Who’s Isabella Santos?

As promised, I am proudly wearing my Isabella Santos Foundation NYC marathon t-shirt despite the fact that the marathon was canceled. It’s not the first time I’ve worn a t-shirt intended to draw attention to childhood cancer. I’ve worn my bright yellow t-shirt for the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. My bright blue Team Lane t-shirt in honor of Lane Goodwin. My black The Truth 365 t-shirt. But this t-shirt, the one bearing sweet Isabella’s name, is special. For it is she who truly opened my eyes to the awful world childhood cancer, and it is she who inspires me every day to fight for the necessary awareness that will lead to a cure.

It’s also special because today, for the first time, I truly understood how great a responsibility I bear in wearing a shirt with Isabella’s name on it.

I was standing in line at Publix feeding my debit card through the machine and the woman who was bagging my groceries suddenly stopped. I looked at her and realized she was trying to read my t-shirt. With great compassion in her eyes, she looked at me and asked a perfectly reasonable question:

“Who’s Isabella Santos?”

Such a simple question. Yet in that moment, it occurred to me that I wasn’t sure how to answer it. Who’s Isabella Santos?

She’s Stuart and Erin’s daughter.

She’s Grant and Sophia’s sister.

She’s a girl who loved fancy dresses and red boots and having her nails and toes painted.

She’s a girl who was a warrior against stage IV neuroblastoma who fought harder than most people could have dreamed possible.

She’s a girl who was feisty and smart and strong and very artistic.

She’s a girl who was focused, stubborn at times, independent, and fiercely determined.

She’s a girl who danced to her own tune and didn’t care who was watching.

She’s a girl who knew what she wanted and when she wanted it.

She’s a girl who had a big heart, who wanted to help other kids as much as she wanted to help herself.

She’s a girl who lost a fierce battle after fighting a monster that was just too big for her to take on.

Isabella Santos was all these things and then some. But that’s a pretty big mouthful for a stranger who asked me a simple question. So I sorted through all these initial thoughts that came into my head, knowing that I had a huge responsibility to portray Isabella in a way that was true to the core of who she was. I bore this responsibility for her, for Stuart and Erin and Grant and Sophia, for the thousands of people who loved and admired her, and for the thousands of children who are fighting cancer and are waiting desperately for a cure.

The question ended up being a lot harder to answer than I thought. But in the end, my response was simple:

“She was a beautiful seven-year-old girl who dreamed of a world with no more cancer.”

And though it was a simple description, I was thankful when the woman nodded solemnly, and in her eyes, conveyed an understanding of how deep and complex my response really was.

If this is how awareness spreads, then I’m ready to continue the task. I choose to bear that responsibility until Isabella’s dream of no more cancer comes true.

And today, with my exchange in the grocery store, the road to that destination got just a tiny bit smaller.

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