Mother and daughter posing after hike

Dancing in the Dark

The front door opened and they walked in, the bright front vestibule of their gracious old house suddenly filled with their silence. Josh made towards the kitchen holding a brown paper bag filled with the lunch they had purchased on their way home from the hospital in Manhattan. Jenny set her shoulder bag on the stairway and moved to follow him.

She looked tired. Her face, usually open and animated, was downcast. She wore a pair of brightly patterned exercise pants and a matching sweatshirt. A fashionable fanny pack was strung across her abdomen, to hold the small balloons collecting fluid from the plastic drainage tubes inserted after her mastectomy 10 days ago. Her body was plump and soft looking, the body of a young woman who had given birth only three weeks earlier.

I followed Jenny and Josh into the kitchen of their house, wondering when they would tell me what the pathology report said and what Jenny’s treatment plan would be. But clearly they didn’t want to talk about it just yet. They had left their house in the quiet New Jersey town of Montclair at 7:30am and returned at about 3pm. They were tired and hungry.

They sat down at the big table in their kitchen and proceeded to demolish their lunch. Lyla, the baby, slept peacefully in her bassinet, which I had placed at one end of the kitchen table earlier in the day.  I passed a few awkward minutes with my daughter and son-in-law making small talk about their morning at the hospital.


A few minutes after they sat down, Josh’s sister, Sarah, bounced into the kitchen holding Miles, Lyla’s 15-month-old brother. Everyone’s attention then turned to Miles who responded by protesting loudly against being confined in Sarah’s arms.  When he finally broke free, he squirmed into Jenny’s lap while Josh and I hovered nearby to make sure that he couldn’t investigate the contents of mommy’s fanny pack. This had been our fear for the past few days. But it clearly meant so much to Jenny to be able to hold Miles in her lap, that we did not try to wrest him away from her.  The commotion caused by Miles’ appearance in the kitchen seemed to startle Lyla, who awoke crying and hungry. All opportunity for conversation was then lost as the kitchen was thrown into its all too common state of pandemonium.

After several anxious hours of waiting, I went for a walk with my daughter and heard what she and Josh had seemed so reluctant to tell me. In the late afternoon sun, we walked side by side, pushing Lyla’s stroller ahead of us. The warm air was soft and scented with the fragrance of lilac. Century old houses on large wooded lots, lined both sides of the street as it wound along the brow of a steep hill.

My daughter told me that nothing unexpected had come out of the meetings but that it had been very hard for her to listen as the doctors described the next six months of her life. She couldn’t fool herself anymore. She had managed to convince herself that she had detected the cancer early enough that she would only need a mild chemotherapy treatment. She was hoping that she would be spared the nasty side effects that everyone fears. But the reality had sunk in during the course of the morning. She sobbed softly as she explained why she and Josh were so sad.

As I had been many times since learning that Jenny had cancer, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenges that she faced. Life seemed terribly unfair.

At around 10pm, after worrying myself into an exhausted state, which allowed me to sleep for a few hours each night, I heard the sound of music coming from the kitchen. Descending the stairs to investigate, I recognized that the sound coming from the kitchen was the old Bruce Springsteen song, “Dancing in the Dark” and that the volume was cranked up quite high. It was Jenny’s voice, singing the words along with the recording. Lyla was snuggled up over Jenny’s right shoulder sleeping peacefully as Jenny glided around the kitchen in time with the music. With her long brown hair piled on top of her head, she looked strangely elegant as she danced with her baby. 

She looked up as I walked in. “What are you doin’ mom? I thought you went to bed.”

“I did, sweetheart” but then I heard music playing and I had to come and see what was going on”.

Jenny smiled at me, “There is nothing going on, mom. It’s just Lyla and me. We’re dancing”.

Instinctively, I wrapped my arms around Jenny and Lyla and started moving around the kitchen with them. “That’s my girl”, I said. “That’s my girl”.

And just like that, the three of us were dancing around the kitchen. And in that moment, life was sweet again. My daughter had gone to hell and back but she was still dancing. – Alexandra Raphael

Click here to read Mom … It’s Cancer.

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