the heat will not get to unpleasant levels. We laid Szymon on the big bed, and while holding his hand to keep give him comfort, prepared ourselves for the worse.

“Mrs. W we are ready to start the sedation. We will start with a small douse to make him sleepy and then once he will shut his eyes inject the rest. He should be sleeping for next 30 to 40 minutes, while we conduct the test.” When Captain finished explaining us shortly the procedure they started to inject the meds into his veins.

The nightmare of letting go, preparing you to your worse fear. Allowing you to get use to the thought of him flying to heaven one day. I saw it only once and this was already an image that hunted me for long, but Mag was expose constantly to it. From day one of our presence in the facility, she had to see how he passes away. And it’s not looking the same to just falling asleep, not with little scared child.

This one time, when I was present during the sedation, he was holding Mag hand, calling her constantly to make sure that she will not leave him. Looking with his scared eyes and hoping that she will end this. Take him far away from this horrible place and will not allow for any test to be performed.

“Mum! Mum!” Szymek was trying to call her when it happened. He started to lose his voice, it sounded like his lungs would fill up with water. Sound that was giving an impression, that he was drowning. Like he could not catch a breath. “Muuummm! MMMMMmmmm…”

He started to mumble, slowly closed the eye,  and soon silence is the only thing you could hear from him. Firm shake became loose, as his body begins to be flaccid. Our hearts started to pound and fear paralyzed the body. Is this it? Has he flown to heaven? We were nervously looking for any sight of life. His hands were still warm, and soon we could see chest moving. He still breaths! What is so obvious to a side observer, for us, for some reason was covered with dark cloth. We knew, that he was just asleep, but for those few seconds, those few seconds, which lasted a life time, we wanted to scream, yell for help, as it looks like we just lost him. We lost our beloved child.

For those few seconds, you can not force yourself to think rationally, you don’t think at all. Just allow panic to take over whole your body. As to all, after a couple of sedation, Mag slowly got used it. The routine and knowledge what to expect next, help her to cope with it somehow. But fear never went fully away. It was just hiding behind the glass door and waited for a good occasion to come back.

“We are good to go, you can release his head and hand and proceed to the waiting room, we start the test soon.” Few words coming from anesthesiologist, reassuring us that all went fine and Szymek just fallen into deep sleep. They hooked Szymon to respirator, to assist him during the test to hold his breath for couple of seconds. This was also part of the procedure. This was the image you see when you leave the room.

“I lead you through the dark times. Guide you, so you will not get lost on the way. As you are blind now, but someday I will show you the plan, I will make you see.”

The doors opened and captain came out of the room. “We are done. See, nothing to worry about.” Said a Captain with a bit of a smile on her face. “Please stay here for couple of minutes until he fully wakes up.”

So innocent and vulnerable sleeping on his bed, like all those things that just happened were just a bad dream…just a bad dream…from which you can not wake up.

“AMMMMMM! AMMMMMM!”

Round Five – Routine

Rapid Coject – cisplatin [C], vincristine [O], carboplatin [J], etoposide [E], and cyclophosphamide [C] – code name we heard constantly for past 5 rounds. While the intention is to quickly attack the enemy, I sometimes wonder if it’s not just a lame joke, which somebody played on us. Hiding under complicated acronym the real meaning, which is nothing more than just – “You will get rapidly bold to impersonate, Lieutenant Theo Kojak. Our role model from the 80s TV series”.  All delivered in eight short, 10 days, but exhausting rounds – A, B, C, B, A, B, C, B.  At the beginning we had our fears, but also high hopes that it will get easier further down the line, while the truth is quite opposite.

Round five, back again to dose A. We knew more less what to expect, since we already went through all the stages and side effects of all those chemo injections. This help us to calm down a bit and slowly get used to our new home, new life. To things, which were terrifying at the beginning, now seen from a bit of a distance as they were becoming our daily routines.

“Hello Mrs. W, how was the night?” Mag wake up to a pleasant voice of the corporal. “Can I have last night fluid balance?”

