Have you ever taken a moment to look back at your life thus far and be simultaneously proud but confused as to how you have arrived at this very moment? Only to have life give you a nudge and a wink to remind you of where you’re going. Well, ladies and gents, welcome to that moment of mine…
Two years ago, around this very time, Elena was violently sick and had lost almost 4 pounds in a week from a combination of a stomach flu and no immune system to combat it. She was skin and bones and looked as if a small wind would break her. I took one picture of her like this. I still have it saved on my phone …it’s my reminder. Because looking at her today makes it so easy to forget about the year she spent fighting for her life. This kid is snarky and sassy, loving and affectionate, blissfully happy and wildly stubborn. My close friends tell me that she’s me…but she isn’t. She is Elena, a force all of her own and one that I am fiercely proud to call my daughter.
You’ve all read about my life through Elena’s cancer treatment, but where am I today? I keep pretty silent now…and not because I don’t want to write but simply because the ‘cancer mom’ aspect has taken a backseat to living life again. Also, if I’m being completely honest, I’ve had a sort of “survivor’s remorse” in terms of my writing, as if writing about our lives outside of cancer was offensive or gloating. I don’t know; there are so many emotions that comes with having gone through this disease that don’t make much sense when put into words and that’s definitely one of them.
Commence the Obligatory Update
I can’t possibly write a post for the first time in…over a year?!?! Yes, I just looked that up and am seriously disappointed in myself! Well…the big cancer news of course is that Elena just finished her 18 month post treatment scans and remains cancer free! She is thriving. She is happy and silly and wild and growing and HEALTHY. There are times that I *almost* forget where we were two years ago. If you saw her today and didn’t know her story, you would never imagine what she went through. She started preschool in September and has turned into quite the social butterfly, though that doesn’t really surprise me.
Elena turned 4 in December, and it’s interesting to note how after these last set of scans she talks about her cancer and treatment. As her hair is getting longer she will occasionally ask if it will fall out again. When I tell her that, no, it won’t, she responds with “Right. Because I don’t have Tancer anymore.” *Not a typo- she says ‘tancer’ and it’s easier to hear than the actual word from your four year old’s mouth so I’m not correcting it.* It was jarring explaining to her the need to go back to hospital in January for her follow up. She doesn’t understand the reason behind it and had me simultaneously laughing while breaking my heart by stating “But Mommy, I kicked tancer’s butt!! I promise I won’t have tancer ever again so I don’t want to go! I promise Mommy, I promise.” Oh my Dear Elena…yes, you did kick cancer’s butt! And I pray everyday that you are so very right and that mean ole cancer never comes back! BUT…we have to check. And we’ll have to continue to do so for awhile. It’s a definite step up from my perspective. So I’ll navigate as best I can in trying to explain to her as she grows what she went through and how our lives have changed because of it while ensuring that she feels safe and happy and healthy and loved.
Annalise is 8 now, going on 18 at times! She is smart and goofy and strives to please everyone. I continue to work towards having open communication with her dad so that we can both give her the solid foundations of love and support she needs to thrive. It’s a work in progress…I hope.
A Beacon of Hope
In the Spring of last year David Caldarella asked me to become a part of David’s Dream and Believe Cancer Foundation (DDBCF) as a Director of Patient Advocacy. I cannot begin to express the fulfillment this has brought into my life. This blog is a testament to my desire to share Elena’s story and our experiences. Selfishly, it’s therapeutic for me. But I’m hopeful that sharing my stories, emotions, triumphs and struggles reaches people who need it, however that may be. DDBCF is a Beacon of Hope for patients and families struggling both financially and emotionally with a cancer diagnosis. It has become a second family for me, as we share our personal experiences, those of the patients we are bringing hope to and our personal losses as well… and the loss of one of our own was truly heartbreaking.
Lauren Raney was seriously one of the most beautiful souls I have ever met, and I barely knew her. She was witty, kind and genuine. People are so rarely genuine in today’s society and her brand of it was as refreshing as the ocean breeze on a hot summer’s day. Gastric cancer stole this beautiful mother away from her three precious children and loving husband. I was but a new spectator in her life and the love that this family shared was truly awe inspiring and something that could be seen so clearly, even from the cheap seat I had. Her strength and courage will always serve as an example in my life and I feel truly honored to know her.
Lunch with a Cancer Mom and a Hopeful Sunset
The real prompting of this post comes from the small amount of time spent over lunch today with another cancer mom. Her daughter recently relapsed after being off treatment for only 6 months. My heart bleeds for her as the idea alone of hearing those words shakes me to my core. As I listened to her talk about how different life is, again, and the course of treatment they are going with, I was blown away by her perseverance, determination and HOPE. She fights daily for her daughter and is the epitome of an advocate on her behalf.
I was driving home from work this evening to pick up my children from their dad’s house while I was going over the conversation at lunch today and I couldn’t help but notice the incredible sunset. There was a small storm front ahead, but the horizon itself was on fire with gorgeous orange and pink hues. By the time I had the girls in my car and was heading home, the storm clouds had passed with hardly any fuss and the entire sky was glowing with those glorious colors. I truly believe that if you pay close enough attention, life will give you little signs and hints that you’re on the right path. And that sunset tonight was exactly that for me. The storm cloud looming ahead with the promise of true beauty once it passes… regardless of where you are at in your life or what circumstances you are facing, we are all on the precipice of a storm, some bigger and worse than others. But hold onto hope and look for the beauty behind your struggles. They will transform you and shape you into something beautiful, unique and strong.
The words written by my cancer mom lunch date come to mind, “look forward for tomorrow if today is too hard, but take an action today so that tomorrow can be better.” Indeed my friend, indeed.