Childhood Cancer Awareness–First Day of School

Today was the first day of school, and I love watching the neighborhood kids take photos and hop on the bus for a new year of excitement and learning. Some may be going to a new building or starting at a different school. Some may connect with old friends or meet new ones. No matter what, it’s a happy day filled with joy and probably some anxiety.

2004 september first day of school
First day of school in our new house when the boys were 8 and 6.

Nick was diagnosed with leukemia in the summer, so many of his school friends never knew he was sick. Social media wasn’t readily available. We updated family and friends through the CaringBridge website, but when school came around, Nick only went on his first day. No one understood how ill he was. He had been accepted for the DDE program, since he wanted to be a technology teacher, but eventually he had to drop it as he couldn’t keep up with the work.

We hired tutors, but he was so fatigued, he struggled with motivation and learning. Shenendehowa School District was wonderful in that they gave him the basic requirements for homework, but the isolation and missing his classmates was very hard.

It was difficult for Stephen as well, since he and his brother would have been in middle school together. Instead Stephen went on the bus alone, and they missed all those possible memories together. When we lost Nick only two months into the school year, it rocked the school community.

Cancer changes the formative years of children. Losing a classmate is traumatic. Losing a sibling is life-changing and devastating. The ramifications don’t often show up until years later.

When a child with cancer attends school, they deal with side effects, possible infections from a compromised immune system, bullying, isolation, and misunderstanding. A child doesn’t have to look sick to have cancer, so it’s important to create empathy and educate students on what a child with cancer or any other chronic or life-threatening illness is going through. What an opportunity to teach compassion and make a difference in someone’s life.

Besides missing out on so many wonderful memories, the world lost the potential of Nick, someone who wanted to use technology to help others, who enjoyed working with younger children and making them smile.

Today I remember all the children who are no longer with us and their parents who struggle with those firsts every single year. And I send support and hugs to our children in treatment who missed their first day. I hope you get back to school soon.

Be aware that someone might be struggling more than you know. Show compassion and you might give them that reason to smile.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness, but every day is the chance to be kind.

A Parent’s Love Knows no Limits

Nick with me when he was 11 years old.  Stephen was the photographer and kept cutting off our heads! Glad he got this one.

On the one year anniversary of Travyon Martin’s death, I watched his parents talk about missing their child and their continuous fight for justice.  His mother, Sybrina Fulton explained that she had one child in Heaven and one on earth and she is trying to do the best for both of them. 

It doesn’t matter how your child dies or how old they are when they die, it’s a loss that you can never get over.  Losing a child isn’t something to get over like a cold, it’s learning how to live with your child in a different way.  Like Sybrina, I have said that I have an earth son and a spirit son and I make sure I spend time with both of them. 

I enjoy watching the funny videos that Stephen wants me to watch or listen to the latest song he has downloaded on Itunes.  My husband and I travel extensively with him for the soccer team he plays on.  We talk about Nick and I show Stephen photos that I have of them growing up.  That time with him is precious and I’m blessed to have him in my life.

My husband and I enjoy watching Stephen play at soccer tournaments.

Since I don’t have Nick in the ‘physical’ sense, it’s obviously harder to know that I’m connecting with him.  The best way I do this is by writing to him.  I mainly write about our family, especially his little brother and I ask Nick to keep a special eye out for Stephen.  Nick often comes to me in my dreams and he sends messages for me or for his close friends and family.  Even his close friends have dreamt of him and I know that helps to ease the sadness of missing him.  I keep ‘open’ to signs that Nick may send letting me know that he is all right or close by. Having that faith that he is connected to me helps on the days when the grief storms flood my world.

As Trayvon’s parents fight to find justice for their son’s death by changing laws on gun control and self-defense, Luke and I continue to help other children battle cancer or live a fulfilling life while they are in treatment.  Nothing can change the world quicker than a parent who has lost a child and the love parents have for their children is the most powerful motivator.  But even if we give our hearts toward the cause that took our children, sometimes justice or healing doesn’t come quick enough and that can tear you apart. But we continue because a parent’s love knows no limits or boundaries.

My wish for Sybrina Fulton and Tracey Martin and every other parent who has lost a child is that you find a way to continue that relationship with your spirit child, enjoy the blessing of the children you may have with you still on earth, and know that even the smallest action on your part is making another child’s life better.  May this give you a sense of peace when change is slow and your heart is extra heavy.