Dear Tessa: One Year Down

Dear Tessa,

You read that right.  You have officially entered the “summer break” stage in life because you just finished your first year of public school! I can’t even believed I just typed that.  What’s next?  Prom?!  Oy…

I know I have missed a couple of letters.  A habit I swore I would break, but life happens.  And luckily for you and your siblings, my focus was centered around the three of you.  I don’t even talk about life being crazy or busy anymore.  I have just come to accept this lifestyle and try my best to roll with it.

Let’s keep on this school talk, shall we.  You had a little program at school today to celebrate your last day.  You are really going to be surprised because I did not cry–not once!  I almost felt a little bad not crying.  Crying is my thing.  I cried selling your clothes at our garage sale last week.  Certainly, I would have thought the last day of your first year of school would have cranked some tears out; but nope.  Nothing.  However, I did smile a lot!

I know how much you love school, and I love seeing your blossom in your classroom.  It makes me so proud and eases my mind.  It also makes me unbelievably happy.  So I saved my tears today as I watched your flutter around your classroom with your friends; smiling and singing on your last day of your very first year of school.

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Today, you sat with your friends and sang three songs for the parents.  Even though you have been practicing them for about two weeks at home, today’s performance was by far the best.  Then we grabbed gigantic Mr. Freeze’s and headed outside to the playground.

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Tessa Jo, you really nailed your first year of school by meeting your IEP goals, making a lot of new friends and charming the daylights out of everyone as usual and so very much more.   You are so lucky. You have awesome teachers and therapists with you at school all the time.  They have helped you so much this year.  And I know for a fact that your success is a direct reflection of their commitment to you. Not once did I ever hear, “Because she has Down syndrome, this…” or “plan on her being behind because of…”  Not once.  No limits.  Your having an extra chromosome never stopped them from teaching you the way you deserved to learn.  Any setbacks were motivation to move forward and achieve more.  Which is exactly what you did with them.

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I hope your team at school knows how much your daddy and I appreciate that.  School was brand new territory for us; and while it was all scary and unfamiliar for a number of reasons, they handled our concerns with grace and confidence.  They believed in you just as much as we did, and their constant unwavering support made for huge accomplishments this year.  I do not know where the school roads lead from here.  All I know is that the bar has been set high, which means I will always expect people to believe in your abilities.

Because girlfriend, there is just nothing that you cannot do!  *Z-snap and walk away…  

One year down Tessa Bug.  As always, I am proud as ever.  Now, excuse me while I go cry.

Love, Mom

Survivor

Today is National Cancer Survivors Day.   A day to celebrate and honor survivors everywhere.  A day to plant seeds of hope for future fights.  I thought a lot today about the road to here; and somewhere in reminiscing, I remembered one particular day in Tessa’s treatment.

It was the second week into Tessa’s second round on a bright Saturday morning.  Tessa had been in isolation due to influenza for about a week.  The effects of isolation as well as the effects of chemotherapy were catching up with her.  She needed a break and so did I.  Just as we were both about to reach our breaking points, a volunteer happily waltzed in like the breath of fresh air that we both needed.  I waited as Tessa adjusted to the new face in her room.  Ten minutes later, I grabbed my computer and my phone and headed to the seating area on the main level where the sun shines brightly through the walls of glass.

I found an open chair and set myself up to clear my head.  To my right I could hear the hurried sound of little feet followed by adult steps.  A little boy of about five years zipped by to the chairs across from me.  His mom and dad were just behind.  They set down their things and had a brief conversation while the boy ran circles around them.  They had my attention, but I was pretending to work behind my laptop.

The hospital photographer, adorned with his gear, greeted the family.  They discussed options for pictures and Christmas greeting cards that they could make from the pictures they were about to take.  It was obvious that the boy had been or was a hospital patient.  The photographer set up his things, and he let the little boy take test pictures by letting him push the shutter button.  Mom pulled a small green chalk board out and carefully brought it to her son.  They were ready to take his first shot.

The chalk board was turned my way.  The word “Survivor” written beautifully across the board with a small yellow ribbon above.  I froze.  Survivor.  The yellow ribbon being the symbol for childhood cancer, and the word across it applauding his fight.  He did it.  I could not see his whole face, but I could see from the side how much his cheeks were pushed back from the size of his smile. Dad placed his arms around his wife as they watched their son take some of the most influential pictures of his life.  As tears rolled from eyes, I bowed my head to privately dry my cheeks.  That little boy held up his sign proud.  I thought to myself, he is here.  He is a survivor.

Suddenly that break that I was needing so badly felt too long.  I collected my things and heading back to the fourth floor.  My pace became faster by the step.  In what felt like the longest elevator ride back to our floor, I told myself that someday that would be Tessa holding her own “Survivor” sign.  Someday that would be her family kneeling beside her to take the same pictures.  Someday her smile would stretch that far again.  And someday she, too, would be a survivor.   

And in times of uncertainty and despair, when hope was just out of reach, prayers rushed in.

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Survivor, she is.  Hallelujah and amen.

I thought hard about what it means to be a survivor.  In order to be a survivor, the odds must be beat and the adversity must be toppled. But the word survivor only exists because there are those who do not make it; never because the size of the fight was not enough.  They do not lose because they gave up.  Their fights end this way because they gave everything they had and there was nothing left to go to battle with.  Some say that is when cancer wins.  I say that is when peace beats cancer.  Freedom from this disease comes two very different ways.

While I do not have Tessa captured holding a sign indicating her survivorship, I do have her here with me every single day.  And, that my friends, never escapes me.

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