Maggie’s Story: In Sickness and In Death

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Each day a different guest blogger will be featured who will generously share their personal experience with childhood cancer.  Stories are always more potent than statistics.     

By Moira Byrne-Philbrook 

When your child is diagnosed with a potentially fatal illness you wonder why.  She has a pure heart and soul, so why is she sick??  She is kind, and too young to have done anything she might have to “pay” for.  You run through the whole “sins of the father/ mother” thing.  You make deals with God, Mother Nature, the universe, anyone who might listen.

There is never an answer, though.

Maggie and Mom, Moira.  Photo courtesy of Flashes of Hope, Catharine Morris photographer.
Maggie and Mom, Moira. Photo courtesy of Flashes of Hope, Catharine Morris photographer.

Fear becomes your new normal.  You hope all ends up okay, but the statistics aren’t fabulous.  I would count the number of children we knew of with cancer, and could convince myself that Maggie wasn’t going to be the one to die.

Maggie responded so well to treatment, I got to the point that I actually believed she was going to be a cancer survivor.  As I’ve said, though, you can’t turn your back on the beast.

When your child dies, you play the head games again.  Why her?  Why my child?  What did we do?  What does this mean?  You figure you don’t need to keep up your end of any of the deals you brokered with God, Mother Nature, the universe, or anyone who might have listened.  Once again, there is never an answer.

There are plenty of, shall we say, schools of thought about the death of children. People say she’s in a better place, she’s not suffering.  Perhaps she avoided a horrible future by dying young.  Late effects, which are no picnic, have been avoided.  In the end, it’s all just sad, and it all just sucks.  No matter what, we’ll always believe that the best place for Maggie is right here with us, living the life she was supposed to lead.

Maggie at the New England Regional Cheerleading  Competition, three months before diagnosis.
Maggie at the New England Regional Cheerleading Competition, three months before diagnosis.

We are on vacation, and have been able to spend some time with Maggie’s friends.  I find great comfort in spending time with these teens.  I would like to think they find comfort in being with our family too.  I want my sweet, beautiful girl back, but since that can’t happen, I am happy to surround myself with her friends.

Perhaps, someday, we will get some answers.  Will someone touched by Maggie find a cure for cancer?  Will something good come from all of this bad?  Who knows??  I do know that sadness is our new normal, and we miss our girl.

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Moira Byrne-Philbrook is the mother of three and blogs at I Made My Kid Walk to School With Cancer.  Her oldest child, Maggie, died of rhabdomyosarcoma in 2014.

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