To my Dearest Donovan,
I watch you fall asleep every night. Our fingers intertwined, your eyes meet mine, and you battle your exhaustion. Oh how you love life! You fight the night like the vermillion light that lingers long after the sun sets. This is my favorite moment of each day, my darling son -- to lie next to you as your adorable face calms, and you surrender into sweet slumber.
In your three and a half years, you have brought me more joy than I ever knew possible. You have had to be so brave, little one. I am hoping that by the time you can read this you will have forgotten all these terrible moments where you have had to suffer with us.
Your mama was diagnosed with cancer one week before your second birthday. The email your Dad sent out read, "We regret to inform you that, due to an unforeseen personal circumstance, we will have to cancel Donovan's two-year-old birthday party. "The unforeseen circumstance was a 23 x 12 cm mass pushing against my struggling heart. It was Stage IV lymphoma, and my PET scan lit up like a Christmas tree. Your Daddy held back his tears, looked me straight in the eye, and said, "We can get through this."
Seven rounds of brutal chemotherapy. Pain that brought me to my knees. "Remission," my oncologist gleamed. Could this mean success?
Sometimes life brings us forward and then pulls us back. A routine PET scan following this fleeting remission revealed a tiny mass that had spread to my brain -- a single rebel cell that floated up and found sanctuary in the most horrific way we could imagine. Dearest Donovan, I had been able to fight my first battle with cancer so stoically. With this new diagnosis though, I found myself drowning in my own tears ... unable to face the unthinkable possibility of our lives together stopping mid-sentence. I was battling the sunset and not ready for my eyes to close.
I desperately needed a bone-marrow transplant but there was no match in the registry for me. In this story, it seemed like the stars were not aligned for us. We were so very desperate. Could we hold a few typing drives and play our cards to find a donor? Could we bear to go so public with the new reality of my bald head and failing body? Cancer sounds so terrible, doesn't it? Like it should only be whispered in private behind closed doors.
One morning, I gathered all my strength, and I hit "share." I reluctantly welcomed the world into ugliest moment of my life and just ... waited. Then the most amazing thing happened, dearest Donovan. The world embraced your broken and terrified mother and carried her all the way. Within a week of posting a website, we received hundreds of messages of love, and friends had organized five typing drives to help your mom find her bone marrow match. Suddenly overnight, as I lay paralyzed by chemo, radiation, and the transplant, it all went viral. Distant faces from the past, complete strangers, hospital staff, friends, family -- everyone came together in the most amazing testament of support. I cannot find the words to describe the overwhelming love that flooded our lives.
As I write this letter to you five months after the beginning of this journey, the collective efforts of everyone involved have contributed to 20,000 people added to the national registry under the Save Nina campaign with at least 10 patients finding life-saving matches. It has been so incredible, and I feel so grateful for the opportunity to find purpose in my pain.
Donovan, I write this letter to you from a place of strength. I want you to know that sometimes our weakest moments open the doors for the greatest opportunities to give. I want you to know that there is an overwhelming kindness in our world as you could never imagine. You will add to that in your long life ahead, my dearest Donovan. Until then, fall asleep with your warm little hands enclosed in mine, with your Daddy's arms around both of us. Your mama is alive and awake.