Jacqueline Dooley | Longreads | January 2018 | 20 minutes (5,067words)
In July 2016, when we got the results of my 15-year-old daughter’s CT scan, my friend Babs introduced me to a new term: “anticipatory grief.” The scan showed that tumors in Ana’s lungs were noticeably larger than they’d been three months earlier, and masses in her abdomen had multiplied. Having been through this eight years earlier with her then 16-year-old son, Killian, Babs recognized that what we were dealing with wasn’t just a bad scan. It was a turning point in Ana’s disease — the Inflammatory Myofibroblastic Tumor, a rare form of pediatric cancer, she’d been diagnosed with four years earlier.
Medicinenet.com defines anticipatory grief as “the normal mourning that occurs when a patient or family is expecting a death.” As if there was anything normal about preparing to mourn my child’s death.
I didn’t like the term. I wasn’t ready to start grieving.
Babs suggested I reach out to a local hospice organization. I recoiled at the thought. Ana looked and felt good. I was sure her oncologist would find a drug to slow her progression until some miracle of modern medicine revealed a cure. It seemed impossible that Ana would die. I had no frame of reference or spiritual foundation for the enormity of that kind of loss.
Ana’s oncologist switched her to a new medication, but made it clear that this likely would only slow things down. Although it was disappointing, we still had hope. Ana glowed with health, at least outwardly. Maybe this new treatment would work better than the others had. Maybe.