“In December of 2011, my three-year-old daughter, Izzy, was diagnosed with cancer. The call came just like it does in the movies. I sat in a rocking chair in her room and slid onto the floor as I heard the doctor speak. I stared at this toy kitchen she had, at this little play clock on the side of it. I can still see it so vividly — its tiny yellow hands stood still on its pink face. Time seemed to freeze in those moments, as I took in the kind of information no mother should ever have to take in. Over the years, I would think back to that moment and the symbolism in that tiny clock. I would remember it as the day our life stopped.
Over the weeks and months to come, it was like life was just on hold. I stepped away from my career, from this part of my identity that existed outside of who I was as a mother. She and I spent hundreds upon hundreds of nights in the hospital, two hours away from our home. Away from the other half of our family: my husband and my son. I missed almost all of my son’s kindergarten year, and huge chunks of his elementary school years. To be honest, I lost huge pieces of his childhood in my attempts to save hers.
We did chemotherapies and radiation, surgeries and stem cell transplants, each time hoping it could be the thing to save her from death. The thing to free us all to go back to normal life. The months soon turned into years, every remission turning into a relapse. Izzy continued to fight, my son continued to grow up, and the rest of the world just kept going.
The older Izzy got, the more she began to want from life. That meant each time she relapsed, her heart would break a little harder. Her questions would leave me raw, ‘Why do I have to have cancer again, Mama? Some people never even have it once, so why do I have to have it so many times?’ Her gentle spirit, however, was salve to my wounds. ‘I’ve been praying too, Mama. That God would make me better and you happy.’
For so long, I was trapped in the disbelief of how unfair things were. In the overwhelming notion this was not the way my life was supposed to be. Over time, however, I began to let go of the life I thought I was entitled to and embraced the one I had. I stopped grieving the life we didn’t get and started celebrating any and every piece of beauty I could find in the life that was ours.
My son is thirteen now. And Izzy… well, she is alive and twelve years old. She is still fighting Neuroblastoma, but she takes a low dose of chemotherapy every day at home. She may still have disease in her body, still have an unbearable prognosis, but she is the strongest we have seen her in years. It’s been nearly nine years, and it still feels like parts of our lives are on hold. But we’ve just had to find ways to keep going anyway.
Right now, the entire world sits in a collective pause, waiting to see what will come next from COVID-19. Waiting to see who will live and who will die and what life will look like as a result. Everything is on hold as we wait in this unknown.
Our journey through pediatric cancer has, at one point or another, been all the things. But at every point, it has been one thing: waiting in the unknown. It’s hard. I know it is. But I offer you hope. Not the kind of hope that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, implying everything will be just fine. The truth is everything may not be fine. But for better or worse, our suffering reveals the world to us in a new way. Often times it’s both. A certain part of us becomes better, and a certain part of us becomes what I’d call less.
The challenge for all of us is to find a way to keep living in lives that have been put on hold. It can be done, but it isn’t easy. It requires intentionally searching for meaning, in even the most ordinary of things. It requires moving our attention from the things we want for our tomorrows to the things in front of us today. Most importantly, it requires giving ourselves the grace to grieve.
Not long ago, I saw a picture that had Izzy’s old kitchen play-set in it. The first thing I looked for was the clock. But this time, when I saw the clock, I realized our life didn’t stop that day I learned of her diagnosis. I just stopped measuring it in the same increments. May you find a way to do the same.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Molly Mattocks. You can follow Molly and Izzy’s journey on Instagram or their blog. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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