Mag half-conscious picked up a notebook from the windowsill. It was 5:45 in the morning. “400ml drank and 200ml peed. And he wet the bed in the night.”

“Thank you” Corporal replied and left the room.

 Mag closed her eyes again. Those were these few more minutes of sleep everybody tried to grasp to have a little more rest.

Balance of fluids

From day one, with first dose of chemo injected to your child’s body, you need to keep track of all the fluid that are going in and out. In our case, as Szymek was still a baby that was using diapers, we need to bring from home small kitchen weight and each time he drank anything or peed into the diaper, write down the amount in the notebook. Keep the books like a good accountant. Additionally, any vomiting and diarrhea, which happen often during the injections, were noted down. All to control Szymek’s kidneys and digestive system. Every 6 hours we have a visit from a corporal, who takes down our balance and later reports to our leading captain. In case of any anomalies, which sometimes happened to Szymek too, certain meds are implemented.

“Szymek just vomited again and I did not manage to catch all of it.” Mag welcomed me with words I always hated to hear. “Can you please bring new bed sheets?”

It was devastating, seeing his ghostly pale skin and lack of strength to keep his eyes open. Without saying much, I turned around and went to the small storage room located in the middle of the corridor for fresh bed sheets. Turned the key, left in the lock to allow parents pick fresh bed sheets once the Sergeants are done with their shifts, and looked for fresh covers.  Pillow covers top shelf, children size, quilt and bed sheet in the middle laying right next to each other. There were days when children size was all out and I had to take adult size just to have clean one. Parents knew this room very well, I would say too well.

“Here, I will change it.” I said to Mag coming back to the room. “I will give you Szymek, so to make it quick”. I have picked him up from the bed and placed on Mag’s chest. She was sitting next to his bed on her camp-bed, exhausted to the limits one can take.

“I could not sleep at night, worried that while turning he will wrap the cord around him causing the needle to come out.” Mag read at the beginning of our training program, that it rarely happens causing chemo burns, which are very painful for a child. She tried to minimize Szymon’s suffering as much as possible therefore each time the injections were happening she was in the standby mode ensuring that in case something happens she will intervene immediately.

Those were times when I had to do best not to make any eye contact, especially with Szymek, so they will not see me crying.  I bit my lips, to cause some pain in me, just to take my mind off it.

 “I need to fall asleep for a while, can you please take care of him?” Mag asked when I was putting Szymek back to bed.

“Yes. Rest, I will keep quiet. “

 „BREEEEAAAAKKFAAAST!!!!” Sergeant’s scream spread out thought the corridor walls informing everyone that breakfast awaits in the common kitchen for cadets to pick up.

Art of feeding

From early days, when we slowly started to introduce other foods into Szymon’s diet beside breast milk, we made sure what he eats is healthy. We knew how much food can have impact on your well-being. We were buying ecological vegetables and fruits, straight from the village, and try to avoid anything that had too much of preservatives. Water instead of sweet drinks. In general, tried to protect him as much as we could to ensure we support his healthy growth.

When we entered the 7th floor for the first time, and went to the dining area, we were genuinely shocked. We knew how important is to properly nourish your kinds during the training to give him all the necessary vitamins, so that he can fight back himself the cancer. We knew that low fat diets and no sugar is a key to sabotage the mission. Instead when you looked around most of the plates had French fries, hot dogs, sandwiches with Nutella, sweet yogurt and desert on it. All full of nasty preservatives.

“What ta hack is happening here?” Mag whispered to me. „Do they know how much they are harming those kids by giving them this type of food?”

“Maybe this is what they need to eat during the flight and they are trying to adopt them as early as they could?” I was also confused by what I was seeing.

