The Ninth Floor

There aren’t many places you can walk into that will cripple your spirit and forever rearrange what you think is important in life. There aren’t many faces you can look at, and know instantly, you will see them when you close your eyes at night. A year from now, five years from now, you’ll wonder how they are. Where they are.

If they are.

The ninth floor of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center will do that to you.  It is the pediatric floor of the hospital and is filled with children who have cancer and young parents who are wondering how and why they got here. Year old babies being held by moms pushing IV poles. Toddlers who haven’t been walking that long are now walking attached to a drip line. Teenagers who should be enjoying some of the best years of their lives are instead confined to a chair for six or seven hours a day.

One of the children who was there that day was my seven-year old Grandson, Matthew, who was diagnosed  with a rare and aggressive form of Lymphoma a few weeks ago. The positive news is that the doctors believe it is curable and this will only be a page in his life. But curable doesn’t mean that he hasn’t had surgery, endless tests, spinal taps, or bone marrow pulled. It doesn’t mean he’s immune from having to take endless amounts of pills or five-hour round trip car rides into the city or fourteen hour days 4-5 days a week during chemo weeks. It doesn’t mean he’s not confused or angry at times, especially when he looked and acted like a normal seven-year old boy whose energy level was off the chart. It doesn’t mean he won’t have to endure several rounds of chemo, risk of infection, possible hospital stays or transfusions. It doesn’t mean he won’t have side effects or that his self-esteem will not suffer. And we haven’t even started to address what this has done to his parents and our family.

When you find out an adult has cancer people generally ask questions. When you tell someone a child has cancer, no one knows what to say. They stare at you and shake their heads as if they misunderstood. They tell you it must be some sort of mistake.

Except it isn’t.

The ninth floor at MSK is a violation of everything you might believe in or hold holy. And yet it is a place of laughter and smiles, hope and healing. It’s where courage lives, battles are won and heroes are born every day. The kids here may have visible scars and be without hair but their strength, and that of their parents, is palpable. The nurses are a special breed of people, the doctors are respectful, patient and honest.

As difficult as this is for Matthew and our family, we feel blessed that his cancer is curable. As my younger daughter said, this is the best possible news in the worst possible situation.

I’ve known a lot of people in my life but there have only been two or three that have made me laugh out loud every time I spoke with them. Matthew is one of those people and the things he has gone through recently has not changed that at all. He has an unfiltered and irreverent sense of humor that can make you shake your head or laugh out loud and I’ll take those chances every day of the week.

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A few weeks ago we were sitting on the beach late on a weekday afternoon watching the waves and talking about life. Cancer was not part of his future. These days we’re sitting in a treatment room on the ninth floor of Sloan Kettering as the meds alter his little body. Life changes pretty quickly. What was important a  few days ago now seems trivial. What was once upsetting now seems petty.

People have asked if there is anything they can do for us. We always answer the same way.

Pray. Pray for Matthew and for all the ninth floors everywhere.

P.S. Last night after he got home from a long day of treatment at the hospital, Matthew and I were sitting on the sofa watching one of the America’s Funniest Home Video shows I DVR’d for him. (Are you surprised he loves that show?) He was sitting curled up next to me with his head laying against my chest laughing. As I began fast forwarding through a commercial he looked up at me and said very seriously, “You know, Grandpa, you’re the nicest old man I know.”

It was one of the nicest things anyone ever said to me because I knew exactly what he he was telling me and where his heart was. That’s who he is and that’s why I love him so much.

Thank you for listening.

92 thoughts on “The Ninth Floor

  1. Carrie Rubin

    So very sorry to hear about your grandson. Even though my pediatric residency days were years ago, I remember the months I spent rotating through the oncology wards as if they were yesterday. Some of them were the saddest days I spent, some of them the most triumphant. But all of them were filled with my endless respect for the children and teens battling cancer and for their parents (and grandparents) who were right there beside them, even when stepping onto that ward every day had to be the hardest thing they’d ever done. My best wishes to you all.

