Sunday, February 5, 2012

Of Love, Gratitude And Cancer

Sometimes being a parent brings challenges you would never wish to tackle, but which end up teaching you more than any book ever could. We all hope we are raising our children to be resilient and brave in the face of adversity, yet none of us hope those qualities will ever be put to the test.  

The 13-year old son of my friend and mentor, Sara Perets, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin's Lymphoma last Summer. With her permission, I am sharing her words here. Anyone who has been through a battle with cancer, in whatever form, can relate. But even for those of us lucky enough not to have been touched so closely, Sara's message about love and gratitude is one I think we all can benefit from. 

Dearest Community,

Hold them close, life can change in an instant.
Many of you have asked, and I wanted to take this opportunity to share this letter regarding Freddie's treatment. 

Last week Freddie finished his radiation therapy. It was the last day of his 7 months of treatment. We are now in the phase of remission. It’s a funny place to be. Freddie is still a “cancer patient” but treatment has ended. We now wait and have tests in 3 months. In a strange sort of way I feel like I need a “you are cancer free” letter to put closure on this. I feel like there is so much to be processed now that this has started to come to an end and we find ourselves on a different journey, as after this experience we have forever changed as individuals, parents, and human beings and will never look at life the same way again.

What this all has taught me is about love. Love and gratitude.

7 months ago when I was sitting in the hospital after having been delivered the news that my child had stage 4 cancer. Unable to move or think or breathe, I could not imagine what this road was going to teach me or how I would be tested as a mother. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to live through it….all I knew was I had to be there for my son and carry him through this so that he could continue living the life he was meant to live. Freddie has seen me cry once during this. It was when he finished his last round of chemo. There was this pause with both of us and we looked at each other and both started to cry. It was a moment that had arrived and neither of us could believe it was finally there and that we were both standing. Especially Freddie, who proved to have an incredible spirit, light, and positivity that was inspiring beyond all comprehension and it’s these qualities that carried me through. Children are your greatest teachers and in this case Freddie was the master teacher.

During this time, I found a love for Freddie that surpassed all.  While we spent hours in the hospital and I held him like a baby while he cried with pain, I watched him vomit for hours after chemo, I saw his appearance change beyond recognition, and I sometimes held him while he slept. I had a closeness with him as if he were a little guy again. During all of that I had to move past the thoughts of “whys”….why him, why me, why is this happening? It was love that helped me, it was love that carried me, it was love that stopped me from breaking down when Freddie needed me the most, and it was love that helped me smile when I was crumbling inside. 

I always thought I was a grateful person. Grateful for my children, my family, and my life but what I found gratitude for is not only the love and appreciation I have for my children, but for humanity. I so hinged on the fence of anger and despair many times but a community came together for our family and literally kept me standing at times. There were moments I felt like my legs could go no further and what carried me were the people who showed immense love, support, and heart to our family. We experienced this support in many many forms and felt the love and vibes that were sent across land and ocean to lift us up in our hearts and spirits. I am eternally grateful for all of the countless people involved in helping us over the last few months…even if it were down to phone calls, texts, or emails, they would always come when most needed and I never felt alone. 

I am so grateful I was able to see Freddie experience this sense of community as well. It truly moved him and he commented many times about it. One aspect that moved me the most was watching the friendship between Freddie and his best friend Max. What a brave and remarkable boy to volunteer to sit with Freddie every night that he had chemo in the hospital. Freddie unfortunately saw many of his friends not able to cope with his illness, which is fine and expected, but from that he was able to experience true friendship. I know that it wasn’t easy for Max to see his best friend going through it and I know how scared he was to sit there and quietly be with Freddie while he underwent his grueling treatment but the depth of their friendship grew and both of them have had the chance to experience the love of friendship that I believe will last a lifetime. I was moved by witnessing this and so grateful for that boy Max whose bravery outshone many in the name of love and friendship.

Nothing like escaping the pain of chemo through
a little time spent with the Kardashians
As Freddie and I sat for hours in the hospital we bonded over watching (and becoming slightly obsessed over) Battlestar Galactica, the Kardashian wedding, what Code Blue, red, pink, silver, green, and orange were, and discussing movie plots in depth. We talked about countries Freddie wanted to travel to and places he wanted to see.  We giggled over hospital food and medical students. All of these things are what got us through when times were challenging and they are memories we think fondly of. It is so interesting as this comes to an end how hard it is for me to leave the hospital and know we won’t be back as frequently. The nurses were my life line, our angels, and became our friends. All of them were amazing and not once did I ever see one of them not liking their job or not having a smile for Freddie. I was truly inspired by their dedication and honor at what they do. They are the angels on this earth.

As we move away from this all, I still think of all the families we met that are still in it. The one thing I learned about cancer is that is does not discriminate age, gender, or race.  We are forever changed by watching the countless people getting treated with this horrible disease. Babies, toddlers, children, mothers, fathers…all going through and strangely tied to one another through cancer. There are smiles or maybe glances as you begin to tell what treatment they have or what stage they are in. As a mom with a child with cancer you get unimaginable looks as others can’t image what it must be like to watch your child suffer. There was a point in the treatment when we knew everything would be OK and we were just getting through the process but there were others that we knew were not so “lucky” as we watched them fight for their lives and I watched the faces of those moms as they watched their children fight for their lives. My fight, my struggles were insignificant to theirs and that was the greatest lesson of gratitude I learned.

There are many things I never talked about with anyone as they were too difficult to even mutter and too painful to recount. The war you fight with cancer is a long and brutal one and I don’t feel like I should even begin to tell anyone I know what it is like because I don’t really know. I didn’t have to feel what Freddie did. I wanted to tell him it was OK and comfort him but at the end of the day those words were empty because I didn’t have any have a clue what it was like. Many others that did know came to the rescue and connected to Fred. Many who inspired him and gave him hope for when it would all be over and connected with him because they had been there. I love you all that did that for him and I will be eternally grateful.

Even those of you I have never met in person but showed Freddie such love to help get him through this. This email is not for naming all the countless people, and extraordinary people, because if you received this you know you had a huge part in healing the spirit of a sick boy. When you see remnants of the child before he became ill turn into a smile or joy through a gift, letter or phone call, all of that care, love and support meant the world to us. We made incredible friendships through this process and I am eternally grateful. As I said, I once again believe in the human heart and how people come together for goodness. You all know who you are, thank you.

The first week of this process I was given a Lance Armstrong LIVESTRONG arm band to wear by a friend, the same one she wore everyday as her husband went through his cancer process. Live Strong. I often pondered about the meaning. Did it mean I needed to live strong throughout this or that it would inspire strength while having chemo? It came to me yesterday. It means to live strong every day after you kick cancer’s ass. What we have seen, experienced, and gone through with all the love, gratitude, and lessons we have learned will make us live strong for the future.

As we were leaving the hospital today we stopped to say an emotional good bye to one of the nurses.”   Freddie and I were both filled with this bitter sweet feeling of relief and sadness. She said to us: “Sometimes the end is harder than the beginning."  I feel the overpowering emotion starting to come out of Freddie, he has been through a lot. It is now time for us all to heal.

With Love and Gratitude,
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