It’s the anniversary of Gracie’s cancer relapse but it hasn’t seemed to have any effect on her. She’s only looking forward. It’s hard for me though. One year ago today almost destroyed me and I’m struggling to breathe through the pain of the memories.
We were going to run away. Our offer on a home in Indiana had just been accepted and we were preparing to pack. We were going to outrun cancer, flee the Santa Susana Field Lab, and start over, pain-free and safe. But Grace woke up with arm pain as severe as if she had broken her arm. We rushed her to the hospital.
I knew before the doctor said anything. My mommy instincts were confirmed by the sorrow in her nurse’s eyes. Gracie had relapsed with PH+ Leukemia. It was her second time fighting an incredibly rare and aggressive cancer. We called our realtor and canceled our new home from the hospital hallway. We knew her best chance at survival would be at our local children's hospital and we knew our finances would go towards medical bills instead of moving.
Her doctors intentionally didn’t tell us her survival rate. I think it’s because it would have stolen all our hope and hope was already scarce as it was. This time was so much harder than the first time she had cancer. We lived at the hospital for over 4 months while she received and recovered from a bone marrow transplant to save her life.
She had intense chemotherapy and full-body radiation meant to destroy the cancer and her bone marrow. Her mouth was covered with ulcers. It became too painful for her to eat, drink or talk. She refused even ice cream. She had fevers and nightmares. She had 11 blood transfusions. She couldn’t walk, bathe, or dress herself. The nausea was constant and she vomited often. She was addicted to morphine but there were days when she still felt the pain. She was isolated to her hospital room and couldn’t be visited by her brother, extended family, or friends.
She was old enough to ask, Will I die? Did I do something bad to make this happen? Those questions nearly tore me apart.
I became really afraid when she didn’t cry or complain when receiving shots. I was afraid she’d lost the will to live. She didn’t give up, and by the grace of God, she survived.
But as long as the Santa Susana Field Lab remains contaminated with radioactive and chemical waste, more children here will continue to get cancer. Some will survive. Some, like our friends Bailey and Hazel, will not. And the truth of that leaves me broken. The thought of more children needlessly suffering is unbearable. My heart is raw and bleeding. The pain in our community is unbearable. Everytime I see another child with cancer, I only see Gracie. And I grieve.
I grieve that my daughter lost her childhood and that she has suffered more than most adults- physically, mentally and spiritually. It's not fair that she has suffered so much. I grieve her friends who died. I grieve that there can be no promise of safety for my daughter, because cancer is a savage monster who does not consider the prayers of parents and can return without reason. I grieve that NASA, Boeing, and the Dept. of Energy, chose money over my daughter and our community’s kids. I feel I’ll lose my mind from the grief. Some days I cry until I can’t breathe, I feel like I can't breathe as I write this.
I just want to scream, Why didn’t they protect her from cancer? She's just a kid! Why won’t they save our kids? They’re kids! For heaven’s sake, they’re just kids!
I've been trying to trust God again. I am leaning heavily on my husband, and our friends and family, but today the memories of pain and fear terrorize me. I’ve been attending a recovery group, seeing my therapist, and began treatment for depression, but I still feel like my heart weighs ten thousand pounds. My heart aches. I physically feel it right now. It feels like my heart will bleed through my chest.
Still, I will choose to hope. I choose to find the joy in my children’s smiles today, in their love, in my love for them. I will choose to live one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace...even if it means staying here, in West Hills, and fighting for the Santa Susana Field Lab cleanup, even if it daily resurfaces my pain and fear.
Because if there’s anything I can do to prevent another child suffering like Gracie did, then today on her anniversary I memorialize it… I will have courage. I will do what I can.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference. ~Reinhold Niebuhr