Childhood Cancer Awareness month (September) is coming to an end but the crucial and oft-emotional efforts to finding cures will continue. This week I wanted to share a blog originally written in 2013 about a mother I befriended here in Memphis while her son was a patient at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and also an update on their lives today.
I met Maranda while going through a rather difficult season in my life and she became a welcomed ray of light each day I saw her during drop-off at my son’s school. My son, too, was drawn to her and she was often the first person he hugged after walking into the classroom. As you’ll read, the old saying rings true: we often have no idea what someone is going through behind closed doors. I certainly had no idea that even as she comforted me and lent me her shoulders on which to lean, Maranda was living through a parent’s worst nightmare. Whatever tears she dropped, pain she felt, frustration she endured behind her closed door, once she stepped beyond it her heart opened to all those around her and she always found a way to make us smile.
“No Mo Chemo”
April 8, 2013
The Mexico license plate grabbed my attention. I wondered what this van was doing here in Memphis so far from its home. My answer came a few weeks later when I pulled into one of my usual morning parking spaces to drop my son off at school. The van made a left turn in front of me and I saw written on its dark windows in large, white letters, “WE BEAT CANCER!” Before I could stop them, my emotions got the best of me. I thought about my best friend who, over two years ago, was given less than a year to live after her stage IV cancer diagnosis. She’s still here, fighting. They beat cancer. She can beat it too, I said quietly to myself. Several days later, still thinking about the van I’d seen that morning, I mentioned it to someone at the school. “Oh yes,” she said. “That family had a son here. He attended while his sister got treatment at St. Jude. But they’ve gone back home now.” I wish I could have seen that family before they left to share my excitement in reading those white words plastered across that maroon van. I wish I could have thanked them for refueling the hope in my heart by sharing with all who would take notice the miracle that had manifested itself in their lives.
Less than two weeks ago I received a party invitation from a mom whose son attends school with mine and whom I have admired since the day we met. I digress briefly to share that her smile and laughter, willingness to lend a hand and sincerity in trying to make you feel better when you were having a really bad day never gave any indication to the personal and painful trials which she’d been experiencing. She, Maranda, became my own personal example of selflessness when I learned that the mom who made me laugh on the days I felt least like laughing was a mom whose young son, for the past three years, had been battling cancer. Now back to the party invitation.
In bold, black letters written on my Angry Birds-themed card it was announced that this was a “NO MO CHEMO Party!” Unlike the family from Mexico with whom I never got to share my excitement, I believe my loud piglet squeals after reading the invitation demonstrated to Maranda exactly how I felt. Several afternoons later I stood amongst other well-wishers in the St. Jude cafeteria to celebrate this dynamic mom-son duo. The magnitude of the occasion was captured perfectly with the Angry Birds cake.
“You win,” it said.
And therein lies the miraculous end to this family’s three year journey. Yes, Zane: You win!
September 18, 2017
Zane is now healthy and almost 11 years old! Maranda shares, “he is in the fifth grade, an honor roll student, chess club member, Cub Scout and enjoys swimming, baseball and watching over his little sister and baby brother.” St. Jude flies Zane to Memphis every year for an annual visit: follow-up care will continue through his 18th birthday. This December he will attend Survivor’s Clinic, on the hospital’s downtown campus, where he will have “an entire team dedicated to studying his former treatment protocol and help him move forward with the resources he will need as a survivor. For example, should he need to navigate how well his body metabolizes drugs as an adult, or what insurance hurdles to coordinate, as well as possible scholarships (for college) etc.” I did not know this until now: once St. Jude treats a child, they continue follow-up care until that child’s 18th birthday. Yes- every, single child!
Childhood cancer is one of the worst things imaginable a parent or child must endure. I sometimes wonder how my friend managed to remain so focused at a time when her world was falling apart and am still blown away by how strong and indestructible Zane’s spirit was even as he was fighting to stay alive. These memories stay at the forefront of my thoughts as I drive past St. Jude every day and am reminded of the triumphs that have been celebrated because of its unfailing commitment to finding cures and saving lives.
This month is ending but our fight to end childhood cancer never will.