It had been a really long day. After a few hectic weeks at work and weekends full of activities, I was grateful for an unusual evening at home, just hanging out with the kids and watching television. It was nearing bedtime so everyone was winding down. My nine-year old daughter, Kalea, asked me if she could look something up on my phone. At first, I told her, “No”. She was always on my phone and it drove me crazy. She said that she wanted to look something up that I was “really going to like”. I figured it was going to be another one of those videos of kids doing silly things on YouTube but I reluctantly handed over my phone. She played around on the phone and handed it back to me. It was a video of the music and lyrics to Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song”. (Watch video below) I was confused and then she said, “Mom, it reminds me of you because you had cancer”. I didn’t understand. Then, she said, “Mom, it’s called Fight Song” and you fought cancer. It reminds me of you.” Her words took my breath away. I think my heart stopped for a second too. My mind was trying to wrap around what she just said to me. Tears poured out of my eyes as I hugged my daughter and we watched the rest of the lyrics play on the video.
I gave her an extra hug at bedtime and then went in my room so I could process what she just said. It seemed so simple. I did fight cancer. That was true but it was so much more than that. When I got sick, my kids were my first concern. Once I accepted that I had cancer and had a battle ahead of me, I was really worried about how it was going to affect them. I didn’t want them to know. Kalea was going into first grade and Kade was starting kindergarten. They were too young. I wanted to protect them from all of it.
When I had what seemed like 100’s of medical appointments and tests after my initial diagnosis, I scheduled them during the school day. The kids weren’t even aware of what was happening at first. When a treatment plan was in place and chemotherapy drew near, we told the kids that I was “sick” but the doctor was going to make me better. I was going to have to take medicine that might make me tired or make my stomach hurt. My kids didn’t know a lot about cancer but they knew it was bad. We never used the word ‘cancer’ when we talked to them. I didn’t like saying that word out loud yet either.
I wasn’t sure how the kids were going to deal with my hair falling out. I had a wig before my treatment started because I didn’t want the kids to see me bald or see my hair coming out in clumps. The day I picked it up, I didn’t have time to hide it well. Kalea happened to find it in my closet. Because Halloween was approaching, she assumed it was for a costume and asked me about it. I took the opportunity to tell her that the medicine I had to take was going to make me lose my hair. I saw the fear in her eyes and tried to lighten the mood by telling her it would grow back but it would take a while and that I was embarrassed about it so I got a wig. She was excited about that and felt like we had a special secret. We took turns trying it on. We were giggling and making silly faces in the mirror.
I remember being really tired after a chemo treatment one weekend. Two days after my treatment, I had to get a shot that boosted my white blood cell count. Every time I got the shot, like clockwork, about 5 hours later, the effects would hit me. I guess my body was so busy making white blood cells that it robbed me of the energy to do anything else. I used to feel like my limbs were soaking in cement. I seriously couldn’t move. Those effects lasted a few hours and then for days, I had a cycle of symptoms. I was feeling particularly awful but my kids were missing me and wanted my attention. They wanted me to play a game, sit on the floor with them, do all the things that I used to do with them…but I simply couldn’t. I knew they were disappointed and I felt horrible. I had to come up with something quick so I asked them to put on a show for me. The kids loved that idea and they quickly went to work. It was one of the best afternoons as the kids sang and danced and performed skits for me and I was able to be entertained and engaged with them all from the comfort of my couch. It is one of my fondest memories.
I was looking forward to Valentine’s Day. I bought all the fixings for a chocolate fondue night with my husband and the kids to celebrate. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of the reconstruction process and the way the calendar fell, I had to have an appointment that morning. The reconstruction process was extremely painful. After each treatment, I would often be bedridden, forced to stay completely still, flat on my back for about 8 or 9 hours before I could breathe without being in tremendous pain. It was the worst part of my treatment. I remember lying there with tears running down the side of my face but I was unable to wipe them because that would require me to move and that would simply be too painful. My kids came home from school, excited about their valentines and looking forward to our family fun night. My wonderful husband salvaged the night for the kids as he muddled through the chocolate fondue, without me. They had a blast. I could hear them from upstairs. I so desperately wanted to be a part of it. I remember feeling so separated from my normal life at that time. The kids came upstairs to give me hugs (careful hugs) and kisses at bedtime. My kids had fun but they were upset that I wasn’t a part of it. I always resented the time cancer took away from my family.
The end of my radiation treatments was the official end of my treatment or in medical jargon, my EOT. I got to ring the celebration bell at the treatment center when I finished that 28th treatment. When I walked outside, my friends had placed balloons on my car. When I came home, my Mom had put pink balloons everywhere — they were on the mailbox outside and she filled the house with 28 pink balloons to celebrate the end of the 28 radiation treatments I endured. My kids were a part of the celebration. After dinner that night, we went outside and we released those balloons…and released all the pain, fear and everything else we went through right along with them. It was such a wonderful feeling.
I tried my best to protect my children from the harsh realities of a cancer diagnosis. I kept things as normal as possible for them even when I felt like my world was upside down. For 406 days, I battled cancer. For 406 days, we still functioned as a family. I fought for my life without surrendering my life to my illness. The lyrics in this video will forever stay in my heart. My daughter put them there. What an amazing gift she gave me. Although I like to think I shielded my kids from what I went through, the truth is that they lived it right along with me. My hope was that they wouldn’t remember much about those days. Then, tonight, Kalea showed me that she knew way more than I thought she did. I realize now that they were watching me. I realize now that Kalea knows I fought hard to beat cancer. I realize now that she is proud of me. I realize now that my daughter thinks I am strong. I realize now… just how strong she is too.