A Letter to my 9-year-old Cancer Survivor

Dear Joshua:

I know September is just another month in the year to you. It’s not yet Christmas; and it’s not your birthday month. I’m pretty sure Labor Day means little more to you than just one of “those” days when you don’t have to go to school. But it actually means something else to me, and I think it will for you, too, as you continue to grow.

September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness month, buddy. And you know a little more than most about what that means.

I remember well when you were 2 years old and we sat in the doctor’s office together. I remember your doctor walking in and using words that I never expected to hear about my little boy – words like white blood cells and petechiae, like chemotherapy and cancer. I remember how the word “leukemia” echoed in my mind and my heart and made me not be able to see straight.

I remember how we walked out of there and you played with your cars and trucks in the backseat of the car while I drove us to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. I remember seeing the word “oncology” on the door that we were walking into. I know you don’t remember, but I do.

There’s part of me that’s glad you don’t remember. I don’t want you to have to think about the way you looked when your hair fell out into your food or the way you couldn’t play on any of the playgrounds that were in the restaurants because they were too dirty. I don’t want you to have to remember how bad it felt not to be able to run like the other kids because your legs were too sure and how much it hurt when you had the sores in your mouth because of your chemotherapy.

I have come to accept that the next 3 and a half years of chemotherapy will be like lost years to you; even for Mommy and me they have sort of blended into a blur with only snapshots of pain and heartache that dot our memories.

But there’s another part of me that wants you to remember, at least a little bit, because it’s when we remember that we find hope for the future. See, this is our story – it’s your story – and it’s the story God has chosen to entrust to us. Part of that trust means that we tell it over and over again, not because we’re morbid, but because when we tell it again we remind ourselves that even in those darkest days God never abandoned us.

Never.

He didn’t abandon us when we heard that 86% of your blood cells were affected by cancer.

He didn’t abandon us on the nights when you and I sat in that chair in the hospital room and watched the same episode of “Barney’s Puppy Love” over and over again.

He didn’t abandon us on the weekend when we were sent home from the hospital and then had to come back that evening and were put into the same room that hadn’t been cleaned yet.

He didn’t abandon us when because of the steroids you had to take you were ravenously hungry but nothing except airplane shaped crackers and chicken broth tasted good.

He was with us, Joshua; it’s in His very name to be so, because Jesus is “Immanuel” – God with us.

This month, Joshua, is a month when I want to you remember not so much about cancer, but to remember again the faithfulness of a God who walks with you through the darkest of valleys and the depths of despair.

I look at you now and I see a healthy 9-year-old boy that I wasn’t sure I ever would. I see the way you draw, the stories you write, how you make up games and assign people to play heroes and villains – I see these things and my heart is filled with gratitude. It’s not everyday that I think about it, but I know I will this month.

I know that you’re getting to the age when it’s not cool for me to tell you that I love you when you get out of the car and go to school and it’s not always socially acceptable for me to kiss you.

Sorry about that; it’s one of those things that you’re going to have to endure. Maybe that’s part of what it means to be a survivor. And that, by God’s grace, is what you are son. You’re my survivor.

Love Always,

Daddy

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