When my husband and I got married, we decided to donate the money we would have spent on favors to a charity. Despite my very traditional mother’s initial hesitation, she agreed and told us that we should donate the money to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. I never asked her why, we didn’t have any family or close friends whose children battled cancer (or none that I knew of at least), but St. Jude’s it was and so began an annual tradition of my husband and I donating money to what is an amazing organization. Being a regular donor, I received many mailings from St. Jude’s with stories and pictures of families whose kids were battling different cancers. I always found them heartbreaking, but it wasn’t until I had children of my own that the stories would make me cry. I would always say to myself, “wow these families are so strong.” I think I somehow thought I would be immune to that struggle. On February 16, 2006, I became one of those families when my daughter Catherine, not yet 4 years old, was diagnosed with leukemia. I will never forget the days leading up to her diagnosis and the days that followed. The crying, the blood draws, the doctors and nurses bombarding my husband and I with information and trying to educate us on how to care for our child. I think those first few weeks were as frightening for us as they were for Catherine. But Dr. MJ and Dr. Elisha, the two oncologists on call during our initial hospital stay promised us that 1) our daughter would not die from leukemia and 2) that one day we would see her running around and playing again. I also remember the ER nurse telling me the night she was diagnosed that this cancer would be a “blip on the radar screen of her life.” At the time, I did not believe any of them.
It seemed unbelievable that my child would have to endure 26 months of chemotherapy. That my whole family would have to endure it. Our son was only 16 months old at the time of Catherine’s diagnosis. There are times I think he suffered as much as his older sister.
We are 13 months post treatment, and I can finally say the doctors were right. She is like every other 7 year old girl I know, running around, dancing to Hannah Montana, playing piano, and going to school. Cancer talk is not front and center in our lives. Homework, play dates and karate are. You would never know that just three years ago, she was pumped up full of steroids and other drugs, unable to keep up with her peers.
Amazingly enough, when I look back at our whole experience, there is no bitterness and no “why me.” Indeed when I look back, I remember the love and support we received from friends and family: meals cooked, last minute babysitters and most importantly, shoulders to cry on. We were able to meet the most incredible doctors, nurses, volunteers and families. I cannot imagine not knowing Dr. Joe, a man whose dedication to his patients is beyond compare, and his staff who cry and laugh along with you. I have made friends I would have never met were it not for this experience and knowing them makes me a better person. Most importantly, it has made me realize that my daughter really can do anything. Medically, she has not yet earned the term, “cancer survivor,” but in our eyes, she is the ultimate fighter.