Soon we realized it’s not their will but reality, which forces those parents to give their loved ones this kind of food. Seeing how dramatically cadets are losing weight, to be as light as possible for the flight, you don’t even think about healthy anymore. You just give them whatever they willing to put in their mouth, just to have something in, hoping he will digest at least part of it, before it will come back. Even Captains were telling parents. “Your child has high potential, soon he will finish the program and fly away. It would be barbaric to take away from him the pleasure of eating junk food, or with all the other suffering he takes forcing him to eat healthy.” And soon we began our battle too. 

Coming back to the routine. When you enter the program, Sergeant, responsible for the nourishment, conducts a survey with you. It is to know if your child needs any special diet, is allergic to anything. She emphasizes the importance of proper feeding, giving you an impression that food here is top level. Soon you realize that this was just a good marketing.

Every morning, round 8 a.m. breakfast is distributed. Plates are nicely laid on the shelf right next to the entrance. Each containing 2-3 slices of bread and cheaply looking sausages, accompanied with small dice of butter. Honestly, I often thought prisoners get better meals then cadets in the facility. For sure tastier and much healthier. And biggest irony of it are candy bars as part of dessert, full of sugar, and given to trainees with cancer. So, when Sergeant called, for most parents it’s just a sign, reminder, that it is time to go to the kitchen and from plastic containers, their brought from home, pick up something eatable for their children. It is common practice for parents to bring their own food to the facility, prepared either by them or grandparents. Once you enter the common kitchen/dining room area right next to it there is a small room, full of those storage containers, where parents prepare these meals.

Once the meal is ready, sandwiches for the breakfast, something more exquisite for lunch, art of feeding begins. Almost all the cadets, during the training, suffer from lack of appetite. Chemo make the food taste like cardboard, plus constant nausea and vomiting is not really helping. Limited resources, you have in CSD, is not helping also to feed your kid properly. From time to time you can see a parent running around the whole facility, asking others if they have certain food, for which their child asked, knowing that if he will manage to get it, there is a chance his kid will eat it.

„Did he eat anything?” I asked Mag when she woke up after a while.

“I tried. No chance. You know, that we need to wait for the injections to finish and antiemetics to start to work.” Mag replied. “He asked for a soup couple of times, but when I came back after heating it up, he just turned his head and said no.”

We tried our best but as we were moving further into the program his appetite was diminishing, slightly coming back once the injections were over, but still far from what he could eat before the program.

Captain’s audit

Round 10 a.m. everyday there was a small Captains checkup round where cadets, or in case of small children, parents were asked how was the night and what is general cadet’s state. Twice a week there was a general round lead by Major, who was having an eye on all the cadets to ensure nothing is happening without her approval. After a while we just waited for it to be over as we finally could start the day. In case of any questions we just went afterwards to our leading captain.

“As we agreed, not matter what are the results you will be able to go home to celebrate properly you 2nd birthday.” Captain Blind welcomed us two days after the chemo injection was done.

“Blood results are stable and not showing any signs of Szymek being ready for the flight anytime soon, so we don’t need you here. Just remember, same as last time, to come each day here for Neupogen shot, we will try again to stimulate those cancer cells to growth faster. Side effects as you know, growth of leucocytes, but let’s hope this will not happen this time”. Relief came, as we knew home is where Szymek feels much better, starts to eat and to rally. For Szymek, as he was already feeling much better, this was a cue to eagerly start packing. “I’m going home!” he stated with confidence and passion in his voice.

“Yes, take care Szymek, and happy birthday!” Captain responded with a smile and left the room. Soon after, with Szymek’s adorable “Bye!” shouted to corporals siting in the central counter, we were heading back home.

Injections

Next day, when most people were starting their lunch, I packed my family into the car and drove to CSD for the shot. Szymek after few corners knew where he was going, and became gloomy.

“We are just going for a short while and coming back home.” Mag tried to cheer him up. “Will you choose a price afterwards?”

Each corporal, to easy up the suffering, had a box with small prizes. After each procedure, child could choose one to cheer him up. Szymek also liked that and after a while he was saying. “Prize! Prize!” There was no claim in his voice, more of reassurance, that since he took the shot without crying much, he can take the prize now.

