I have an image of a white picket fence encircling a child, protecting her. I have imagined the fence battered by the winds of a tornado, flooded with rain, burned with sunshine; cracked and peeling but steadfast in the mission of the circle. Each picket tied together with the next, together more powerful than the elements that batter it. All to protect the child, who is poetically, and in reality, Hope.

We had seen bits and pieces of telethons. We had read Mary Pipher's Shelter of Each Other. We were stunned at the announcement that Lance Armstrong had cancer. We had heard about Kelly Davidson on the radio. We gave blood at our church's blood drive. A close friend called, out of the blue, to tell us she had breast cancer. We'd had little personal losses. We both decided to get cell phones. We named our daughter Hope.

There was a nagging pit in my stomach. In hindsight, God was preparing us in these ways, but how could we be prepared for, "I think Hope has leukemia."

Hope Browning, our two year old daughter, was diagnosed with leukemia on April 25, 2000. She had gradually been sleeping more than usual. It became extreme enough over Easter weekend to warrant a trip to the pediatrician. "We'll get a CBC, just to rule anything out." I had an awful feeling what he would say. Her white cell count was over 90,000. The pediatrician broke the news, it was quick and definite, thankfully.

My phone call to Duke, my husband, interrupted a lunch bike ride. He met me at the McDonald's on 2222, which I no longer go to because it was there I told him his precious baby girl was really sick. We headed out for our first trip to Dr. Wells' office which opened again at 2:00pm. On the way we called my parents to pick up Navy (our five-year-old daughter) from preschool and we called our pastor to put Hope on the prayer list.

Everything that followed really seemed like we were standing in the middle of a tornado. News would hit me like a blowing piece of sheet metal and I would barely blink. There seemed to be a constant flurry of activity around Hope. There was no real learning curve. Information had to be processed immediately. Our head hurt. Our hearts ached.

Just as we were not really prepared for the bad, we were equally surprised by the good. There were a lot of really good things. Our expectations were exceeded by a medical team that has a small-town, caring spirit combined with futuristic medical technology and knowledge. Friends and family were incredible. Friends cleaned our house, brought us food, printed out Internet info and did just about anything. We called our friends in Fort Worth the first morning and they walked into the hospital room by noon. We were inundated with balloons, calls, cards and visits. Our neighborhood had a blood drive with over 50 units donated. Soon, not just our church was praying for Hope, but hundreds of people added Hope to their prayers. The edges of the tornado were widening, but dissapating.

I have thought of Hope's time like a tornado too. Perhaps it is because we watched The Wizard of Oz 637 times during one hospital stint. She has experienced the fury of the storm and has awakened in a strange land. Oz is like the hospital, they can paint it in all the wild colors they want, but it is ultimately a scary place. She has met loyal friends endowed with brains, heart and courage to help her along her journey. But Hope alone, like Dorothy, possesses within her the means to get through this.

-Sharolyn Browning
July 2000

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