Five years ago today I stood over my daughter as she lay in a hospital bed. She had been admitted the night before primarily just to expedite an MRI because of some concerning symptoms and loss of developmental milestones over the previous few weeks. She awoke early, around 5, groggy, and vomiting. I changed her diaper and she said in a slurred voice, “Change your diaper, change your life,” something I had told her time and time again at diaper changes. Moments later, she lost consciousness and was rushed through the halls of the hospital to a CT machine. Within two minutes Dr. Kane, a PICU physician, came out and spoke the words we will never forget, “There is a mass in your daughter’s head.”
So very much has happened in the five years since that horrible, terrifying morning. We immediately moved to Cancerville and our lives would never, ever be the same. We lost our innocence, Mary Tyler Dad and I, with those words. We lost a lightness and an insulation from tragedy that will never return.
Those losses would multiply over the years. A valued job, gone. Four miscarriages and the idea of making another baby together, gone. A sense of control, false as it may be, gone. A sister for Mary Tyler Son, gone. Donna, gone.
Cancer took our innocence, our fertility, our daughter, so, yes, cancer, fuck you.
Cancer did not take our hope, our joy, our resolve.
Tomorrow, the charity we started during Donna’s nine day vigil, Donna’s Good Things, will host it’s first St. Baldrick’s shaving event. St. Baldrick’s is the largest private funder of pediatric cancer research in the world. $20 million has been raised in the three months of 2012 alone. The organizer of the event is a reader of Mary Tyler Mom who was so inspired by Donna’s life that she wanted to do something to demonstrate that inspiration. This is one of the missions of our charity — to encourage others to do Good Things in Donna’s name, helping to fulfill the potential of a girl taken much too soon by cancer.
I have been running around like a ninny this morning, through the rain and storms, and pulling along a surprisingly game Mary Tyler Son to every stop. I can think of no finer way of telling cancer to suck it than to finish preparing for an event that will raise over $60K for pediatric cancer research. I can think of no finer way to honor our beautiful girl than to raise money for research that will benefit the 46 children that will be diagnosed today. Sadly, none of our efforts will help the seven children who will die.
One child we may be able to help tomorrow is a young woman, just 16, who was in treatment for leukemia when Donna was in treatment. She was always very kind to Donna, friendly, supportive, and a bright ray of sunshine. Sadly, she has just relapsed and is in need of a bone marrow donor for a transplant. No one in her family or in the current national registry of bone marrow donors is a match. Thanks to some quick thinking by our organizer, and the receptive and positive nature of the local Be the Match representative, tomorrow’s St. Baldrick’s event will also host a bone marrow drive for our friend. Yes, cancer, you can suck it.
The many individuals who have made tomorrow’s event possible humble me deeply. We have dozens of shavees coming to Chicago to shear their heads. Each of them has raised $ and will, after tomorrow, be a visible method of raising awareness for pediatric cancer. Shavees are coming from as close as next door (thanks, Neighbor!) and as far away as California, Michigan, Georgia, and Indiana. These individuals, many of them women, honor Donna and all children in treatment for cancer. That is a lovely way of telling cancer to suck it.
I’m still learning how to balance grief and joy and life and sadness and wifing and mothering. But even while learning, I am triumphing over cancer every day. Cancer has taken much from me, but it has not taken away the hope I have, the joy I feel, the resolve to never let Donna be forgotten. Cancer drives me to help those that will learn today that their beautiful child, the light of their lives, carries a diagnosis of such a beast of a disease.
Thank you to all of the individuals who have already ensured that tomorrow’s St. Baldrick’s event hosted by Donna’s Good Things will be a mad success — those who have offered their heads to be shorn, those who have donated some top notch items for our silent auction, those who have used their words and blog platforms to raise awarenss, those who have opened their wallets to honor Donna, or another person affected by cancer, and to those who will swab their cheeks in the hope of being a match for someone in need of stem cells or bone marrow.
Together, collectively, in a barbaric yawp, we are telling cancer to suck it. That is the best way imaginable to honor Donna’s life, and as her Mom, I am inexpressibly grateful to you for the assist.