September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, about which I was blissfully unaware until this September. Over the past 30 days, I’ve reflected on how my eyes were opened to this fact, and how – sadly, unfortunately – I am now all too aware.
Almost two months ago, I made plans to go spend the evening with my friends Becky and Chandler Moore. We live in the same neighborhood; their kids, Faith and Kady, go to the same school as Sam; and we’ve become very good friends over the past couple of years, having reconnected 15 (ish) years after Chandler and I first met in college. Becky and Chandler have been extremely good friends to us, and have supported us through some pretty shitty times. We’ve vacationed together, we’ve partied together, and spending an evening unwinding and sharing a glass of wine together is not unusual for us. The game plan that Friday evening was that I would drop off Jack at football, and Sam and I would head over for a while.
I cannot explain the immediate sense that something was wrong. As soon as I knocked on the door, I knew. Maybe it was because the Moores never take that long to answer a knocked door. Maybe it was because the house was too still. Maybe it was because when Chandler opened the door, he seemed stiff and confused. All I knew was that something was off, and Becky confirmed it when she whispered to me, “We’re probably admitting Faith to Phoenix Children’s tonight. She has a lesion on her leg.”
And that’s how I first found out that 11-year old Faith had cancer.
Two months later, I still can’t comprehend this reality. I’ve had several family members with cancer –all of them were adults and many of them had known risk factors. But a child’s cancer? MY FRIENDS’ CHILD’S cancer!?!? What kind of cruel, inhumane, cosmic joke is that? In an interview (more on that in a second), Jack said it best when he said, “(Childhood) cancer isn’t something that you think can really happen, until it happens to a friend or a loved one.” In the same interview, Sammy was a little more succinct: “Cancer can really SUCK it. Like a lollipop.”
Our family went into Helper Mode: setting up a meal tree, giving fundraising suggestions, offering to dog sit, house sit, plant sit – you name it. If I’m being entirely honest, “Helper Mode” was and is a selfish response. It was purely a way not to feel so utterly helpless in the midst of the chaos. Not much makes you feel more helpless than going to visit your friends while they sit bedside of their just-out-of-anesthesia child, or watching as they hold her hand as she undergoes a scan to find out if the cancer had spread to her other organs (it hadn’t, thankfully).
My kids, on the other hand, responded much more selflessly. I’m not sure how Jack realized there were financial implications to his friend’s cancer, but he and Sammy started talking about donating their piggy banks to Miss Becky and Mister Chandler. That talk turned into the idea of having a bake sale for Faith, and then after talking with me about it, we thought we’d add lemonade to the corner table that I was envisioning. I imagined that we’d ask a few neighborhood kids who were also friends with Faith to help with signage, and hoped enough of them would bring their quarters to the stand so that my boys would not think their effort was in vain.
Community is an incredible thing. We asked those friends for some help, and that help quickly became, “What can we make?” and “How else can we help?” Eventually, we had 6 or 7 families offering to help make baked goods. Word was put out on Facebook, and about 5 days later, the number of volunteer bakers had grown exponentially – and many of those volunteers were strangers who had heard about the bake sale from a friend of a friend of a friend. Because of a journalist friend of mine, the bake sale caught the attention of a local news station (thus, the boys’ news interviews). And the little corner stand that I had hoped would make a few hundred dollars turned into this:
I was angry that my friends were scared. I was angry that it took Faith getting sick to see my boys’ selflessness in action. I was angry that it took this awful thing for me to find out how caring our community was. I was angry that this sweet pre-teen girl has to think about chemo and hospitalizations, instead of softball games and schoolwork.
In short, I was PISSED at cancer.
I continue to be pissed, but watching my friends’ strength (although I don’t know that they would call it that) and positivity in the face of this has inspired me to stop being pissed, and start DOING something. I’ve taken the time to learn about childhood cancer charities. I’ve slowed down and tried to be more patient with my kids. I’ve met countless new friends who have helped reach out to the Moores. I’ve started treasuring little moments more, and worried about little troubles less.
Faith’s prognosis is very, very good, and she’s going to recover. I hope that next year during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Faith will be cancer free and back to enjoying vacations, school, and “normal” kid stuff.
Now, go hug your kids.