When I was 7 years old, my best friend was diagnosed with leukemia. Of course, being so young, I had no idea what that meant. But I could tell by the look on my parents’ faces and her parents’ faces, it wasn’t good. Elizabeth and I met in pre-school. Shortly after, our mothers got us involved in the same dance company, where we would drive out to New Boston…her and I being the youngest girls in the class. We were ballerinas one day and gymnasts the next, all the while having no actual clue what we were doing…simply following whoever’s lead to whatever Disney song we were to perform to. One of my fondest memories is when we were backstage for our very 1st dance recital. Our mothers were fluffing our hair and applying our makeup and calming our nerves. My mom said as she was leaving us backstage, just a few songs away from taking the stage, “I’m going to leave some makeup right here for you, if you think you need a touch up on your lipstick.” Needless to say, as 6 year old girls we DEFINITELY thought we needed a self-imposed “touch-up”…lipstick, blush, blue eyeshadow. The whole works.
Sleepovers and pool parties and dance class and then, all of a sudden…she was sick. And just like that, her long hair that nearly to the ground was gone. Then it was us in matching head scarves as we learned to roller blade in my driveway. The slumber parties started to decrease and the worry in her mother’s face was more apparent.
We had just moved into our brand new house. My bedroom was all pink except for this old, ugly recliner that used to be my grandpa’s, sitting against my window. I remember being asleep and hearing the phone ring in the middle of the night. I sat straight up in my bed and waited for any kind of sound to follow. My mother came in a few minutes later, sat me on her lap in that hideous recliner and broke the news to me that Elizabeth had passed away. I remember sobbing until I was sick. It was a week before my 9th birthday.
I can recall being paranoid throughout her battle and after her death. I was in grade school, reading fiction chapter books about teenaged girls fighting cancer. I took every bruise, every time I brushed my teeth too hard my gums bled as a sure-sign symptom that I too had leukemia. Thankfully, I did not.
A couple years later, my Uncle Joe, my mother’s oldest brother, was diagnosed with leukemia. At this point, I felt more prepared with what to expect. I knew it’d be hard. I knew he’d go bald. That was as far as I got in my “mental prep” before he too passed away.
It was around that same time that Elizabeth’s father, Bob, relapsed and fell ill with leukemia. We lost him too. I can still remember sitting at their house after the memorial, not taking my eyes off her mom and her little brother. It was at this point, not even a teenager yet, that I started to understand the frailty of life.
I’d lose more people to cancer in the years to come and they’d all hurt. They’d all seem unfair. But the “leukemia cloud” would seem the darkest.
Last summer, my godfather, Uncle Mike, was abruptly diagnosed with leukemia, just weeks after we lost his brother to liver cancer.
I’ve written about this before but holy shit…writing about it again still feels like repeated punches to my chest. (As I’m currently sobbing off my eyelash extensions and pouring more wine.)
I was so sure he was going to beat it. I really was. It had been 20 years since this disease left it’s 1st hole in my life, surely we’ve come so much further now… He wasn’t a small child. He was my lion. When I saw him just an hour before he passed, laying in his hospital bed, I knew…his victory was not the one I had been pleading with God for. It was Heaven.
I cry for him almost every single day. I cry for my mother that has had to bury 3 brothers. Two of them dying within a year of each other. Two of them dying of the same disease. I cry because I’m afraid my aunt, Uncle Mike’s widow, will think she is alone and that we are “his family”, when I feel like I belong to her just as much as I belonged to him. I cry for all the emotions his death brings up in me and my long history of loss to leukemia. I cry for Elizabeth’s family, who I’ve lost touch with for no real reason except that we just did.
A few days ago, I was contacted by someone from a local chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, asking if I would like to volunteer. Somehow, she had come across my blog and the entry I’d written months ago about the loss of my godfather. To say I was moved would be an understatement. To have my honesty recognized is beautiful enough. But to be called upon to play a part in such a worthy cause truly feels like God talking to me. So I’m listening.
I’ll be walking and volunteering my services for Light The Night in Ann Arbor, MI on September 30th. I need this light, literally and figuratively. I need to stand amongst survivors and those standing for lost loved ones. I need to honor this fight and this hurt. I need to shine a light.
My birthday is this coming Friday. And I can’t think of any better way to commemorate another trip around the sun than sharing my story and supporting this cause. Please help me join in bringing light to the darkness of cancer by donating towards my fundraising efforts to support The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light The Night. Money raised through Light The Night allows The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) to fund treatments for patients who are suffering from all forms of blood cancers. The impact of LLS supported research goes beyond blood cancers. The discoveries made in blood cancer research have led to break through treatments for many cancers and other serious diseases.
Even a $5 donation goes a long way in this fight. You can contribute to my Light The Night page at http://pages.lightthenight.org/mi/AnnArbor17/RWilliams