Monday, March 14, 2011

Inspired by My Sister, Cousin-in-Law and a Very Brave 15 Year Old

Josh has a friend named Maddie. They have been great friends for a very long time. A few months ago Maddie was diagnosed with Osteo Sarcoma... bone cancer. It was a shock to her family and her friends. Most 15 year old kids don't even know what cancer is, let alone have to deal with it first hand. I have been thinking about her and her family a lot over the past months. Even more since Josh came home last week and told me she is loosing her hair from her Chemotherapy treatments. I remember how much my hair meant to me at 15 and I don't think I would have loved going bald! I also thought about how lonely and bored she must be. She hasn't been able to go to school, she has to be very selective about her visitors so she doesn't catch anything, and she sleeps a lot. So she and Josh text a lot. I usually get on my boys for texting instead of doing homework (or other things they should be doing) but I let it slide a little when it is Maddie.

Josh and I have been spending a lot of time together lately. We have been able to have some good chats. I got the bright idea to help Josh make a little gift bag of things to take to Maddie. So through text messages we found out that she was currently in the hospital. We gathered some fun things together - books, coloring books, play-dough, bubbles and a hat I knitted. After church yesterday we headed down to Primary Children's Medical Center.

Josh was nervous. He didn't know what he was going to say or do. I assured him that even though she was not feeling well, she was still the same Maddie. We felt a little bad because she was sleeping when we got there but they said it was OK and we were able to have a really nice visit. Maddie's mom was so happy that we did. She told us that was the first time Maddie had smiled all day. She smiled especially big when she saw the Veggie Tales coloring book we got and when Josh got brave enough to sit by her for a picture.

We saw the x-rays and the MRI pictures. We learned that the cancer was confined to her femur and had not spread to any other parts of her body. Her prognosis is great and we hope and pray for the best for her.

That wasn't the case with Jim's cousin, Zac, who had the same cancer. I spoke with Jim's Aunt Sue this afternoon and she said it has been ten years since they first heard Zac's diagnosis. We talked about him and I told her how much our family has learned, and are still learning, from their wonderful example.

I know that there are lots of different endings to a story that starts with the words "Osteo Sarcoma". I know how I want Maddie's story to end. But I know even more deeply the importance of humbling ourselves enough to learn the lessons that we can learn from our trials. Our Heavenly Father loves us and will tell us what we are here to learn if we only ask. Chemotherapy makes you physically weak but this girl has a strong spirit. I could tell she got it from the wonderful example of her parents. I'm sure they will be strong. I am also sure they will know when to lean on others when their strength alone is not enough. Those others are out there just waiting to do good for others.

I try every day to be one of those people. The best example I had of this was, and still is, my big sister. She was the kindest, most giving person I have ever known. Over the last few years I have tried to be more like her. I feel like that is a one way I can keep her close to me even though she isn't physically here.

One of the things that we used to talk about was her anxiousness about turning 40. She wasn't looking forward to it. She passed away four months before she had to face it. (I sometimes think that is one of the first things I am going to ask her about when I see her again.) I, on the other hand, have been looking forward to my 40th birthday. I want to have super big party! I want to celebrate being alive and being able to be with my family and friends. But I have also been looking for something more meaningful to do to celebrate those 40 wonderful years.

Well, I think I have my idea. I was inspired by our visit with Maddie. One of the things we put in her gift bag was a hat I had knitted. They were so grateful and impressed. To me it was nothing. Just a few hours spent doing something I love to do. On the drive home, the thought came to me that there must be other kids at PCMC that have lost their hair for one reason or another. They must need a hat. I don't know how to cure cancer but I can knit.

My goal, starting today, on what would be my big sister's 45th birthday, is to knit 40 hats by my 40th birthday. Boy hats with skulls and crossbones and girl hats with flowers on them. All colors and all sizes.

It isn't much on my part. I can't take all the pain away from Maddie and her family. But maybe I can help some other little girl or boy feel better about going out in public when their illness has taken part of them away.

So, thank you, Uncle Rock, Aunt Sue and your whole family! Thank you, Lisa! Thanks for being shining examples to me and my family. Thank you for showing us what it is to be strong when life is hard. Thank you for inspiring those that know you to be better people because they know you.

And thank you, Maddie! Thanks for teaching me that, "When life gives you lemons, make grape juice and leave them wondering how you did it!"