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  2. lagoodwi

    You’ve written a beautiful and inspiring tribute for the heroes on the ninth floor. You’ve shined some light on something so dark. And most importantly you shared with everyone a little glimpse of how special Matthew is. He’s a beautiful soul and was born with strength and courage that only heroes are made of. He has not and am confident that he never will let this cancer define who he is. He has many great qualities, but one of his best, is his positive attitude on life. And he gets that from his grandpa. It’s one of the many reasons he’ll come out of this on top, carrying all of us through this.

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  3. In My Cluttered Attic

    George, what Jodi said. Its not right for any child to go through what Matthew is going through. Matthew, you’re an inspiration. It’s a shame, that your going through this is how we know you are an inspiration. So get better… and continue to inspire us with your humor. P.S. I think grandpa loves you as much as you love him… so get well QUICK, and teach him how to love you even MORE. Praying for your speedy improvement little man. ;o)

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  4. uju

    I’m sorry about Matt. My prayers are with you and your family.

    It’s always difficult watching people suffer, especially children. Such precious little beings should be rocking the world as it is because their innocence is the balm that sends our demons away.

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  5. DailyMusings

    Oh George I am so sorry to hear this, and Matt’s line to you made me cry. What a wonderful thing to say and for you to hear. I am glad the Drs are giving a positive outcome. I was a volunteer on the pediatric floor of a hospital years ago- it was impossibly difficult to see children unwell. I did find they were resilient in a way adults aren’t. They soldier through. I will pray for a full recovery for Matt, and for you and your family to continue to have the strength to get through this difficult period in your lives.

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  6. Mindy

    Oh, George! I’m so sorry to hear about your grandson, but I’m happy to hear that his cancer is treatable. Sending you and your family positive thoughts!

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  7. A.PROMPTreply

    Oh, George. I’m so sorry for Matthew and your entire family. This road is a tough one, I know….I watched my son’s best friend battle cancer at age 10 and the things he went through so stoically made me feel exactly as you do..here is where you find the unexpected heroes. Take heart in the fact that as many things Matthew has to go through right now, it actually hurts more to have to sit there and watch and wait and wonder. I bet you’ll be reminded 100 times over of the resilience of youth and the neverending optimism they have. I’m so glad that you all at least have the comfort of someone saying to you that this is treatable and this will only be a page in his book. I’m also glad Matthew has the “nicest old man” he knows to share this journey with him….I can’t imagine any better medicine. Hugs and prayers!

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  8. Ann Coleman

    What a beautiful and touching post about such a difficult subject! I am so sorry that Matthew has cancer, and can only imagine how hard that must be for you and the rest of his family. No child should have to go through this. He sounds like a very special little boy, and I am so glad you are going to be there for him in the coming weeks. And yes, I will pray for him, for you and your family, and, as you so eloquently put it, “for all the ninth floors everywhere.” Take care, Ann

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you, Ann. That’s very kind of you. Yes, he is a very special young man and we pray he has the chance to show his very special sense of humor as he moves through life. Thank you.

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  9. Louella

    Matthew’s journey, along with the whole family supporting him forever changes all of our lives. Hearing his story for the first time made me evaluate and open up my eyes to remind me how precious our time is and to value every second of it. I think about his story and what you are all going through and always gets me every time. I started to write my comments when I first read your blog and kept rewriting it since I wanted to say something perfect but could never find my words and when I did, then I couldn’t stop.

    Matthew has a strong heart and mind and will come out of this even more amazing than he already is. And I agree you are the nicest old man I know :).
    Prayers, hugs and lots of love sending to all of you.

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you, Lou. Your prayers and best wishes are what we all need right now, especially Matthew. He’s a special little boy and I believe as you do, one day will find use this experience in a positive way. Stay well.

