By Leslie Baker, mother of Chloe Baker – a leukemia survivor
The room filled with a deafening, life threatening silence. It’s the same silence I felt the moment I almost lost “my” life but this time the silence took my soul. My life hadn’t ended but it had urgently stopped and walked away. With one word – cancer, I stood at my daughter’s side breathless, soulless, no light of life to be found.
Cancer – that man, the doctor, just said cancer to me. Except, he wasn’t talking about me, God – how I wish he was talking about me! He was talking about my 5 year old precious daughter. I didn’t hear the words blood transfusion, immediate port implantation surgery, chemotherapy for 2 ½ years because I was numbly staring at my innocent, red haired, porcelain skinned daughter happily and contently coloring and her precious, precious life, moment by moment, flashing through my mind too fast to actually grasp or focus on a single thought. Carefully and thoughtfully my best friend repeated those words – blood transfusion, surgery, chemotherapy – so that she knew that I knew. I looked at her blankly holding tightly to the strong gold rings in the blue of her eyes like life preservers, nearly drowning. I spoke aimlessly, I just took her out of PE an hour ago, laughing, giggling and jumping rope. He, THEY, all have to be mistaken. I didn’t want to prepare her for blood transfusions and surgery. She needed her Baby Betty that her Grammy gave her when she was two, her favorite “sassy” nightgowns that Nana sends her, her Pollys, her Strawberry Shortcake movies, her coloring books – she loves to color. In a moment’s time, she had all that as well as someone else’s blood coursing through her body, a wound from the port just implanted into her chest and chemotherapy that made her sweet, sweet red hair fall out within days. She didn’t really need all of those things from home. I just needed her to have all of those things – her things.
Without hesitation, without opinion or comment, my friends gathered her things, gathered my things, and from somewhere I felt a flicker of light. Although we were enveloped in fear, in sadness and in helplessness, also, within a moment, we were enveloped in the care, love and support from family and friends far and wide, standing in the hall, sitting on her bed coloring, sending a multitude of beautiful gifts, bringing me life saving cups of my favorite coffee, calling our telephones, emailing and writing. This is what would get us through the unimaginable.
Immediately, we rode the roller coaster ride the staff spoke of, we rode it to places and through life changes darker than we could have ever imagined and too harsh for some to even hear. But somehow, in that darkness there were always these lights that were brighter than any light I’ve ever known – the lights were human – they were lights of kindness, of knowledge and of leadership that we now know saved our daughter’s life and our lives from this terrible, terrible tragedy. These are the lights of true friendship and people who dedicate their life to a “cure”. They are doctors, nurses, hospital and clinic staff members. They are the members of CURE, LLS, Camp Sunshine, the Lighthouse and many, many more. There were weeks and months when everyone around us was talking but THEIR voices were the only voices I could hear. Their voices steered us through our course of cancer. They led us to speak, to walk, to race and to pray for a cure. There was a time when our daughter, Chloe’s, name on the doors of the hospital and clinic changed to Mary and Mary to Shelby and Shelby to many, many more children who fell victim to this nightmarish tragedy of pediatric cancer.
And while there are many haunting memories in this journey, one that remains so clear is the memory of the hundreds of times the “Children’s Cancer Center” hospital doors ceremoniously latched and slammed behind me, leaving me hollow, numb to any person or any thing other than this beast that had my child. Each time wondering…could this really be happening? And each time praying that someday God let us leave those doors behind with our precious child alive. I even prayed that when that day came, I would never look back. Amazingly, and by the grace of God, that day did come. Feeling like a soldier leaving a battlefield, with the distinguishable latching of the doors ringing in my ears, tears stinging my eyes and my beautiful daughter in my arms, I did look back and that time I prayed, “Dear Lord, please bless these human lights of cure and lead them to a place where finally there are no NEW names on these doors.”
Today I celebrate each and every friend, family member, doctor, nurse, staff member, and cancer charity member who held me up through this fight. I cherish those who were not too afraid to step out of their lives and into mine to witness the heinousness of pediatric cancer and those who honorably and selflessly now speak, run, give and pray for the lives of children stricken with cancer. Those who act on behalf of the children are the bravest of heroes. They are the lights that brought me comfort in the worst of life’s circumstances.