We put analgesic ointment 15 minutes before on his port to ensure needle will no causes any pain. And head to the room where the corporal from daily center were doing all the procedures. Once the shot was done smile on Szymek’s face was back.

“It did not hurt! It did not hurt! Mommy, it’s over!” He was laughing through tears and I just couldn’t help it, I needed to bite my lips again. The pain was helping me withhold from crying. On the way back, he was full of joy, as we kept our promise, that it will just be a minute and we are going back home. Szymek is unbelievably peaceful through all time. I often cried seeing, what he needs to go though, and I knew well, that he shows me how the real man should take it. This two-year-old boy showed me, grown man, that you may have a bad moment, vomit, etc. but once that is over, smile should be back on your face. No reason to cry, no reason to feel blue. Life is beautiful, life is full of love and why should we not be happy in it.

Routine

Vomiting, dizziness, weakness and powerlessness. Counting all the fluid, ensuring meds are fine, ensuring needle will not pop out, changing the bed sheets, changing diapers, changing the wet and dirty clothes, heat the food, force to drink, force to eat and Neupogen shots for desert. Another test, another needle into his body, sedation, nerve racking waiting for the him to be back, waking up from it and smile is back on his face. This child is blessing from God. His happiness and love is the only reason why we are still alive…please let it last.

Saint’s parade

“I saw him sometimes at night standing right next to Szymon’s bed. He often stroked his head spreading comfort and easing the pain. He never looked at me, as I was not the one for whom he came, but I was always glad that he cares for him, giving the warms and relief, which I could not give…”

First you seek help among the living, from captains to anybody who, without extorting money, is willing to support you. Soon you realize, that nothing what you encounter on your path to full recovery goes without permission from He, who is not bonded by our reality. Bonded by rules, you are restricted with, to have an illusion of stable, predictable nearby future. In short, superpowers, which people don’t have not to cause even more chaos in this world. You start to read about miracles, which are happening all over the world, people who should be long dead in accordance to our medical knowledge, but are still alive. And it gets you thinking. “What can I do, how can I help myself in experiencing God’s mercy on my soul? To whom should I pray to get proper intercession of saints? To be heard.”

You start to look through those stories and try to find which of those saints had the most of those miracles happening, which had the biggest God’s grace and cured people from dread diseases. You look for patterns, which link all those miracles, and hope that if you do the same God’s mercy will come down on you. Quickly you know, on the path of being called saint, you need to be first proclaimed blessed by church. And the whole beatification process needs prove of miracles. This got me thinking, I admit it could be seen as naive thinking, but you will try everything, so I thought maybe if I pray to one of them, he will have the proof of being saint by performing a miracle on my son.

„Alright! This is my final offer! I know you need this as much as I need it. I know you need this for a different reason to mine, but I know it lays in our mutual interests to make sure it happens.” He paused for a second and then rose his finger to the air. “One miracle! One small, or maybe for some of you big, miracle, and we are good. I need it for Szymon to stay on earth and you need proof of your holiness. We all know that without it nobody will believe that you are saint, and we know only saints gets the best seats there. This is my final offer, take it or leave it. Calling once! Calling Twice! Sold! “

Act I

Blessed Martyrs of Peru

Curtains

They were one of those we decided to turn into. It was one of those situation, one could call coincidence, but those who believe would see God’s finger pushing certain people on your path. Soon after we were listed, to our room in the facility, entered a couple with little girl. And with only few words exchanged, we realized that they came from the same city as my wife, and know same people from one of the prayers group my in-laws were going to.  And we did not need to wait long, when one of those people, from that pray group, said that there is no coincidence in life. And since we are both on the same path we should pray to two Polish Franciscan priests who were killed in Peru in recent times. They were proclaimed blessed by Pope Francis, and if God’s will is to make them saints, they need more miracles. I personally was not too convinced about this idea, so soon has forgotten of their existence.

