Today marks three years since my daughter walked out of her last radiation treatment. She was 9 years old that day and 3 weeks away from turning 10. Most of those years were spent battling a pediatric brain tumor. Most of those days, weeks, months, would blur together, but not that day.
On September 23rd of 2013, I would look back on the journey we traveled. On that day I would reflect and on that day I would have a revelation. On that seemingly normal September day I realized, as much as I hate to say it out loud, that there is a good that comes from cancer.
Yes, I said good. I guess more of a silver lining to our unfortunate situation. It was a gift of insight, a gift of unsolicited knowledge.
There is no analogy that can describe with enough precision, the heartache a parent will experience the day they learn their child has cancer. There is not enough time allotted for acceptance of this news, and there is certainly no club rules for your newly obtained membership to this not so elite society. However, buried deep in all the worries, the medical jargon, the hospital stays, and the what if’s lies a hidden gem — hope.
For six weeks my daughter would undergo daily radiation treatment and for every day she did I sat in a lobby and waited for her to complete the treatment. In that lobby I heard stories, in that lobby I read survivor and caretakers perspectives. It was in that lobby I saw the raw beauty that could never be taken or marred. Hope.
The hope shined in the darkest of times. Even on death beds I witnessed this silver lining. Fighters never gave up and families held on too. When one would fall others around would rally and show support. A child’s life would end but their story wouldn’t. For every battle lost it was more fuel to fight harder. That was hope and that was beautiful in such an intimidating way. It was more powerful than this disease and it would carry many through the most difficult time of their life.
I’m rarely asked to describe what it is like in the oncology department of a children’s hospital but on occasion I’ve found myself trying to paint a depiction for outsiders to understand. There is a famous quote from a popular older tv show and it scratches the surface. In those rooms and halls there are fighters and heroes unaware of the strength they have. If the walls in those rooms could talk they would tell you that for every devastating story you know about this monster there are a dozen stories filled with laughter and love. For every one child lost there are many who will carry the memory in their hearts for the rest of their life. Those walls would tell you what I am now. For all the bad and dark we know and associate with this disease, there is a glimmer of light.
It is because of my daughter’s personal battle that I know this side of childhood cancer. I never asked for my daughter to be diagnosed with cancer, I honestly never thought it would or could happen. I never asked to be welcomed into this family of sorts, but oh how embraced we were. We made friends in the waiting rooms of clinics and we made friends in the halls of hospital wings. We shared a common bond and we banded together to keep the hope alive. I experienced a level of love like no other. I witnessed caring in unconditional degrees and was in awe. I would have never known these things were it not for a brain tumor in my baby girl’s head.
We were in those rooms where stories unfolded. I was by my daughter’s side when war was waged on this beast inside her sweet head. The walls were sometimes our only witnesses to some of the most heartwarming, soul filling, tender moments we shared. Some of those stories will stay with us and the walls and some we will share over and over again.
On the day I waited for my daughter to finish her final radiation time stopped and I was filled with those good memories. I wanted to be mad at cancer and speak only poorly of this disease. In our house we say things like “Cancer sucks” and “F#%k cancer,” but on that day I couldn’t help but give thanks for what I had gained. I now knew that putting six stickers exactly on one sheet of paper was important and then finding the perfect spot to hang it in your hospital room that you’d only be in for two more days was just as high of a priority. Time is precious and the little things matter.
I will never be grateful that my daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor, but I am grateful my daughter became a warrior and we witnessed so much love during that time. Mourning for what she lost and longing for those who left us too soon. Cancer stole from my daughter, from my family, and from all those who’ve had someone they love diagnosed. Cancer does suck. Cancer is ugly and evil but because of cancer I know what matters. It’s as if cancer is the dark cloud and the new perspective the undying hope you know to be your reality is that beautiful silver lining brought to life by the storm. It took almost a decade for me to see it or maybe it just took that long for me to admit it.