Starting in 2006, Cancer Pathways of Seattle, Washington started a unique program called Cancer Unwrapped Writing Contest. This program uses the power of writing to allow the children of families undergoing cancer treatment the opportunity to write about their own emotions and experiences. Ten years later, this writing contest is still successfully helping families cope with pain and the stress of cancer. We want to thank Anna Gottlieb of Cancer Pathways for sharing some of these heartfelt stories with us. Search Out of the Mouths of Babes for more stories.
Growing Up Without a Mom, Dean Kirkpatrick
Every time I am faced with a new dilemma, I grow a significant amount. I have faced many challenges throughout my lifetime. When I was in 7th grade, my best friend Alex moved to Ohio. Sophomore year I was cut from the basketball team, which was the first time since I was 6 years old that I hadn’t played organized basketball. Just last month I played the last high school football game I will ever play for the rest of my life. None of these experiences have changed my life as significantly as losing my mother.
It’s hard to hear that my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, especially as a 5th grader. At that moment, I did not fully understand cancer. I did not know that it was a disease capable of killing. I underestimated how serious this situation was, and later on learned how dangerous it can get. It was the summer after 7th grade and I was 13 years old. My parents called my sister and me to come down to the living room for a family meeting. I knew what this meeting was going to be about.
In the previous weeks, my mom had been having immense difficulty with everyday tasks. She had stopped playing soccer for the first time in her life since she was in elementary school. It became increasingly difficult for her to eat. It seemed like every time she tried to eat, her stomach wouldn’t allow it, and she would immediately throw-up.
I remember plugging my ears every time this happened because of the pain I felt knowing that her cancer was not getting better. I thought that if I couldn’t hear it then I could pretend it wasn’t really happening.
She had also begun to swell up, and visits to the hospital became frequent, almost routine. My fears became reality; my mom told us that her breast cancer had moved to her liver and that this was going to be the last summer of her life. She didn’t believe that she would even make it to our vacation, which was scheduled in two weeks, mid-July. This was the first event that changed who I am.
I became optimistic. I believed in my mom and I wasn’t willing to let her give up. I told her that I knew she would make it to the vacation, I was 100% positive. I truly believe that telling my mom this was the reason that she did make it to the vacation. It seemed like it gave her confidence, because someone else believed in her. She wasn’t staying alive for her own sake, she was selfless: she did it for my family and me.
My mom lived for another month, passing away on August 23rd, 2002. Although I only lived a short 13 years with such a wonderful person, I learned everlasting lessons. The first thing I learned was how to take care of myself. This was a mandatory change I had to make because my dad was at work almost the whole day and my sister was a senior in high school on her own schedule. Within the first few months of my newly changed life, I had to learn how to cook, clean and grocery shop for myself.
More important than learning to live on my own, my mom taught me timeless lessons I will never forget. She taught me to never hold in or bottle up my emotions, for that will only hurt me more. She also taught me to value life and what you have. You don’t realize what you have until you’ve lost it. I wish I had understood that before I lost my mom. I feel like I took her for granted sometimes.
Now I realize what other things I have and I value these with the utmost regard. First and foremost, my family and friends have priority over everything else. True success isn’t a measurement of material objects, but that of internal happiness. In my case, my friends and family are the source of the happiness.