Time passed and we started to have more and more opportunities to go outside the facility. We used those breaks in the training to travel a bit, close to our home, to escape from the city and sight-see close by towns. We also started to visit nearby sanctuaries to pray for God’s mercy. There was one not far from our home, that for some reason we preferred most. We heard about couple of strange stories that happen there, people got cured from disease when praying to Holy Mary for Her intercession. Church was beautifully, with huge figure of Mary in the center, right behind the altar. You could sense that there is something special there. It was the same place where saint Maximilian Kolbe was living before he was sent to Nazi camps and died giving his life for other man, who was sentenced to death. We thought that it will be an excellent idea if we ask those monks to conduct a mass to cure Szymon. Place where you could order a mass was just next to the church. There was a small booth with priest siting inside.

“Wouldn’t you like to have a yearly mass?” He asked.

“I am not sure if we have enough money for that.” We replied we a bit of hesitation in our voice.

 “Money is the last thing you should worry about.” He replied and asked. “What is your child’s name?”

„Szymon. Please pray for his health, and help in sabotaging his training.”

 Priest stopped writing for a second, looked up and ask us. “What is he training for?”

„He has a large tumor on his adrenal gland, making him unique and qualifying for a space program where they trained children to fly to heaven.”

Priest paused again for a second and grabbed from his pocketed small, foiled picture and handed to us. Out of the whole pantheon of saints he gave as picture with relics of Blessed Martyrs of Peru and said. “Please take it, these are third degree relics of two blessed Polish priests who were killed in Peru. You have huge drama in your family therefore please pray to them and maybe they can help you on your way.”

Tears came to our eyes, from shock and emotions. It was unexpected, very touching gesture, and clear sign from God that we should, at least, try to pray for his mercy with intercession of those two priests.

All we could say was “Thank you.” We turn around and started to cry like little children.

End of Act I

Curtains

Round Three – Is it really working?

 “Drop after drop it wanders into his veins. Is it a cure or a poison, will it stop or initiate the pain…”

 Szymon was in much better shape, he was walking, running, playing with other kids and what most important – he was eating. Looking at him, you would still see lots of hair on his head, and it would raise a question “Is this really working?”. Is the chemo helping him or just, “making sure he will make the cut”. I still have in mind words spoken by one of the generals, from different center, which I visited few week back to get more perspective on my Son’s uniqueness.

 “You see, we don’t really understand this tumor, how he gives those special powers to a child. We try our best to enhance it, to give additional abilities by spreading it in other parts of cadet’s body, but we often fail. We see cases, where it reacts nicely and progresses further, and cases where it is immune to our treatment and starts to shrink. The worse is with newborns, we see sometimes cases, where we do our best, but the tumor suddenly disappears by itself. We have no clue why this is happening, therefore I can honestly say, that this is one of the most unknown and unpredictable tumor we are facing.” As I was leaving his office and saying goodbye, he left me with one more phenomenon. “There is also an ironic side of the whole training. We try to help those children by putting all kinds of drugs into their bodies and some of them have such a strong immune systems, that they are fighting it back, even chemotherapy. Do you understand? Their bodies can kill chemotherapy! Some may say that this is a miracle, but I think it is just lack of gratitude for what we are trying to do for them.” He said goodbye to me by shaking strongly my hand and leaving with one last comment.  “Have a nice day Sir, and I hope your Son will be a good sport! He will not fly off before completing his training also in our facility.”

 All those words made me sad on one hand, but filled with hope on the other. Something, which can be so unpredictable, gives a better chance for success. I preferred it over the tumor, which gives high certainty, that no matter what you do, he will cause our son to make the flight.

