When I Should Have Died

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Dabney Hedegard
Dabney Hedegard

At 26, my cancer was in remission. Halleluiah, I thought, until two months later my oncologist found cottage-cheese-looking tumors along the outside sac of my heart and more mushroomed clusters growing along my abdomen.

Not a good sign. Not a good prognosis. Not much hope.

“But why, God?” I sobbed. “Why would you give me such a peace to keep my child, only to kill me with cancer or chemo?”

I endured the recommended stem-cell transplant. By the time I was released from Moffitt Cancer Institute in Tampa five weeks later, I longed to return home to care for my toddler.

Only I couldn’t.

Friends and family babysat me and my daughter. They cleaned my house, made my meals, read her books. Resting on my sofa or the floor beside her crib, I watched everyone else live my life for me.

After two weeks at home, I realized I wanted my role back, even though I operated at 40 percent of my energy. My husband agreed and left me to love on my 16-month-old. In less than an hour, I realized my mistake.

I needed to nap. She didn’t.

By noon, I hoisted her into the crib and pawed her wall to steady myself on the way out. I panted the 15 steps it took to reach my front porch and lowered myself onto the cement step.

Angry with God, I wiped my face and asked, “Why me? I just want to bake with my daughter, drive her to story time, and laugh like I used to.”

I hated my life.

Then my phone rang and my friend Ragan blurted out, “Oh, Dabney, we’re so glad you’re home from the hospital. We just didn’t know what we were going to do when we found out you weren’t going to make it!”

“What? What are you talking about?”

I swallowed hard as she told me how I should have died. That’s why my whole family unexpectedly visited me early one morning during my transplant and why my daughter, whom I was told I wouldn’t see for my five-week hospital stay, was toddling around my sterilized room. Even though her germs could infect my weakened immune system and threaten my life, she was there to say her last goodbyes.

I would die long before sickness would catch up with me.

Turns out, my doctors believed my daughter was the reason I was hanging on, and they encouraged my husband to bring her in to see me as many days as he could.

She was saving my life.

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