Growing up in my house, we were allowed to say that two things “sucked”. Vacuums.
TV shows didn’t suck. Dinner didn’t suck. Even traffic didn’t suck.
But vacuums and cancer. They sucked.
21 years ago yesterday, our family learned to trust God in a whole new way.
21 years ago yesterday, could have been the beginning of the end of me having an older sister.
21 years ago yesterday, was our family’s introduction to the world of childhood cancer.
21 years ago yesterday, my older sister, Selah, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
Yes, you may be looking at “21 years ago” and realize that I’m only almost 23.. So at 2, I didn’t have much of any comprehension of the craziness that our lives were going through at the time.. But cancer isn’t something that you just go through for a time of your life, and then move on. I mean, Jenna wasn’t even born until 2 years later, and even she has stories. Cancer lingers.
Back in November, one of my favorite people had a journalism assignment, and she decided to interview my mom, as a “mother of a child with cancer”.
I’ve heard my mom tell the story of Selah’s diagnosis a million times.. But hearing her tell the story from start to the present was really cool. And then I got to chime in with some of my memories, and Jenna came home halfway through the “interview” and got to throw in some things, too.
Here’s just some of the random, “stream of consciousness style” thoughts that have been going through my mind this evening..
- Cancer’s different when you have faith. Actually, everything’s different when you have faith. And not just faith, but what.. WHO you have faith in. But because of our faith in Christ, our “cancer experience” was different than those families going through it with the sole reliance on doctors and each other.
- When Selah was diagnosed, our church family enveloped us with prayer. And love. And just anything we needed. I was two years old and couldn’t camp out in a hospital all day and night with my parents, so I was immediately taken care of by some of my adoptive “aunts” and “uncles”. Some siblings end up being excluded because all of the focus turns to the patient, and by the time the patient has pulled through their battle.. The siblings are off the deep end and it’s a whole different battle. Luckily.. 1 - I was two, so there wasn’t much of a deep end for me to fall off of.. 2 - Even if I were older, I know that my parents, with the help of our church family and awesome neighbors, wouldn’t have let that happen.
- The specific memories that Jenna and I have all of this tends to relate to two specific organizations: OCF-OCF and Camp Ronald McDonald.
- OCF-OCF (most commonly referred to as just OCF) is a group that was started by some parents that had children with cancer that wanted to be able to go to camp. So the parents started it in 1982, and it’s still running to this day. Our family was really, really involved with this group for a long time. Once us kids hit high school, it was harder to stay involved because of band, drumline, and winterguard, but OCF still holds a special spot in our hearts. Because of OCF, our entire family got to camp twice a year. We were all in cabins with other kids our age, and it was a mixture of patients and siblings of kids with cancer. It was a special place where everyone could get away from the hospitals and the problems down the hill, and just be kids. The parents got to bond with other parents that were going through or had been through what they’re going through. We played silly games, sang typical camp songs, ate horrible food, made arts and crafts, had camp fires, dances, and laughed way, way too much. OCF had events other than Summer and Winter camp.. Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Christmas Party, Ranch Day, Teen Camp..
- Camp Ronald McDonald was also an opportunity to go to camp another two times a year (for just the kids, once we reached a certain age). The camp sessions were a little different.. Selah’s sessions were just with other patients. My sessions were just with siblings of patients.. Which could get very, very emotional. Because not everyone’s patient sibling had survived their battle with cancer. But we also had fun. Horseback riding, ropes course, camping in Tee-pees, archery, radio show..
— I remember when my class at school got to go to Outdoor Ed in 6th grade, for some of my friends, it was the first time they’d spent a night away from their family. By the time I was in 6th grade, I had been going to Camp Ronald McDonald twice a year, on my own for like, 5 years.. Outdoor Ed was nothing.
- If you go through our closets at home, you will find shirt after shirt, sweatshirt after sweatshirt from OCF and CRMD from all the different sessions that we went to. As we got older, they definitely became sleep shirts/paint shirts..
- I have friends that are now in their 20’s that are lucky to have never been to a funeral yet. Because of how badly cancer sucks, funerals and death are a part of life when you’re involved in organizations like that.
- Selah was granted a wish from the Wake-A-Wish Foundation back in November of 1991, so the 4 of us (Jenna wasn’t born until that next March) got to go on the “Big Red Boat” (the Disney Cruise) and then go to Disney World and Epcot. Jenna will proudly tell you that she swam with dolphins before any of us, because my mom swam with the dolphins at 5 months pregnant :)
- We met some amazing families by being involved in these different groups. Families that we were able to rejoice with in the remissions, and pray with through the relapses. We would spend countless hours with these people, outside of “events”.
- I mentioned our awesome neighbors earlier (and actually, I blogged about them awhile back because they’re crazy, ridiculously talented and amazing).. Let me explain that. So, three doors down are our neighbors. And while Selah was going through treatment, their awesome mom committed to keeping the kids (Matt and Becca) healthy so that Selah and I always had friends to play with (including adventures to Disneyland).
- When Selah was in remission for 5 years, we had a “Selah-bration”. A huge party at our church Selah-brating what God had done. Because when you look at her diagnosis, and you talk to the doctors.. She’s here because of One Person. God’s hand was in it all.
- Disneyland is loved by Selah, Jenna, my mom and I. We all spend a lot of time there. While Selah was going through treatment, we also spent a lot of time there. Why? Because no parent wants to bring a sick, snotty nosed kid to Disneyland. So for Selah and her weakened immune system.. That’s where we got to play.
- On the anniversary of Selah’s diagnosis, my mom used to take her back to Kaiser (my family LOVES Kaiser) to visit her Doctor (Dr. Ruki) and the nurses and Selah would walk in carrying balloons.. One for every year since then and then she’d hand them out to the kiddos in the clinic. However, walking in with that many balloons would make Selah float away.. So now Selah goes in with a tank of helium and empty balloons.. Then fills them out there to give to the kiddos. When Selah walks in, Dr. Ruki and the nurses get so excited. She’s a reminder that kids can get through it. And she’s a breath of fresh air for the parents sitting there, watching their kids going through treatment in the blue leather chairs, and then turning around and seeing someone who was once one of those kids.
There’s way more I could say. There’s way, way more that my mom could say.
But I’ll close with this..
I’m so thankful for my shorter, older sister. I can’t imagine the last 21 years of my life if God hadn’t healed her.
Cancer sucks. But God’s bigger than that. Way, way bigger than that.
Cancer sucks. God rocks.