 Round three ended and we head back home for few days’ rest.  We kept in our minds words of the general and wondered how Szymon will react to the training. There were little or none side effects, and when they appeared it lasted for day or two and he was again back to normal. Those were also the days when our hearts were filled with joy, as we had our little moments of normality. We could go outside, spent time with people, and forget for a short while, how serious his condition was. Times, when we were thankful Szymon has a port, inside instead of Broviak, as we could bath him normally, run around the house and play, and have less worry, that something can happen to his central venous catheter. And again, what was key for us, these were the times when we could, forget about the Center, and pretend Szymek is not their cadet. He is a typical, no ordinary, like many others, kid from the neighborhood. Likes to go to playgrounds, slide down on the slide, and play in the sand, spent time with other kids. Further down the line it was more and more difficult to live like this. We would need to isolate him from his peers to ensure he will not catch some illness, which for other is a three day flu, while for Szymon this would mean, to be or not to be.  And this just breaks your heart when you see how much other kids mean to him, when you see that huge smile on his face when he can spend few minutes with his peers. I have never seen a child who would be craving so much for others. When tries to play, poke them with a smile or even cuddle. And it is not, that he is not getting love and warmth from us. He, like all of us, seeks acceptance from others, who are same age, and have a same worldview.

 Drop after drop it wanders into his body, will it give or take his life who can tell. There are so many tears, fears, and hopes flowing with it, which no other substance have. And all of them have one thing in common, this little question attached to each drop, “Will you help my child to stay, or just help him to fly away?”

It is always something more

 They sat on two comfortable armchairs somewhere between heaven and hell. They knew each other for long, as one created the other, but their path departed when he disagreed with his creator. It was not the first time they have met, and it was never to reconcile, but always to prove once right. This argument lasts till now and it will not be soon before it will end.

“Why you loved them so much? They are no different from animals?” Started the discussion man dressed in black.

“Why you keep asking me this question each time we meet? You know well the answer”. Replied man in white. “I created them, I showed them how to love, I showed them how to care for one another, how to learn and thrive, why should I not love what is really part of me?”

“I still cannot understand it, there is no logical explanation behind it.”

“Maybe because logic is where you seek for the answer. Your heart once knew how to love, but it was you who decided to fill it with anger.” Replied calmly man in white.

“At least I am not fooling myself that they care for me. And for sure I would not sacrifice anything or anybody for them. You on the other hand still think different.” He paused for a second. ”Give me more power and I will prove to you that when you take away their peace and bring suffering they will curse you and turn their back on you. It is not love what they are feeling for you, some turn to you because they are scared and some just in case you will take away their comfort.”

“I take you asked for a meeting because you would like to conduct another trial?”

“Yes, I asked for the meeting as this time I will prove you wrong. Give me more power, and I will show you that you will be the last person they turn to. “

“And you hope that they will turn to you?”

“No” Man in black laughed. “Don’t you remember? I don’t exist? I will show you that they will turn only to themselves, and this is how I will prove to you how stupid they are. They cannot control matter, time, and life but still think that can equal us and you will see that you will be the last person they will to talk to. Nobody really cares about your heaven, earth is what they care the most and quality of their life.”

“All right, I will give you power you have requested but as always I will come when they turn to me and save them from your misery.”

“No, let’s make sure their love is real. Come only when they hit the rock bottom, when there is no more hope for them, when they will feel that whole world turned against them. This will prove, that if they strongly believe, they will receive their salvation in your love and mercy. Otherwise they will just use you.  Stop those miracles for a second and let’s see their true feeling for you!”

“Let it be, this way I will be sure that only those who truly love me will be with me when the time comes and although I love them all I will never force their free will to be part of me”

“Good! So it’s a deal!” Man in black smiled as he knew that as of now the world will stand at his feet.

“Tell me one thing?” Asked man in white. “For me it doesn’t make a difference where we meet, but you always choose earth and take human form, why?”

Man in black did not replied, his face change to anger and disappeared.

 From the very first days we had to repel attacks, which were either dark thoughts hunting us or people who disturbed our peace. We felt that in each of them there is a hidden agenda. This mostly resulted in facing trails between good and evil. Trail where we needed to choose a path, not really knowing the true consequences of it. The only thing we knew was. First, do all we can to sabotage the flight. Second, if this will not be possible, make sure we do nothing to change the trajectory of the flight. So that once he flies, there is hundred percent guarantee he will get to heaven and no other place.

