As Winston and I took a short cut through Lafreniere Park last week I noticed that an event was being set up at the Al Copland Concert Meadow. Then I spotted an all too familiar logo, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, a great organization making a difference in the world of blood cancers. I was aware of the upcoming Light The Night event since my friend Hillary works for the organization and puts the event on. However, I must have forgot to mark it on my calendar. Hillary happens to be one of my “silver linings friends.” If you don’t know what that means to me let me explain… You see over the last few years I have met some of the most amazing people that share one not so amazing familiar experience… cancer. Through Ryan’s cancer experience and heartbreaking death I have found myself making some of the most meaningful connections. Connections that would have never been if we didn’t experience the journey exactly as we did. Now don’t get me wrong, while I love my “silver lining friends” they all know if I could chose another path for Ryan and I, I would do it in a heartbeat. Through my blog you will for sure hear of these friends that have created a bright light for me in such a dark time.
Ryan and I met Hillary as we sat across from her and her husband at The Gayle and Tom Benson Cancer Center at Ochsner Hospital. The set up there is really nice for being a chemotherapy center. They have the chairs set up for the patient and a caregiver and then they have the same set up across from you. It almost makes for a living room type setting if you really stretch your imagination a bit. They offer snacks and drinks and our favorite part was the view of the Mississippi River. It really had a peaceful feel to the place and the nurses were great. One day as we sat down for Ryan’s chemo we noticed a smily young lady hooked up to an IV pole wearing a scarf on her head and her husband working on his computer sitting across from us. I was large and probably not as smily as I carried our soon to be Winston in my 9 month pregnant belly. I could barely think straight as my head was turning with fear and anxiety for my sweet husband who had been recently diagnosed with Peripheral T-cell Lymphoma but I was trying so hard to play it cool. There was something very comforting about our new neighbor’s smile and demeanor. I can’t remember how we started talking but we did… all four of us. She explained that she had Lymphoma and weirdly enough a little since of relief came over me. I even feel bad typing that. But she looked so good and she gave me so much hope. Obviously all cancers are different and even Lymphoma has several types but still she looked good and that was encouraging. As we chatted we learned that she and her husband had a 10 month old baby girl. My ears really perked up then. If they can do it we can do it… As you can imagine, or maybe you can’t, the fear of anticipating the birth of your first child on top of the fear of losing your husband can be quite overwhelming. So I was really reaching to feel connected to someone who could relate. Hillary told me about a calendar that she writes on everyday that says what they did that day and that her mom did that for her and how meaningful it was. I loved the idea. In fact, I kind of forgot about that until I started thinking of that day again… You see there was so much going on at the time and ever since that I feel like I was in a fog. That fog is slowly starting to lift. I’ll share more about that in a future post. As for the calendar I think I might start one for Winston!
I’m happy to say that Hillary is a survivor and is doing well. She has taken her experience and turned it into a career. As I was reminded of the Light The Night event I decided to go and with basically no notice I convinced my mom to come along (not really mentioning that it included a mile in a half walk – Haha!). Winston, my mom and myself got to the park, made a donation and then headed to the lawn toting our yellow lanterns on a stick in memory of Ryan. They kind of reminded me of hot air balloons. The survivors carried white and the supporters carried red. Hundreds of people were there for all sorts of reasons and after an emotional opening ceremony, where we all lit our lights, we started on a 1.5 mile walk following the uplifting sounds of a marching band. It was a beautiful sight. The conversations happening around us as we walked were touching. I had tears in my eyes as I remembered Ryan and how he used to walk 4 miles a day at that very same park during treatment. And couldn’t help but imagining his thoughts and fears on those long walks as he pushed himself hard, fighting to live. He was fighting for us. It wasn’t long into the walk that Winston started to get tired. I didn’t have his stroller in the car because I currently can’t get it to collapse (a daddy kind of fix right?). So as his little legs were getting tired I picked my sweet boy up. My mom asked if I thought we should turn around. I said “No it’s only a mile and a half, right?” She looked at me with that “ONLY!?” kind of look but kept trucking on in the caravan of red, white and yellow. A little bit later she does as the always does and she offered to help us by carrying our lanterns and bag. There she was walking right beside us, three bright yellow lanterns in the sky (I know her knee was hurting too) with tears in her eyes for Ryan. As we walk we notice a lady next to us with her white lantern attached to her walker. She was literally walking a mile and a half with her walker in the dark uneven path. We started talking to her… because that’s what we do, right!? She tells us that she’s had three cancers and that she doesn’t complain. She’s just grateful that God has given her another day to be alive. WOW! What an incredible woman. A short while later my mom offers to carry Winston and I assure her I’m ok. She never ceases to amaze me with her willingness to carry us through. About a mile in, my back was hurting and my sleepy boy’s grip started to loosen a bit (you know when they stop squeezing their legs on your hip and it seems like they weigh twice as much) but I couldn’t help to think of all the pain Ryan endured through his illness and his willingness to push through. He did it for us. I hiked Winston back up on my hip and hugged him tight. I wasn’t going to give up now. I told my mom that if Ryan could have endured all he did that I could carry our 35lbs son a mile and a half. And that’s just what I did. I’d carry that boy 100 miles if he needed me to.
That’s just it, I just have to carry on. There are some moments where I just want to crawl in my bed and cry for days but I can’t and I won’t. I must carry on. Winston needs me to carry on. Ryan needs me to carry on. And that’s what I choose. I choose to carry on with my old friends, my new “silver lining” friends, my family, my sweet boy and my memories. I’m going to carry on and embrace each day that I’m given. I’m going to enjoy the biggest gift Ryan has given me… our sweet “Winston Boy.” And I’ll carry him while he’s little and I’ll trust him when he says, “Mommy, one day I’ll get big and you’ll get little and I’ll carry you… OK Momma!?” And I reply “Ok baby.” He has no idea but the truth is… he’s already carrying me.