12/22/2012 12:41 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

They Didn't Have a Chance

You know the world is topsy-turvy when, on a Monday morning, you find it more heart-wrenching to send your child off to kindergarten than to bring her twin sister to a pediatric cancer clinic for chemotherapy.

Like mothers across the nation, I am absolutely heartbroken over what happened in Newtown. The fact that my daughters are just shy of 6, and that it happened just miles away from my hometown, have made it that much more visceral and immediate. I still find myself crying over it several times a day. It's nearly impossible to process -- especially at what's such a joyous and magical time of year for young kids.

The Internet and the blogosphere abound with powerful responses to the tragedy. People have made passionate pleas for gun law reform and assault weapons bans, they've made the case for better access to mental health care and have lamented our culture of violence. I agree with all of it, and won't attempt to duplicate those messages here.

But I do want to share my perspective as the mother of a child who is fighting a life-threatening disease.

Our life changed completely one day last summer when we found out that our 5-year-old daughter, Clio, had leukemia. Suddenly, everything else in our lives -- our work, our plans, our ordinary routine -- was rendered insignificant next to our quest to save our daughter's life.

Since her diagnosis, we have endured hospital stays and harrowing side effects. Currently, we bring her to the clinic for chemo twice a week. We give her all manner of medications at home, and are constantly vigilant against germs and infections. Her treatment will go on for another two years, and only three years after that will she be considered "cured," assuming she doesn't relapse.

Her chances of survival are excellent -- around 90 percent -- and we are hopeful. But the first weeks after her diagnosis, when we weren't sure of her prognosis, were absolute hell. In anguished moments I thought: Why couldn't I have cancer instead? Even now, I'd trade places with her in a heartbeat if I could, to spare her the discomfort, the missed opportunities, the anxiety.

I suspect that any of the parents of those innocent little children killed on Friday would do exactly the same thing. If they could go back in time and alter things such that they were the ones in the path of that deranged gunman, instead of their babies, they would.

It feels callous, in some way, to be grateful -- beyond grateful, there are no words for how grateful -- that this didn't happen to my children. And yet, of course, I am. I am grateful beyond words that I have the chance to fight tooth and nail and heart and soul for my daughter's life.

The parents of those twenty children didn't have that chance.

I have the sum knowledge of years of scientific and medical research, powerful medications and the support of dedicated and compassionate nurses, doctors and other staff, all being put toward saving my child's life.

The parents of those children didn't have any of that.

My child's life is threatened only by biology -- a series of chance genetic mutations. There is nobody and nothing to blame -- no evil intent, no man-made machines, no laws or cultural norms. Nothing could have prevented her illness from happening in the first place.

If, God forbid, she did die from her disease, I would feel no malice toward anyone or anything. While I would be devastated, to be sure, that devastation wouldn't be compounded with fury and incomprehension as to how something so horrible could happen.

I would most likely have a chance to say goodbye. Those parents didn't have a chance.

My child only has cancer. Only. I never thought I'd feel grateful for this fact.


This post originally appeared on Jane's Calamity.