 Trials where from simple, small things like keeping the faith, hope, not to fall into despair in moment where your mind need to be straight, to big decisions, like how to sabotage the flight, which alternative treatment to take in order to lower his chances, how to maneuver the training within its legal boundaries to make sure that you get to the result you wanted.  And there was nobody to help us, no clear guidance on whom to listen. Help came only from intuition and clear conscience, that you did all you could, and make sure that even if you failed, heaven is waiting with wide open door. As simple as this may sound, the difficult part was to say “No”, especially to close relatives. You knew that everybody wishes Szymon all the best, but what’s best in their minds not always matched our idea of proper treatment. Worse part was that we were already living each day on high stress levels and those talks with relatives and fighting back their ideas were not helping us at all.

  I know that world is much simpler when you are none believer. You do all that is in your power to survive, as with the day when your eyes shut forever, rest does not matter. It is much more difficult for us, who hope to make the direct flight to heaven. We knew that with each year spent on earth it is much harder not to make that one false move, which change the trajectory of your flight to a place you would never wish to visit.

“I can easily bring back his health, make you and your family forget the whole drama, all I need is just one statement. Tell the world that I, the lord of light, is your one and only God”. Said man in black.

“Stop deceiving me, I will not sell my soul for temporality, as my eternal life is worth much more to me” I replied.

It has been proven to me that it always about something more. What looks simple in reality has many more layers which we just cannot see.

The Magical World of Max

“Close your eyes. Let me take you somewhere else, let me show you lush green meadows, where blowing wind bring grass to life. Let me lay you down next to the old oak tree, where rustling leaves comfort you to sleep. I will change the whole world so you will not feel scared, not feel your dreams are disappearing. As you are the reason why I am here, you are the reason why I would kill, just to make sure you are safe, make sure you are far from this horrible place” She whispered to his ear.

 There are not many people who can really cheer you up, make you feel better, especially when you face such a drama. Trick is not to tell you, “all will be good”, as you know that this is the big unknown, but to open your heart with that small key, which you cannot find yourself, and pour some optimism inside it. Give you that energy you are lacking, and with one smile, few words, pad on the back, recharge you fully. And one cannot fake that, one cannot pretend this mood, this energetic way of being, as by now you can see through people. You can easily sense a smirk and empty heart. You just spend some time with those people and you can see that even there is fun and laughter, inside you will still feel depressed. While, once you find a true source of happiness, one word will be enough to lift you up. If you find this person on your path, do everything not to let him go, as he will pull you up from the deepest shadows and bring you back to light.

 We met April and Max at the beginning of our journey. In those days where our heads were still full of negative thoughts, and our hearts had no hope that this can really be stopped. When we spoke the first time, April told us about Max, how he was qualified three years ago, but they cut him from the program because after year of training he was clean and no symptoms of uniqueness were seen is his body. Now they are back, because after two years, they spotted again some signs of relapse. This potentially could mean qualification but they were to confirm that. April was the first to show us how to smile on the rainy day. This optimistic behavior, telling that she is not taking any negative scenarios into account and nothing can change her way of approaching this situation, was very contagious.

 This was one side of April, her glass was always half full. You could drink from her “It will be fine I take no other options” attitude and with few words, couple of reasons why she thinks that, you felt she is right, it all makes sense. They already have knowledge how to work the system in their favor so why should we also not succeed.

“Mum, what is that?” Max looked at blood bag standing next to his bed.

“Today we are drinking raspberry juice, it will make you stronger and bring back your appetite”. Replied April with a smile.

“How long will it drip?” Max asked as he wanted to be unhooked, so that he can go back to playing with friends on the corridors.

“This is quick one, you know this well. Few minutes and you are free again” April cheered up Max not to focus much on the blood transfusion. “Come on let’s play some games”.

