It was mid-December and he clutched my hand while a nurse drew blood from his arm. He breathed a huge sigh of relief as the needle left him and he quietly whispered, “I hope that never happens again.” My heart quaked. That year was my daughter’s first Christmas but it truly went by in a blur as I was too scared for the news I was dreading to hear. On December 28, 2011, the diagnosis finally came in and confirmed my worst fears. My nephew…my handsome, fun loving nephew…the first child that called me mama…had cancer. At 13 years old, he had cancer. Randy was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma which is a bone cancer; he had a tumor in his left foot. Everything was different and terrifying. A friend told me that I would be surprised at how quickly cancer became the new normal. That idea seemed awful, and it proved to be very true.
I was fortunate that I did not have a job right then. I was a stay at home mom with my little girl and a full time student. My schedule was open enough that I could attend all of his doctor appointments, visit during chemotherapy, wait anxiously for scans, and watch vividly for the sign that surgery was over. I live right around the corner from the hospital so I was able to be there whenever I was needed. I did everything I could to be a support to my sister and my nephew. She needed that support.
It is impossible to understand what these cancer moms go through until you see it up close and personal. I saw the toll the worry and stress took on her. Randy’s hair started falling out, his body hair, his eyebrows and finally his eyelashes. His skin was pale and his energy was low; he limped when he walked. These were only the physical effects of the cancer and treatment. Finances are stressful too during that time. The children’s hospital here in Memphis is an awesome place that provides all treatment for free. However, my sister couldn’t have a job as having a child with cancer is equivalent to three full time jobs. I organized several fundraisers that never really raised much, but it was something to help her cover rent or utilities. The emotional turmoil is huge…the fears and anxiety. There is a bond that develops among these families. It is almost an instant love and a type of familial relationship that you develop with others that are in the exact same situation. As you walk through the children’s hospital, your eyes meet with a stranger’s eyes…and you just instantly get one another. You bond over the evil that is hurting a child in your life. You rejoice with those that are rejoicing and you mourn with those in mourning.
Seeing and experiencing the world of childhood cancer up close is life changing. My sister learned so much and I did everything I could to learn it alongside her. I learned about blood levels, how to connect an IV bag, how to flush a line, how to clean a healing surgical wound, and how to give a shot. I did all of these things, and I would do them again for him in a heartbeat. But oh I hope I never have to do so for him or any other child in my life.
Randy has been completed with treatment since October 2012. He has had two sets of clear scans and his next set of scans is in June 2013. His hair is back and his foot is healed from surgery. He is missing one toe, a few bones in his foot, and he takes heart medication everyday as his heart was a bit damaged from the chemotherapy. He is still fun loving and is your typical sarcastic 15 year old…except he is not. He is a bit more grown up. He has seen Death and lost a friend to this disease.
We are all different because of this. You cannot live a life for a year surrounded by children battling cancer…little warriors fighting for life and the right to grow up…and not be changed. I will be forever a childhood cancer advocate.
As nice as it would be to simply forget the last year and a half and just put away those memories…as much as I would like to separate myself from this world of childhood cancer, I can’t and I won’t. I have many friends now that are cancer moms and I am doing my best to be as supportive to them as I was to my sister.
Anyone can be affected by cancer. Any race, any nationality, any socio-economic status, any religion, any type of 21st century family…childhood cancer will strike anyone. Thank God for the healthy children you have in your life…hug them tight and love on them just a little extra each day. And whatever you do…don’t forget that there are over forty families who hear the terrifying six letter word cancer each day and seven families will say goodbye to their precious babies today.
If you don’t get anything from this long winded post, hear this: Cancer moms need support. They can’t go through this alone. Find one or connect with an organization that is dedicated to helping these women. These women need love and support. Maybe it is a hug, a listening ear, a box of tissues, an oil change for her car, a gas card, a prayer, money to pay rent, a ride somewhere or maybe just a glass of sweet tea.
Support 3 Wishes For Her in its endeavor to support these women in the most difficult journey of their life.
S. Denise Beyer