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  10. jncthedc

    You are a man of substance with a kind heart and gentle nature. Your grandson is very fortunate to have such a person in his life. He will learn about personal feelings that many children go a lifetime without experiencing.
    Cancer is a terrible symptom. You will notice I said SYMPTOM, not disease. It is the END RESULT of a body that suffers from a deficiency causing an imbalance in function. As a physician I always made certain my patients focused on their HEALTH, not “disease.” Finding the deficiencies and allowing the body to return to a state of maximal function is the goal. It should be noted that this is an ongoing process which everyone (not just patients diagnosed with diseases) needs to partake in. When those suffering health maladies see that healthy people participate in the same process it blurs the boundaries between disease care and health care. This adds comfort to the patient because they feel less isolated from the world.
    My prayers and thoughts are with you and your family. The relationship you described with your grandson will be embedded in my thoughts forever. Thank you.

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you so much for your words. I never thought of disease/symptom In that way but you’re right, we are all participating in the same process. I will pass your words along to Matthew. Thank you again.

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  11. oldmainer

    This is heartbreaking and uplifting, all at the same time. We think children are so fragile until they are faced with a challenge and their inner strength is exposed. A great story, given the circumstances. And I think he’s right. You sound like a pretty nice ‘old man’.

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  12. Sammy D.

    George, I’m so sorry to hear about Matthew. I understand randomness but it still seems as if something should take randomness out of the loop when it comes to children and cancer. I do hope that Matthew is in good hands, that the medicines work well, and I pray for Matthew and your family to draw the strength you need to persevere during his treatment.

    I do think your daughter’s statement, “This is the best of all possible worst news” is a mantra to live by. It is the attitude my parents showed without ever speaking it until Dad got cancer at age 84. When he was making the decision about treatment, he not only stated something similar to your daughter for the first time, but said, “I might as well try the treatment. I can always stop if it’s too awful.”

    Five years later we are headed to Michigan soon to celebrate his 90th by taking him golfing.

    I have every ounce of faith that Matthew will recover and live a long and fruitful life. He just happens to be walking through life’s flames a little sooner than most of us. It sucks, but he’s getting it out of the way early.

    His expression of love for you is one of the sweetest I’ve heard in a long time. I know you will always remember that moment with him.

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    1. George Post author

      What a beautiful thing for you to say, Sammy. I’m so happy to hear you’ll be celebrating your Dad’s 90th birthday soon. Please extend my best wishes for the next decade of his life. Thank you for your prayers, which are most important at this time. Stay well.

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      1. Sammy D.

        Do keep us posted, George, on Matthew’s progress if you are able and willing. My friend’s middle-school son recently completed his arduous treatment for a lymphoma diagnosis. I think it helped her to be able to report good news and wit’s end moments. And honestly as a so-far spectator on this cancer journey, I probably speak for many when I say our fear is greatest about the unknowns, including how we would cope with being a patient or caretaker. The more you share, the better able we are to see that fears can be overcome, good medical help is available and prayers do work to give us strength.

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      2. George Post author

        Thanks, Sammy. I’ve thought about reporting in from time to time about Matthew’s progress and I think I may do that on occasion. I’ve always tried to keep this blog on the lighter side, with some exception, and for my own sanity during this time, I’d like to continue in that vein,more as a diversion than anything. As with most things, I think it’s hard to imagine how any of us would react to this or any situation until we’re thrown into it but as you said, it does help to listen and learn though I pray no one reading this will ever be in a similar position. So in time I’ll post about this as I feel I can, and other random things, just because.😊Thank you again.

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  13. ParentingIsFunny

    That was so sweet. What a great insight into that life that I hope I never have to know on a more personal level. Having terrible things happen to my children is the most frightening thought I can come up with. I’m at least relieved to know that those children on the 9th floor have each other and understand what they’re each going through on a level no other children could. God bless you for sharing this, George.

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  14. Diane F.

    I am a co-worker of your daughter’s and I just found out about your grandson’s illness today. Your whole family is in my prayers. As the parent of a child who has congenital heart disease and who had 2 open heart surgeries as a baby, I know firsthand how wonderful the doctors and nurses are who work with young children. They truly are angels. Everyone at school will be praying for Matthew and for your whole family. God Bless all of you!

