We’ve all heard the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Recently, I have realized that it takes a village to raise an adult as well (at least this crazy one). I have just started fellowship and this transition has been a whirlwind. It has also been filled with sleep deprivation, endless pages, coffee shop invasions, board studying books, tons of chocolate, yoga, and a lot of hugs! On my first day of fellowship, my friend Meredith surprised me with a teal-colored gift bag containing the following hand-picked items: chocolate, a New York-themed candle, and a “magic” wand. This is the same girl who later delivered my favorite food items to the hospital on a day that I did not have time to eat. My friends Shivani, Jen, and Johanna have supported me at my coffee shop study expeditions by providing me with much needed company (though they just taunt me by reading fun books such Harry Potter, while I read dry study books)!
These people have been there for me by listening to my random rants, eating incredible amounts of ice cream with me, and showering me with random, surprise hugs (thank you PICU resident team for all the “feels” while I did consults down there). My parents, siblings, “Columbus nephews”, and army of friends have allowed me to truly enjoy all the simple things in life, while reminding me of what matters the most: human connection and interaction, and a sense of belonging.
You may be wondering why I am randomly talking about all these amazing folks in my life. Well, the reason is that over the past few weeks, I have started to understand why it is important to appreciate what family and friends can bring in terms of providing inner strength and stability. Fellowship has given me the opportunity to witness the empowerment and support family and friends can bring during times of terrible challenges. Thankfully, I have never been faced with something where the stakes have been as high as they are for these families; however, I have come to realize that if the stakes ever do get that high, I want to make sure I surround myself with my army of supporters that will be there to make the fight worth it.
Here is an example of a family that has embodied the notion of the empowerment and strength family and friends can bring into someone’s life:
I once met a family that perfectly exemplified the notion of “togetherness.” I first met the mom, grandpa, and the patient in the Emergency Department (ED). The room was eerily quiet. The lights were turned off, and the patient was sleeping soundly on the hospital bed. Mom and grandpa sat discreetly in the corner as I asked them if they knew why I was asked to come talk to this family. Mom’s eyes filled with soft tears as she stated, “they think it may be cancer.” Unfortunately, she was absolutely correct. I was there to admit the patient, because the low blood counts and abnormal cells on the blood smear clearly pointed to the diagnosis of cancer. I soon found out that the family had it’s share of another recent tragedy. Just weeks prior, the father had unexpectedly passed away. Now, the family was faced with the challenge of a cancer diagnosis. Such a diagnosis had the ability to tear away at the structure of the family, but they did not allow that to happen. Mom ferociously fought to remind the patient and the rest of her kids that she would do ANYTHING to protect them and take care of them. Friends and other relatives helped the family through this transition by helping with things like babysitting the other kids and bringing home cooked meals to the hospital. They lifted each other as this little, big fighter fought like an absolute warrior.
There is a belief in the Pediatric Oncology world that seeing a child fight cancer changes your life forever.
I don’t exactly know how to express the feeling in writing; it is a notion that is best understood by watching these children firsthand. However, what I can say is that seeing these fighters is a constant reminder of human resilience and magnitude. It is a reminder that superheroes come in all shapes and sizes, and that behind every superhero are even more unsung heroes in the form of family and friends. These caretakers often become advocates for other families going through similar things. They sell cookies, t-shirts, bracelets, and lemonade to raise money for treatment and research. They support each other by becoming a part of an exclusive “cancer-fighting family” group, which none of them asked to be a part of, but were forced into it after the diagnosis of the illness in a loved one. They are a constant reminder of the notion that is takes a village to raise each other!
Check out the amazing organization called ComfyCozy’s for Chemo. This organization was started by the family of Amanda Hope, an incredible young girl who was a true example of a loving, life-filled warrior. Unfortunately, she passed away from complications of Leukemia; however, her family carried on her legacy and dream. Her dream was to provide all kids with cancer with comfort and dignity. The organization aims to do just this! Click the link to find out more.