 There was also the other side of April, a caring mother for her little Max. She wanted to protect his innocent childhood as much as possible, hence created this magical world where they called chemo – orange juice, blood transplant – raspberry juice. She also helped Max to cope with all tests and side effects by telling some positive stories, or just letting Max know that this is just a quick procedure and soon he will be back to playing. When I looked at this from the distance at first I felt that she is not telling him the whole truth, and potentially you may call it even lying. Later I realized that this is to protect him, his childish mind, where you know he suffered already a lot so why paint all black. Plus you know that you don’t need to scare him by telling all the details in the adult way, as he is old enough to understand how serious situation he is facing, just remember that he is still a child and nobody should take this away from him.

 It is sad and uplifting at the same time, when you see how those kids quickly mature in this environment. They know that it is for their good, and most amazing part is, through them you can see how much your mind dictates your recovery. Younger ones, goes much better through the process, as their mind is not really focusing on the future but takes most out of presence. While older tend to collapse inside knowing what the whole thing can lead to and simple they are terrified with the idea that they can make the flight. Therefore creating this imaginary world, where everything gets its magical meaning, helped Max to pass through the training with a smile.

“Let me paint these walls with blue skies and warm white beaches. Let me take you to exotic islands to build sand castles and swim in beautiful turquoise sea. I just wish to color your world, so gray will not be what you see. And I know that it is not easy to change your world, but maybe my little enchanting stories will be those, which you will relive one day.”

Captain’s helping hand

 ”Come quick! We need to talk” Captain Alexandra nervously whispered to me and pulled me out of the room. “There is not much time.”

“What’s going on?”  I asked, confused about this whole situation. We entered small room, next to the command center, where we could talk in private. This was the room when we heard all those bad news, room where we could have a bit of intimacy, when you could not stop your tears from falling. This time I was about to hear something different.

“I tried my best to sabotage your mission” She started.” But I got caught by the Major and they removed me from training your Son. Once the briefing will be over, you will be informed by Major that Captain M aka Blind will take you over. She is very ambitious and will do all she can to shorten your Son’s training.”

 After hearing those words I was even more puzzled, as the last person I would expect to get some help from would be the captain. It would explain this strange feeling I had when we first met. When she was telling us about the test results and the fact that we are qualified, I sensed sadness in her eyes. Like there was a part of her sympathizing with us.

“Why did you do it? Why did you try to help us?” I was curious to know.

“Do you believe in coincidences?” She asked with much calmer voice.

“Not, really. In those discussions I am more on the destiny side.”

“Well, I am not really fan of those destiny stories, but when I saw, that your son was born on the same day as my child, and fact that you lived in the same apartment as me when I was a kid, but couple of floors below, it seemed very strange to me. I took it as a sign. A sign telling me “take this case and help them”. Everybody knows, that even though heaven is a place to be, flight should happen much later in your life. When you are old and lived a life, but not when you are young. Not when you just entered this world and did not really had a chance to taste it. Not when you are a gift to your parents, most precious thing they ever received, love of their life, and you are about to leave them. Fly off without even giving them a chance to enjoy time spent together. No child should be allowed to fly! That said, problem is different. With each year spent here on Earth it is getting harder and harder to get to heaven. You must put more effort to fly there and at the end there is no guarantee you will make it. This is why they list children, here is no doubt that the flight will be successful, hence reason why your son was picked. Coming back to your Son. Unfortunately I was not careful enough in sabotaging his flight and got caught. Due to that I am being moved to day care for some time to ensure I will not jeopardize it anymore.” She passed for a second and the only thing I could say was. “Thank you.”

“Good luck and I hope you will succeed in taking back your son.” We left the room as it got noisier on the corridor and we knew that captain’s round is coming.

Throughout the whole training there were many moments where I felt it would be easier for me to hit bull’s eye with closed eyes standing in the middle of the forest, rather than have all of those factors meet and succeed. But for some strange reason this is what happened. I always like to think that these are those small signs telling us that we are not alone in this battle. That someone is looking over us, making sure that at the end everything will be fine. The point is that I don’t know what His plans are and I am left with nothing else but trust.