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you very much, Diane. We appreciate your prayers and best wishes and I will let Gina Marie know you reached out here. You’re right, the nurses and doctors who work with children are very special people. My best to your family, as well. Take care.

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    2. reocochran

      This post how you wrote it was wonderful, George. The way the adults are seeing positives in your grandson’s life reflect onto him. Your daughter and your positive outlook are like beacons of light for him to see are helping him to stay strong. I also believe you when you shared his own great attitude is helping. He sounds like a fantastic child and so intuitive. Happy you and he go do normal things to brighten his life. Matthew is in my heart now through your words.
      Although NOT the same level of serious, my youngest daughter has had JRA since she was 13. We spent many hours at Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. OSU did a medical case study on her joints and they were at age of 65 back then. She feels pain daily but is beautiful inside and outside, too. She has a college degree and had great idea to help promote health in healthy blended smoothies. Better Blends went through a lot of problems and spent a lot on trying to get state licensing. ($10,000) It is on her “back burner,” but it helped her focus on others. 🙂 Thank you for the beautiful story about Matthew. I just believe he will find a great life ahead and touch others, too.

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      1. George Post author

        Thank you very much for your words and thoughts. I’m glad your daughter has grown into a successful young women and overcome the difficulties she had in life. We pray Matthew will be happy and healthy as he follows his own path in life. Thank you again.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. shirley santonastaso

    I worked with Gina and love her dearly. I just found out about Matthew. Your beautiful words touched my heart and soul. Please know that my prayers will be with Matthew and his family each and every day. I will pray for his full recovery and for God to grant you all the strength and grace to endure the struggles you may face as you travel the road to Matthew’s full recovery. My love to Gina and Jeff and all their family. Shirley Santonastaso

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you, Shirley. Gina Marie speaks of you often, as recently as the other night. I will let her know you were asking for her and praying for Matthew’s recovery. Thank you so much for your prayers.

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  16. jan

    I have spent many hours in pediatric cancer wards and it rips the guts right out of you to see what too many families are going through. They tell me the treatments are gentler than thirty years ago when my nephew had leukemia and I really hope and pray that is true! Laughter always helps the kids although it is often so hard. They really do feed off the emotions of those around them. Prayers are all I can offer.

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  17. Chick A

    Dear Matthew, you keep being irreverent and unfiltered. It’s the best way to be. Just said a prayer and sent positive, healing vibes into the Universe and they are headed your way. Tell your Grandad that he’s a lucky man to have you, to be able to see the unmerciful beauty in this very sad situation, knowing…you’ll all come out stronger because of it. Lots of Love and support to you, Matthew…and you too George. ❤

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  18. colorpencil2014

    Dear George, I visited your blog yesterday for the first time and what a good place to browse around. And then I read this post and I felt so sad for you all. As a new visitor, I did not feel I could leave a comment behind. But I saw you on my blog and since your story is still in my head, I decided to come back. Your lovely and wise Matthew is in my prayers and I am happy for him to have such a caring , loving family and the nicest old man in his life! With warm greetings form Ohio, Johanna

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you, Johanna for your words and for returning to visit and comment on Matthew. I’m glad you did. He’s a special little boy who continues to make us laugh even through this difficult time. We all appreciate your thoughts. Thank you again.

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  19. Nancy

    Prayers to Matthew and all the brave, brave children on the 9th floor. If love helps heal, he already has the best medicine in his life. Thanks for reminding me what is truly important in life. I’m going to go hug my children and tell them how much I love them.

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  20. Michele Anderson

    Your words are very beautiful, George. Our grandchildren are so very special and we love them so much that in times where they are hurt or sick we would gladly trade places with them. My prayers are with Matthew and all the children in all the hospitals fighting for their right to live a happy, healthy life. It makes you realize that the present moment is the only one that we have and to treasure it always.

