Where Were You?

Nine Eleven

(cc) Michael Foran – Flickr

Country singer Alan Jackson sang a song entitled “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)?” referring to that fateful day in 2001 that will forever be remembered simply as “Nine Eleven”.

Do you remember where you were?

I will never forget.

Susan and I were driving from Waxahachie to Dallas, taking Ashley to Children’s Medical Center for an MRI. Ashley had been experiencing some troubling symptoms for a couple of weeks, and the doctors wanted to take a look and make sure her cancer had not returned.

Back at the very beginning of Ashley’s ordeal, when we were driving her to Dallas five days a week for six weeks for radiation treatments to the head and spine, it had become somewhat of a ritual for us to listen to the Mark Davis Show on News-Talk 820 WBAP as we traveled to Dallas. That September morning, the ritual continued.

Somewhere between Waxahachie and Dallas, the regular talk show was interrupted for a breaking news story. Details were sketchy, but apparently a commercial airliner had crashed into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. I remember thinking to myself, “That’s strange,” and wondering how such a bizarre accident could possibly occur. Did the pilot have a heart attack? Did he somehow lose control of the plane?

Several minutes later we were pulling into the parking garage at Children’s when another breaking news story came over the air. A second plane had just crashed into the second twin tower. I immediately had an indescribable sinking feeling, an instant sense of palpable despair. “This was no accident,” I thought to myself, trying to wrap my mind around what had just happened.

As we made our way into the hospital, people were huddled around every television set we passed. We checked in at the Radiology Department desk, and then joined one of those huddled groups and watched in disbelief as the events of the morning unfolded and were recounted. I remember wondering if this was it, if this was the end. How many more things are going to blow up today? Will any of them be close by? Is our country being invaded? Will Ashley and Justin grow up to enjoy the same freedoms that we have come to take for granted?

It was an eerie, bizarre, frightening day.

Then Ashley’s name was called, and we were jolted back to the other reality of that fateful day. We were there to find out if Ashley’s cancer had returned.

Ashley had gone through a year-and-a-half of unbelievable torment as her body was bombarded with radiation and chemotherapy treatments that left her a shell of her former physical self. I’ve heard it said that sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. Nowhere is that more true than with cancer treatments. But though the harsh treatments ravaged her poor little body, nothing could damage her spirit. She fought courageously and with incredible spunk. She refused to let cancer ruin her life! She continued shopping, buying every Beanie Baby imaginable, going to school, doing things with her friends, and refusing to wear a wig just to cover up the fact that she was bald. “If they don’t like me the way I am … tough!” (That’s my girl!)

She made it through the treatments and emerged cancer-free! She remained cancer-free for about three years, and began rebuilding her life. Things were going well, her future looked bright, and cancer was becoming a distant memory. There were plenty of scars that would remind her of her battle for the rest of her life, but the battle itself was beginning to fade into the background.

Then came September 11, 2001.

By the time the MRI was completed, it was late in the afternoon and all the doctors who could read it were gone. We were told that someone would read the MRI results and call us the next day.

Early Wednesday morning, September 12, the phone rang. I answered it in the bedroom, and Susan scrambled to the living room to pick up the other phone so that she could listen as well. We listened quietly as the doctor explained that the MRI from the day before revealed new tumor growth in Ashley’s brain. Her cancer was back.

We were devastated.

This time the tumors were very aggressive. This time the treatments did not work. This time it seemed the cancer monster was winning. On Saturday, November 24, 2001, just two-and-a-half months after finding out that her cancer had returned, Ashley died, at home in our bed. She peacefully slipped from this life into the arms of her Savior and Friend. Her struggle had ended, and our struggle to go on living without her had begun.

Where were you when the world stopped turning, that September morn? Share your memories below.

Paul O'Rear Signature

Photo Credit:

  1. WTC 32, by Michael Foran (Flickr), Creative Commons License

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