Cancer Causes Love

26 Sep

On a recent sultry September afternoon, I watched happily as my seven year-old daughter, Isa scrambled around with other children at the park, her long, dark hair swinging across her back as she dodged the hot sun under a canopy of shady oak trees. She’s come a long way since that time five years ago when her little bald head was as smooth and hairless as a ripe honeydew melon.

Last Sunday, our family attended the annual reunion party for the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Pediatric Oncology Department where Isa was treated for her leukemia when she was two years old. We always look forward to going to this event because we get to see the many friends that we’ve made at the hospital, but mostly we go because sometimes we just need to be reminded of how lucky we are.

Isa, about a month before her cancer diagnosis.

Isa has now been cancer free for over five years, and so our day to day lives no longer revolve around chemo treatments, bone marrow aspirations, spinal taps or blood and platelet transfusions. No longer do I wake up in a panic in the middle of the night because my daughter is running a fever and I have to rush her to the hospital. It’s been a very long time since I had to cradle her head as she vomited from the chemo or deal with her black moods brought on by the steroids.

As time goes on it gets easier to forget that scary time in our lives. Things have returned to normal—or to whatever “normal” is. My husband and I still experience the usual day to day worry that many other married couples do—such as how to pay the bills, how to pay the bills, and how to pay the bills, but this particular worry is nothing compared with the added anxiety that our child could possibly die.  Luckily, we’re now home free and we get to cross cancer off our list.

Isa, bloated and bald after six months of chemo.

This is why I’m writing about pediatric cancer again. At the hospital reunion party I saw children of all colors and sizes—more than a few of them with bald heads, and I was reminded that there are still too many families who have yet to cross cancer off their list. I was reminded of three year-old Lexi Krasnoff, who at last year’s party, took off all of her clothes and ran naked through the park, the dome of her fuzzy head gleaming in the sun. Lexi wasn’t with us at the party this time because she died of her leukemia last February. Her parents have crossed cancer off their list, but not in the way they had prayed.

Cancer is always a very nasty thing, especially when it comes to children, and it’s always a struggle no matter what the circumstances are. Yet there is one beneficial side effect from cancer, whether your child lives or dies from this disease: It is LOVE.

During those first days when Isa was in the hospital, when I was as terrified and vulnerable as a child lost in the wilderness, I experienced a huge shift in my consciousness. I became aware that I was not all alone in this universe and that there were multitudes of people around me—hospital staff, family, friends, and even complete strangers whose love for Isa and our family enveloped us in huge bear hug and lifted us out of that all consuming darkness and fear. I was open to something I would have never known before Isa’s cancer diagnosis: the genuine connection of pure love that exists between each and every one of us.

There’s just something about a child with cancer that makes you forget that negative way of thinking—you know what I’m talking about—those feelings of judgment, resentment, envy and hate with which we’ve become so damn comfortable.

When you learn of an innocent child who’s been diagnosed with cancer, your first reaction is “That poor family! What can I do to help?”  You stop thinking of yourself for a moment and your heart opens up a little more. Your perspective on life changes and you realize how lucky you are that your child is not experiencing something so dire. Perhaps you even begin to appreciate those around you more and your capacity to give and receive love becomes more significant. Your connection with others begins to synchronize and you begin to understand that all of us are exactly the same on the inside.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could experience this profound connection with others without a child having to suffer through the disease of cancer? Wouldn’t it be incredible if it didn’t take something as hideous as pediatric cancer to allow us to love and appreciate each other on a deeper level?  Wouldn’t it be perfect if no child ever had to suffer through surgery, chemotherapy or radiation again in order to teach us about this magnificent gift of love?

There’s no doubt about it—love grows and evolves when a child is diagnosed with cancer. I’ve seen it happen over and over again. And because September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, it’s a time when we all need to be reminded to nurture this love and spread it around. There is ample opportunity to help: volunteer for an organization that helps children with cancer, make a donation to cancer research, or reach out to a family whose child has been diagnosed with cancer.

Let’s keep this awareness alive and do all we can to find a cure so that someday, an innocent child won’t have to suffer through the pain of cancer treatment just so you and I can learn to love each other the way we’re meant to.

9 Responses to “Cancer Causes Love”

  1. Tracey September 26, 2012 at 9:59 am #

    Beautiful post. Again! You know that this is close to my heart, and yes, tragedies like childhood cancer help you find that ribbon of positive energy that always exists in the universe except we’re often too wrapped up in our own lives to notice. I have been feeling the love lately, especially after revealing my own cancer battle, but what I found out was that I could have had that love even without it. That’s the really incredible news. It’s available if we open ourselves up to giving it.

    • Allegro non tanto September 26, 2012 at 10:12 am #

      I really believe that you and I were given a gift so that we could live the rest of our lives knowing that living for the moment is the key to happiness. And that love is what life is all about! Here’s to opening up our hearts!!!

  2. Kati September 26, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

    Thank you, Jessie, for such a beautiful reminder of the single most important thing in our lives. Nothing else REALLY matters.

  3. Deborah Batterman October 1, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    I come from a family that always managed to galvanize around illness — not necessarily cancer — which left me in an uncomfortable place re: the sadness of a family member suffering and the goodness of the rest of us rising to the occasion. As a grown woman (fresh off the mammogram wagon today, with a clean slate), I would like nothing more than to take these lessons re: anxieties that cancer gives rise to — compounded by the added poignancy when it strikes a young person — as a reminder that the love you speak of is indeed a reflection of communal support. And, yes, how wonderful it would be if we could keep alive that compassion, etc., that binds us even when no crisis is in the air.

    • Allegro non tanto October 1, 2012 at 9:06 pm #

      Even with all of the trauma our family has been through, I can say from the depth of my being that I would not trade my experience with Isa’s cancer for anything. I’ve learned that good always triumphs and this knowledge has made me a stronger person.

  4. happykidshappymom October 1, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

    Jessica — your post, again, brought a tear to my eye. I am so saddened to hear about Lexi, how heartbreaking. And I believe that very few mothers will admire their daughter’s hair the way you do for Isa. So much, weight, in your words. I can feel your love and feel the heaviness you sense when your mind goes back and forth from then to now. I am so very thankful and glad for you that your “now” is as wonderful as it is. You’ve got quite the little trooper in Isa, and she has one very special mom.

    • Allegro non tanto October 1, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

      I’m am certainly blessed, and I realize this each and every day when I look into Isa’s sweet smiling face. She lives her life with intensity and constant joy and my dream is to someday emulate her outlook on life!

  5. Charla Bregante October 5, 2012 at 10:02 pm #

    It is such a gift to all of us when you share your story of Isa’s battle with cancer, a reminder of all we take for granted and all we have to be grateful for. As you say, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we did that without stark contrast of our abundance with a child and family suffering through cancer. Thank you, Jessie.

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