The day Jaslyn was born was both terrifying and wondrous. Although I had given birth two times before and had two adolescent sons, this day seemed different. Looking back now I suppose it was the excitement I felt for her; so many people were waiting for her arrival. Day after day, friends and family looked at me as if I was carrying some kind of miracle who was soon to burst into this world, sure to bring longed for joy with her. And, she did just that. Born with huge blue eyes, a nose like a small piece of sweet candy, and legs that were meant to be gently squeezed by arthritic hands, she charmed people like Cupid himself. I suppose most people think this way about their children, that theirs are somehow special, that there is not, and never will be, a creation so amazing, again, ever, in the course of mankind but I have to admit, Jaslyn did emit a kind of light that drew people to her in ways that still leave me in awe today. She is good-natured, caring, kind, and inspirational; the kind of person I wish I was more like and fear I never will be.
At the age of five, Jaslyn began to have noticeable and concerning health problems. After numerous tests and the passing of years she was eventually diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. When we received the news, I was so relieved to not hear those dreaded words, “Your daughter has cancer.” I actually stopped listening and focused on her doctors appearance instead; bright green pants with the zipper down topped off with a red and blue plaid shirt. A few hours after leaving his office, I went home and googled “Ulcerative Colitis” so I could read up on all the information he gave us.
I was horrified.
Horrified by the symptoms; abdominal pain, leg cramps, headaches, fatigue, internal bleeding, anemia, frequent bowl movements, vision problems, joint pain, skin rashes, possible liver and kidney disease (I am sure there are more, but I just can’t keep going). And even worse than the symptoms was discovering the side effects of treatments available the worst being death. Death?! Really? Since when is death a side effect? I embarked on a search after my research on the disease that would take me on a roller coaster of insane diets, supplements, and homeopathic cures, none of which worked. Although I took the advice of her doctor and vigilantly administered prescribed medication; Jaslyn’s health continued to decline.
Perhaps most notable was the morning I went to wake her for school and when she lifted her head from her pillow she left behind a mass of hair so large she looked as if she had gone to a hairstylist, requested a short haircut, and the stylist didn’t finish. Bewildered, she watched me silently in the mirror as I brushed her hair. What I realize now is that due to her anemia, facing a day at school, she lacked the energy to ask me what had happened to her hair.
Years have passed since her initial diagnosis and we have struggled to come to terms with this disease and its treatments. I have lost all hope that she will ever be well, or in her words, “a normal kid.” That is important to her, to be what she deems , “a normal kid.” In our attempts at normalcy we have tried many things including having her try out for sports teams. When she entered the seventh grade she determined that she would try out for volleyball. All her friends were and she thought if she practiced hard enough, she would make it.
She cried when she heard the news; more determined than ever, I thought, “Screw that school and their teams, I will find a sport Jaslyn can do on her own and I’ll pay those bastards so they can’t turn her away.”
I offered to take her to Pebble Beach Equestrian Center for horseback riding lessons and in many ways it was like locating a vein of precious metals. It eventually led us to an eleven year old American Paint gelding with arthritis and a bad attitude to match his beauty. The second I watched Jaslyn ride him around the arena, I knew he was the right horse for us. Generous, kind, vigilant, protective, Nashville needed some tender loving care to unlock his potential. And that is exactly what he received.
And it has been amazing…for Jaslyn. After her last colonoscopy, we were quite alarmed when her doctor referred her to Stanford Children’s Medical Center for treatment he was unable to offer and the potential for the last two treatments we had left (It is scary when you begin the process of running out of treatment). We waited in his office playing “I Spy” discussing which of the two treatments we should choose. He arrived late, lab sheets and medical chart in hand, he began asking Jaslyn questions about hear health and after about five minutes he said, “You know what? Your insides look horrible, but you feel good, so we are not going to do anything.” We left his office vacillating between giddiness and exhaustion.
The next day we made our daily visit to the barn where Nashville made his usual nicker when we called “Piglet” about fifty yards from his stall. Grain in hand, Jaslyn made her way to feed him and pet him. He was so happy to see her and she was happy to see him. We completed our usual “work” with Nashville and ended our session with his favorite activity, massage. He has gotten so used to this as part of his routine, he enters the cross-ties and usually sighs with sweet relief before we even get started. With Jaslyn massaging one side and me the other, he shifts his weight from side to side, releasing tension, making faces, sticking out his tongue and taking deep cleansing breathes that let us know he feels like he has found horsey heaven. With each sigh of relief, I watch Jaslyn as her eyes soften and she concentrates on his back, rubbing out the pain, and she relaxes too.
Consumed by her task, it becomes clear to me, in that moment, that Ulcerative Colitis hangs suspended and is rendered meaningless in her mind.
And even clearer, I realize I am witness to the miraculous power of equines to heal.