A Battle Won

"He lost his battle to cancer." Anyone who has ever held the hand of a person receiving chemotherapy knows the type of fight that it takes to have cancer.

I remember the first time my child received chemotherapy. Just after having her port-a-cath surgically inserted into her tiny chest, we were upstairs in her hospital room preparing ourselves for the procedure that would change her life. In just a few moments, my 2-year old daughter would be a cancer patient. Though her retinoblastoma diagnosis did, indeed, make her a cancer patient, it was the chemotherapy that really drove it home for us.

Nurse Lori walked into the room. "So, are you ready?" she said to me, trying to be both cheery and serious. Nurse Lori snapped on her thick rubber gloves, pulled on a protective apron, covered her mouth with a paper mask, and then put down her plastic shield drawn over her eyes. "What is that for?" I asked.

"Yeah, uh, it's to protect me. From the chemo agents. In case they spill," says Nurse Lori tentatively. She knows how ridiculous that sounds.

"So, I know this sounds stupid, Lori. But, what is going to protect Joli from this chemo? The very thing you are protecting yourself from is going to be poured into my kid's veins?" I said sarcastically annoyed, as if I was going to prove a point that she had never heard in her 20+ years of oncology nursing.

I'm mad. I'm confused. I'm scared.

Unfortunately, the routine got easier each time. Each time, I got used to the dance of protection and poison. Each time, I held my daughter close to me, while the nurses warned that I could be harmed if chemo spilled on me. Even when I changed Jo's diaper, I had to wear protective gloves due to the concentration of chemotherapy in her urine.

Each day -- even now, 4 years post-diagnosis -- we still fight the fight. We are no longer in active chemotherapy, but cancer and its residual effects haunt us each day. Personally, we worry about her prosthesis, her implant, and hearing loss that resulted from chemotherapy. We hear from her friends about tears in the tissue that holds the implant. We are devastated by news that a retinoblastoma survivor has a recurrance or a secondary cancer. And, each time we hear that a life has moved on because of cancer, we know that we are not immune.

In the past few months, a number of celebrities have been featured because of their cancer battles. And, without hesitation, the headlines and announcements all begin with "... has lost the battle with cancer."

Every day, every morning, every hour is a battle won over cancer. Certainly, moments and opportunities are lost. We lost the opportunity to send my daughter to pre-school at age 3. We lost the opportunity to just be a kid; while other kids were saying their A-B-C's, Joli's most often used words were "chemo, prosthesis, and cancer."  We lost the experience of seeing a 3-D movie because, after all, you need 2 eyes to see in 3-D.

Each day is a battle won over cancer.

Our cancer book will never be closed. In fact, each day, a new sentence is written. Each month, a new page. Each year, a new chapter. And, when the time comes to close the book of Life, it won't end with "a battle lost to cancer", it will end with "the story was over; a battle was won."

Our heartfelt condolences to the many people and families who bear the scars of cancer. Your battle was won. Your loved one's battle was won. The day you were diagnosed, you won. Each day you walked into chemotherapy or radiation with your head held high, you won. Each day you decided to fight, you won. And, if that day has come when you didn't want to fight anymore, it's not because you lost. It's simply because you have decided that your story was told; your impact was made; your gift was given.

We thank you for the gifts you leave behind for all of your loved ones. And, that gift is the story of your courage, your fight, and your love. For because of your battle with cancer, you've helped us to write our own sentences, our own pages, our own chapters. And, in the end, it wasn't because you "lost a battle", it was because you "won our hearts."

While the recent celebrity news has sparked this entry, I am dedicating this to my college friend, Becky, whose mother in law is writing the next chapter. You are in my thoughts in a very special way. May you always keep singing.

Catching Up

I've been unplugged (on purpose) for the past week and just catching up on some of my favorite blogs. Here is a beautiful one that I read by my friend, Casey, about the life and passing of her Chinese grandmother (who she refers to as "one of her parents")

Everything I learned about being Chinese I learned from her. She did not bind her feet as a child, so I learned to talk back and refuse to be treated in a subsevient manner. She did not allow herself to be subjected to a loveless, arranged marriage, so I learned to fall in love and let my heart guide me. She treated the least of our society with the most of her heart, so I learned to seek out justice and be grateful for what I have and give back what I can. She spoke loudly and with conviction, so I learned how to be a loudmouth and badass, too. Occasionally - only very occasionally - she cried. Whenever she did, I cried too. As my uncle died a year ago, she sat quietly in her wheelchair and from time to time reached out to touch his toes. I remember what it was like to touch Matthew’s toes for the first time, to fully embrace his newness and the beginning of life. I can only fathom what heartache she felt when she sat there and touched his toes for the last time at the end of his life.

I'm reminded what my children are learning from me - especially as young women of color. I was raised by a Filipina mother who was not afraid of speaking her mind, as long as no one else heard it. She would talk smack about people, when they weren't around, and when she saw them face to face, she was polite, kind, and cordial. I grew up doing much of the same. However, when my daughter Joli was diagnosed with cancer, I lost all appetite for pretending to be nice. I found my authentic, truthful voice. I had to serve as an advocate for my sick toddler, and learned to be an advocate for myself.