September, 2001 | Jan Harley

There was no doubt about it. I had been knocked off my happy mountaintop with the force of a crushing avalanche and was now trying to dig myself out so I could get to my daughter.  

As I drove back to Minnesota, only one thought was on my mind, “God, please protect Nicole from any harm!”  Al had helped me pack my bags in record time and reassured me that everything was going to be all right.  I knew I had to leave right away in order to make the 11-hour trek back to Minnesota in time to be at the hospital for Nicole’s operation the next morning.  Al’s last words to me as we walked to my car would be my companion during this trip back… “Keep the faith Jan. I love you and Nicole with all my heart. Please drive safely and call me when you get there”.

11 hours is a long time to meditate.  I found myself surrounded by silence in my car. The usual array of music I played to accompany my drives to and from Michigan to Minnesota were no longer part of this journey.  In silence, I relived every moment I had experienced with Nicole.  It was like a screenplay of her life playing over and over in my mind.  The day she was born and the divine joy I felt holding her so close.  The sweet smell of her skin and the softness of her face. Her sweet kisses goodnight after I would read her bedtime stories.  Her toddler stage, when we would play for hours building blocks and would laugh and giggle until my sides hurt.  The first time she lost her tooth and she almost woke up when I was slipping “Tooth Fairy” money under her pillow.  The time she told me, “Mom, let’s just ba-lax tonight.” Or the time she exclaimed, “Mom, the toothpaste just dis-da-peared”. (I found the toothpaste later on and it was smeared all over one of her doll’s faces.) The day she asked me if there really was a Santa Claus and her first day of kindergarten and subsequent school years through fourth grade.  All the joyous moments of being Nicole’s Mom engaged my mind as I frantically drove through the pitch-black night to get to her.  All I could think about was how I wanted to hold Nicole in my arms and tell her everything was going to be all right.  What must she be thinking? Is she afraid? Does she know what is going on? Is she in pain?

As the sun rose over the towering bluffs of the Mississippi River by La Crosse and I gazed at the grandeur of this mighty river, I turned onto I-94 heading west.  Only one more hour until I arrived in Rochester.  It was already 7:00 am and I knew that I would miss seeing Nicole going into surgery.  I was still hopeful I would be there when she came out of the operation.

I quickly found a parking spot in downtown Rochester.  People were bustling about. Some in nurses uniforms, some in casual business attire, some with suits and ties.  A sea of professional medical personnel whirled around me.  I ran as fast as my legs would take me past the beautiful sculptures Mayo Clinic is so famous for.  I bolted into the foyer and found the information desk at Methodist hospital.  Out of breath, I gasped to the receptionist, “Hi, I am Nicole’s Mother, Jan. Would you please direct me to Nicole’s room”.

I was given good directions and soon found my way into the elevator and climbing steadily to the sixth floor of the hospital.  My eyes met each person on the elevator and I thought for a moment, “I wonder what they are in this hospital for or whom they may be visiting?” Mustering up as much composure as I could, I calmly walked down the hall all the while thinking I needed to be strong for Nicole.  I found Nicole’s Dad quietly seated in her hospital room.  I froze in my tracks.  He was sitting down with his head in his hands.  I asked, “What is wrong? Where is Nicole?” With his head down he slowly explained to me the results had returned from the biopsy of the tumor in her leg.  With tears in his eyes he looked up and proceeded to tell me that Nicole had an aggressive bone cancer.

I was riding the wave again; choking back the tears and feeling the fear rising up inside me like a tidal wave.  What are her chances? When do we get to see her? A million and one questions flooded my mind at that moment.  I desperately wanted answers.  I calmed myself and internalized that these questions would be answered in due time.  As I waited for Nicole to arrive in her room from surgery, I counted our blessings that Nicole was in the care of the best surgical team and in one of the best hospitals in our nation, the Mayo Clinic.  Still, I couldn’t help feeling, why her? Why us?

Without warning I found myself suffocating and in need of space.  I swiftly made my way down the hall to the nearest women’s restrooms and locked the door.  As I leaned against the wall, I found myself sliding down a long endless tunnel into a heap of sorrow while the sounds of sobbing echoed and bounced off the tile in the small room.  I knew I was the one crying but I felt very far away, like an out-of-body experience you hear about.  I could faintly make out someone knocking on the bathroom door, “Are you alright in there? Do you need help?  I suddenly realized that I was sitting on the floor of the bathroom and was sobbing a lifetime of sobs into my shirt. I quickly stood up and wiped away my tears and resumed my armor of strength for Nicole.  I quickly responded,“Yes, I’m alright.  I will be out in a moment.”