Dear Tessa: Birthday Shenanigans

Dear Tessa,

A week ago today, you turned five!  I am not even close to sure how that is possible, but it is.  When parents have told me in the past, that it feels like yesterday when their babies were born–you’re getting to that age where I understand that so much more.  It literally really feels like I held you for the first time yesterday. No tears, though.  I did not go there this time.  You will be happy to know that I only shed maybe two tiny tears the night before your birthday this year. That’s right…no prolonged sobbing this year. I know you are proud.

This year’s birthday was under-celebrated…I won’t lie.  Your dad and I closed on our new house Monday morning and you spent most of the day at daycare with your friends.  Some friends stopped by to check out the new place, and we didn’t end up lighting your candle and singing Happy Birthday until 9 p.m. Whew.  Now that’s not to say your special day went by uneventfully.  No, you provided us with light entertainment that afternoon…

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I will set the scene:  chickens, you, your sister, your brother, me and a hose all hanging out in the yard.  Interesting combination.

Your big brother and I let the chickens out to roam the yard and snack on some veggies.  You read that right.  We have chickens; five of them.  I have no idea what we are doing or how long this phase will last, but for now this is real life.  While “the girls” (what we call the chickens) were out, you and your sister tossed them tomatoes and cucumbers while your brother sprayed the poo out of their pen and refilled their water.  I was busy making sure they did not try to venture off over the hillside again.  It started out innocently enough and the whole picture was quite adorable, really. Everyone was helping out, giggling and enjoying the nice night.  It was time for the girls to return to their pen, and we had them all grouped together to shuffle them back inside.

Unbeknownst to me, the pump that runs the hose water was still opened up. That is when you quietly grabbed the hose and sprayed the girls…all of them. It was madness.  You sprayed the rest of us too.  As the chickens were losing their minds over the unexpected hose-down, the rest of us were hollering at you to drop the hose.  Kendal was crying.  The chickens were scattered.  But you were extremely delighted in the hysteria you created.  Your diabolical laughter was proof of that.

Mischievous. You have definitely discovered that side of yourself this summer. I will be sure to wish your new teachers good luck next week.

We completed your birthday week with a party at our new place with our family and close friends.  Even though it was extremely humid, it was still a lot of fun.  At one point, while you were opening your gifts, you turned to me and said, “…best birthday party ever.”  You express a lot of things that bring you joy as “the best ever,” and I adore it because I can tell that you really mean it.

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Health wise, here is a quick recap of where you are currently.  Your echocardiogram came back great.  No cleft mitral valve as previously suspected.  No current damage to the heart muscles from chemo. One slight eccentric aortic valve; but not of any concern at this time.  Your follow-up ENT visit went great.  You recovered perfectly from surgery in May just as we thought you did.  You passed your first hearing test ever with flying colors!

We visited your oncologist last week and while we were unable to get blood work that day, everything else looked as it should. Your oncologist also told me that you are also being moved to the Caring For Life clinic from now on. The Caring For Life clinic is a childhood cancer survivor clinic.  The program is designed to help the survivors of childhood cancer as well as their care providers by detecting health-related problems associated with chemotherapy, providing health maintenance education about potential risks, providing emotional support for survivors and family members, and empowering survivors to advocate for themselves.  This is something we thought would happen in a few years; therefore I was pleased to hear that we will starting this in six months. This is a big step in the right direction in life after cancer.

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Each of your birthdays feels better than one before.  Another great year has gone by.  All that you have seen, done and overcome in five short years in remarkable.  I always look forward to the year ahead and seeing what you will do next.  Happy five years to you, little darling.  And cheers to many, many more.

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Love always, 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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