During my daughter Alex's 7 ½ year battle with cancer, one of the rules we implemented to keep our family life somewhat sane was that my wife Liz would spend days with Alex at the hospital (often times her brothers would join!), and I would spend overnights there. This allowed me to continue to work to support the family, though I know in reality Liz had the harder job. Often times I was able to sleep during the 200-300 nights that Alex spent in the hospital, but Liz was there during the day when Alex was receiving treatment, or being transfused, and she perhaps had the better view into what Alex endured during treatment.
Over the years there were many nights spent sleeping in the hospital when Alex was admitted as an inpatient, but there were also many visits to the Emergency Room that fell within my duties on the night shift. We would go to the ER for things like fevers, nose bleeds, and, very rarely, even a seizure. It was during a particularly bad week that we found ourselves making multiple trips to the ER in the middle of the night for nose bleeds that would not stop. These nose bleeds were very serious, especially to a child battling neuroblastoma. Alex had very low platelets during this time, and if her nose bleeds would not stop, she could literally bleed to death.
I can very vividly remember one of these trips to the ER on what was an unusually warm spring night. We put Alex in the back seat of the car and buckled her in to drive through the slight fog lining the road. Alex was content with a box of tissues, holding several to her nose in an attempt to stop the continuous deluge.
As I was backing out of the driveway, I turned to Alex and said, "Alex, I am so sorry."
I can remember her looking back at me and saying simply, "For what?"
I responded, "For this, and for everything you have to go through."
It was without hesitation that she replied, "If there is one thing you should know about me by now, it's that I am grateful for the things that I do have, not unhappy for what I don't."
She would go on to talk about how she doesn't worry about the things she doesn't have, instead everyone should be thankful for what they do have. It was then that I felt a lump in my throat and tears began to fill my eyes. I think this was partly due to how proud I was of her at that moment, but even more than that, I was being taught an amazing lesson from my daughter who had battled cancer for nearly her entire life. Not only had Alex been battling all of this time, but she had also been paralyzed from the waist down by a surgery she had on her first birthday. She had learned how to walk without sensation in her legs, only further evidence of the character that she possessed. If that wasn't enough, she was a child that left an enduring legacy through her front yard lemonade stand, beginning a national movement to help find the cures for kids' cancer that she would never see.
The words of wisdom had come from my daughter, Alex, a child, who when dying from a cancer that was overtaking her body, saw the good in life. She was grateful to live the 8 ½ years that she had, and she did so with grace, courage and determination, and with the dream of helping others. I learned so much from Alex, and am eternally grateful for those years that I did have with her. I continue to hold her close now, and follow in her footsteps to better treatments and cures. We won't let you down.
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