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  21. Holly'sMom

    Thank you for your post. It was beautiful, and definitely reminds us all not to sweat the small things in life. About twenty-one years ago, we were told my father-in-law had non-hodgekins lymphoma. Of course, we all were concerned, but I just told him, “I KNOW you are going to be okay. My daughter is GOING to know her grandfather!” (My daughter was around 15 months at the time). Twenty-one years later, both of my daughters were able to celebrate their grandfather’s 89th birthday with him this past July! 🙂 When a loved one, particularly a child, is taken ill, it hits us like nothing else possibly can or could. So glad the doctors have said this is curable, but so sorry for the rough road your grandson, and the entire family, must go down to achieve healing. Matthew sounds like a special young man, indeed! I have a feeling he is going to grow up to do great things in this world. Prayers going out to Matthew, his parents, you, and all who love him. And you might want to consider buying Mr. Matthew a Superman cape, because as far as I can tell he is one SUPER young man!

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you so much for your story and thoughts of Matthew. I’m so glad your daughters got to know their grandfather and though it’s a difficult time right now, I’m looking forward to dancing at Matthew’s wedding one day. Thank you once again.

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  22. blondieaka

    By chance I dropped by because of your like on a comment I made…..I am typing through the tears as I know first hand your fears..my daughter is a survivor like your grandson will be…..hardest part for us is watching and trusting in the doctors, those who are tireless in their commitment to helping and curing. We can’t rub or kiss it better or put on a plaster can we? But we can trust and pray and treat them as normal and not sick. You have all my healing thoughts and prayers coming way 🙂

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you so much for your words. It’s always inspiring to hear about a survivor and someone who’s been there and understands what you have to unfortunately experience in order to support the ones you love. And you’re right, treating them as normal in a situation that is removed from what is, is critical to everyone’s well being. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. They are very much appreciated.
      Prayers of thanks for your daughter and her continued good health..:)

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      1. blondieaka

        Thank you George it’s 10 plus years now so fingers crossed. But yes, you can only really understand when you have been there. But anytime you feel like a rant and to say it’s not fair message me privately and rant away I really don’t mind. You take care now and give that grandson of yours a thumbs up from me and tell I think he is really brave 🙂

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  23. Nurse Kelly

    Hi George – I am so very sorry to hear about your grandson. I went through a similar experience with my own son 9 years ago when he was diagnosed with a pediatric brain tumor. After 7 months of chemo, he remained stable and has stayed stable to this day. My experiences are way too lengthy to relate to you here, but know that I am well aware of what you are going through. If you ever want to reach out to me on this, please feel free to do so. Sending prayers and love to your entire family and strength to carry you through – you will get through it – hang on to the fact that his case is curable above all else. Today, I do volunteer work for all of the organizations I was introduced to from our experience – there is always a silver lining in these situations no matter what – trust me on that. xoxo

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    1. George Post author

      Thanks so much Kelly. It’s always uplifting to hear of another success story and speak with someone who has had similar experiences and understands the process. Thank you also for your offer, I may do that one day if something comes up. I’ve thought about what I might do when this is over as a way of giving back. New York is too much of a trip but maybe something closer. I’ll have to investigate once I have the time. Like you, I believe there will be a silver lining and positives that we can take and learn from. Thank you also for your prayers and best wishes, they are very much appreciated.

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  24. shinepositivepower

    Hi George, sorry if it took me time to read this post. I already know about your grandson Matthew in one of the comments in another blog. I experienced having my son sick of a terrible disease, it can be deadly as it has no cure unless it was diagnosed early. Thankfully my son survived but being in the hospital and seeing children suffering really breaks my heart. No children should go through any of that I believe but it happens, it is the time where we draw strength from God, our family and our friends. My prayer and thoughts are with you and Matthew and your entire family and to those in the hospital. Matthew indeed is a wonderful and amazing boy and he is very blessed to have grand dad like you as you are blessed to have him. May you continue to have the strength and laughter as you go through this. God bless to you.

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you so much for your kind thoughts and prayers. I’m so happy your son is well and survived the disease you all fought with him. It is difficult to watch a child go through something like this and feel helpless, as you know. But you’re right, the support of friends and family and a strong faith in God is so very important in finding the strength to battle these things. My best wishes for your son’s continued good health..:) thank you again.

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