This morning, as I look at my menorah and Christmas tree, look at all the ads in the Miami Herald about Christmas sales, and anticipate some much-needed time off from work, I realize that as happy as I am to have reached another holiday season, this year, things are different.
I realize that you can’t let yourself dive into the world of childhood cancer and expect to see holidays in quite the same way anymore.
I can’t help but think about Isabella Santos, Ty Campbell, Joey Aquaro, Lane Goodwin, Ariel Gariano, Avalannah Routh, Emma Ford, and thousands of other children who died this year. About Ronan Thompson, Brendan Hadvab, Sal Vanni, Jack Bartosz, Ezra Matthews, and Jessie Rees, who died before them. And about Bella Rodriguez-Torres, a sweet girl from Miami who just celebrated her 10th birthday with yet another round of chemo and who still fights every day. Or Super Sammy, who fights as well.
Not a day goes by where I don’t think of these children and their families. Childhood cancer, sadly, doesn’t go away.
So I was doing holiday cards for some colleagues last night and I went into my “holiday card drawer.” Yes, I really do have such a thing. I pulled out a box of holiday cards with a beautiful picture of a gingerbread house. I vaguely remember buying these cards at Publix a year or two ago without really looking too closely at the cards.
Last night, I paid more attention. And I noticed for the first time that on the bottom right-hand side of the card was a little note: “This card was designed by children who are patients at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.” I then looked at the back of the card. On the back is a painter’s palette for the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Children’s Art Project, with the tagline, “Making life better for children with cancer.” There are the names and ages of eight children who designed the card. The sales of these cards “benefit the emotional, educational, and recreational needs of patients.”
I was happy and shocked at the same time. When I bought these cards, I was one of the many people who knew nothing of childhood cancer. And yet, for some reason, I bought these cards. Was it foreshadowing? Was the universe trying to tell me that I was destined to be a voice for children fighting cancer?
All I know is that I was pretty proud to be giving out these cards this year. Using the holidays to continue to spread awareness is a good thing. People need to be reminded that as they’re celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas and Kwanzaa and the new year with their blessedly happy and healthy children, they need to be enormously thankful and mindful. Mindful of the fact that for so many families, this is the first (or even the second or the third or the fourth…it never gets any better no matter how much time passes) holiday season after having lost a precious child to cancer.
As you’re watching your kids giddily open their presents, it’s okay to be happy. But please, take a moment to think about and pray for the thousands of children who are stuck in a hospital getting chemo for Christmas. About the parents who will be told, “Your child has cancer.” About the parents who watched their child endure and survive agonizing treatments and just want clean scans.
And please, think about and pray for the families who desperately wish for only one impossible thing: To have their child back.
To those families who are “celebrating” (enduring) the holiday season without their children, please know you are in my thoughts and prayers. Your pain, your agony, and your anguish are not forgotten. Your children have touched my heart and my new year’s resolution is to continue to do my part to raise awareness and help raise funding for a cure. In memory of your beloved children, and in honor of those beautiful kids who are still fighting.
Fuck you, cancer.