The dance

By David Quisenberry

You are 29 in a new city.  Building a financial services practice, which basically means cold calling people all day, going to networking events, and hoping someone will say yes to your pitch of entrusting their retirement success to you.  Every day is grueling, exhausting; full of people, rejection, and capitalist quotas.  You are married and have a young daughter who loves to play outside, kick balls, and play with simple puzzles at 18 months.  As summer approaches, your wife tells you she’s expecting.  And then it happens.

David Quisenberry

David Quisenberry

Your daughter stops wanting to run and kick a ball.  She consistently spikes fevers, and gets cold sores throughout her mouth.  You take her to the park and all she wants to do is swing.  Swing for hours and hours and hours.  Your wife thinks something is wrong.  You think she’s just getting a childhood sickness at school or from playing with other kids and will shake it.  She starts to have bruises on her shins.  You think it’s from bumping into things.  Life is full, busy, filled with stress.  You refuse to believe something more serious is going on with your daughter.  Your wife takes her to the doctor, who advises to give it time and it will go away.

You drive across town, pulling into the pediatric emergency room on the east side of the river.  Check in and wait.  After a while they invite you I nto a small inside closet of a room.  Light blue furniture, privacy curtains, glass door to mute the sound.  Your daughter screams and fights the barrage of tests like a detainee at a black site.  You are the guard watching it all, holding her down, trying to believe in a greater good and purpose, but being psychologically mauled.  The tests end. They keep asking about her skin color.  It’s faded to yellow so slowly, you have a hard time recognizing the difference.  They leave you and your family and say they will be back in a while with preliminary results from some of the tests but that they are confident it’s not a joint infection because of the ultrasound.

They come back.  This time there is a doctor with them.  Such a strange thing to receive news so heavy from someone you’ve just met.

You are sitting as a family on the white hospital butcher paper.  You hold your wife’s hand, bracing for what is to come.  You’ve done a dance like this before when you were in high school with your dad.  You know how to close the walls, go into lock down, care for those around you, and barricade your emotions.

“Preliminary tests show an unusually high level of white blood cells.  We’ll know more in the morning when the tests completely come in, but 98 percent of the time when we see levels like this of lymphocytes, it is because the patient has Leukemia.”

Your wife begins to cry, to shiver, to sob.  You squeeze her hand trying with every ounce of your being to convey, she is not alone.  You are with her in this.  You’ve never encountered Leukemia before, and don’t really know what it means in terms of outcome percentages.  You hug your daughter.  Kiss her forehead.  Scared of what lies ahead: the dance.

David with daughters Verona (in arms) and Astraea at the Oregon Coast.

David with daughters Verona (in arms) and Astraea at the Oregon Coast.

David Quisenberry is the proud father of two daughters: Astraea and Verona. Astraea survived ALL Leukemia and will be celebrating two years of completion of treatment this September.  She loves animals, nature, princesses, and Lamborghinis. Verona loves to sing and dance and challenge her older sister. David is a financial planner and community volunteer. He chairs the board of directors for The Dougy Center and serves as secretary on the board of governors of City Club of Portland.


Editor’s note: I met David when he joined the board of The Dougy Center. As friends, we share a love for books and a soft spot for minor-league hockey (he actually played in high school).

Tomorrow: “Lucky Number 13” by Tammy Ellingson


10 thoughts on “The dance

  1. David, I am at the end of a long weekend of an event-filled class reunion so my brain is bit tired, but I want to express my hope that your family will meet and surmount this challenge. Best wishes to all of you during your daughter’s treatment process.

    • David, I wrote my previous comment before I read about the approach of the two year mark of the completion of your daughter’s treatment. May all future bumps in the road be scratched knees, lost clothing, or having to settle for a used Lamborghini.

  2. David, your writing of such a terrible period in your life is so crisp and raw … I felt my heart aching for the suffering you and your family endured. The true mark of great writing! Thank you for sharing such a personal time.

  3. “You are the guard watching it all, holding her down, trying to believe in a greater good and purpose, but being psychologically mauled.” That particular sentence resonated with me on so many levels. Captures a sense of disbelief, of trying to be the brave father while also feeling powerless. Tough, tough subject. Great piece of writing. And, best of all, ending on an encouraging note.

  4. Thank goodness for the miracles! I know it must have been a tough road, but some day your daughter will be in college and this will seem like a long-forgotten dream. Sending healing thoughts to your family. .

  5. It’s as if you carved this piece out of raw nerve. The writing is tight and stark, but I feel emotion in every word. I am so damn glad to hear Astraea kicked leukemia’s ass.
    By the way, you kick ass at naming daughters.

  6. Damn. My heart was pounding. Soooooo thrilled when I read the end editor’s note!!! Loved the phrase “psychologically mauled,” can’t imagine the ongoing rejection of your work days, and, like another VOAer (Robert?), I say, settling for a “used Lamborghini” should be plenty after this.

  7. Beautifully written! In a dance, it’s important to have a partner who is a strong lead – lucky for your wife and family you are just the guy. Blessings to you and your family and wishes of continued health to you all.

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