“Your son has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.”
Every Duchenne parent remembers the call. Ask them about it, sometimes, and I guarantee you will witness a snort of incredulity followed by a shaking head, a deep breath, and faraway eyes. The call changes everything. It is stunning. It is unbelievable. It leaves you speechless, numb, and confused. It prompts denial. It suspends time.
Excuse me? Duchenne what? There must be some mistake.
Our call came on July 5, 2002, ironically the day after we celebrated Independence. The Children’s Hospital neurologist told us she knew about the diagnosis a couple days prior, but withheld the news because she did not want to ruin our holiday. Gee, thanks. With one call, our lives changed, our dreams evaporated, and our hopes vanished. The rest of that day was a blur, a confusing mess of realization and disbelief. I honestly cannot remember what we did other than sit and try to wrap our heads around what just happened. I can still feel the gut punch.
That day, dreams disappeared in a flash. Gone. Over. Done. The ones where I…
…caught my son’s fastball and then casually tossed it back,
…nodded my confidence from the bleachers before his crucial at-bat,
…encouraged him to “go long” before throwing the football,
…tested his shoulder pads with two fists before a big game,
…bumped against him as we battled one-on-one in the driveway,
…laughed with him around a campfire during a backpacking trip,
…steered a boat while watching him learn to waterski,
…tossed him the car keys and reminded him to not drink and drive,
…smiled with pride as he helped his sister move into her new apartment,
…thanked him for cutting the grass.
I could go on… The dreams were many, and sometimes still are.
Before the call, I saw Dad-hood like most Dads I knew growing up. I saw it through the eyes of my Dad and his Dad before him. I saw activity and vitality. I saw patient demonstration and loving expectation. I imagined sports, camping, fishing, boating, swimming, running, jumping, and climbing. I imagined Alex’s college, career, wedding, and children. I imagined everything life was certain to provide.
That all changed after the call. As we learned more about Duchenne, I imagined Alex…
…falling behind his peers,
…losing his ability to walk,
…using a power wheelchair,
…losing the use of his arms,
…needing help to eat,
…needing help to breathe, and
…asking when he would die.
Fifteen years in, all of it has come true, just as I imagined, and then some.
In fact, it’s more than okay!
With Duchenne, you see life from an angle you never would have otherwise. You see the preciousness of now and the beauty of togetherness. You thrive in the power of love and the healing strength of laughter. You receive sincere appreciation for always being there, be it sitting, standing, or sleeping alongside. You feel the strong connection of a loose handhold as well as the loving embrace of an armless hug. You absorb tears as well as heartbreak. You pick up your son as much as he picks up you. You give and receive absolute trust because you are his confidant, guardian, and best friend. You see bravery, in the face of Duchenne. You see your son, with eyes wide open. His and yours.
Rare gifts indeed.
When we hung up from the call, I feared life with Duchenne. I feared Alex’s inabilities, as well as my own. I feared its effect on him, as well as our family. I feared what he would be missing, and what we had lost. I worried about how we would manage the beast. I worried about the unknown and what I could not control.
Today, fifteen years in, we embrace it, despite what the monster may yet have in store.
We do so because we have one another…right now…
…and that’s all that matters.