I try my best to stay positive during Tessa’s fight against leukemia. She needs it most. It was a promise I made to her at the very beginning. I believe in the power of positive energy and how negativity can seriously bring people down…even children. And to be perfectly honest with you, it is a promise I break to myself too often. To tell you the real truth, strength is a virtue that comes and goes for me. I feel like I have a teenage relationship with my own strength…when it’s good, it’s good; and when it’s bad, it’s bad. Therefore when people tell me how strong I am, I am often served a side of guilt as well.
And there is a reason for it all. The things I see in this hospital, the cries that I hear, the people that we meet, even the dismal atmosphere outside can often break down the hard exterior I told myself I needed to get my daughter through this. But this experience is reshaping me because I know what cancer takes from those who fight it, and it is more than the freedom from lines and medicines like I spoke about in Tessa’s last letter.
Screw cancer. It shows up uninvited, expecting everyone to give into its preposterous needs. Cancer is the big playground bully. It casts fear on everyone while assuming no one can match the fight it will lay down. It never asks its victims’ permission before taking over their bodies. It never gives them a choice before menacing their lives.
I watched it take the livelihood from Tessa’s soul and the bright color from her cheeks. I watched it steal the beautiful hair from atop her head and the excitement from her eyes. It ripped away her desire to play and to run freely as a child. It keeps her from gatherings and home with her family. It has robbed her of her right to rock with her daddy every night before bed, hours of playing with her baby sister and of numerous books her big brother would read to her. Sometimes cancer sneaks in and steals strength and peace from the loved ones helplessly witnessing it all. I see all of that in many of the other children here while I exchange empathetic smiles to the other parents in our own silent community of hope.
Cancer constantly takes and never gives anything in return. And when it has taken all that it can, it demands that they stand and fight. And the victims stand tall. Somehow they just do it. It amazes me…the size of the fight in the smallest of warriors and the strength that they are able to dig up beneath a thick layer of weakness. They are resilient when they need to be, and they naturally let their instincts take over for themselves and then for their families.
I have seen it and I know. For all that cancer takes, there are few things it cannot touch that make it so hard for the disease to prevail. There are bright spirits that are much bigger than any cancer. There is hope that blankets those affected by it, courage that is unbreakable, and willingness to win that is unstoppable. It will never lessen the beauty or bravery that lives within a cancer patient.
So when people tell me that I am strong, truthfully they are wrong. There are heroes in this world fighting larger battles, and I am honored to be surrounded by the some of the mightiest. My strength matters none in comparison to my child’s or any other. I am just one small part of her fight.
She is a large part of an even greater fight.