To My Daughter Who Was Just a Baby When I Was Diagnosed With Mesothelioma
Eleven. How can you be turning 11? It seems like just yesterday your dad and I were anticipating your arrival. Yeah, we took those silly 9-month belly pictures of me, but frankly, I’m too embarrassed to show them to you, not because of the belly, but because of how silly they are.
Of course, you’ll probably just laugh at us, like you laugh at most things. I’m so proud of the girl you’re becoming, and I can see glimpses of the woman you’ll grow into. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t so sure I’d be alive to see your second birthday, let alone your 11th!
All those years ago when I was given a “death sentence” of mesothelioma and was told I had five months to live, you were just 3 and a half months old. You were still so tiny, so serious, still breastfeeding and trying to figure out the difference between night and day.
Our world came to a screeching halt that day. The only thing I could think about was staying around to raise you. I refused to take a death sentence as a prognosis. A baby’s first year should be full of milestones and memories. All the firsts like the first Halloween, first Christmas, first Easter — all those milestones are tainted with the memory of me fighting cancer.
When you look back at the photos, your dad and I look like we’re a million miles away. We tried so hard to not let my mesothelioma diagnosis affect you. We made sure of one thing — that you were surrounded by love and care at all times. You were just a baby, but I swear you knew something was happening. You were such a good baby. You rarely cried, and you just took in everything around you. We called you an old soul.
Our lives took a turn we didn’t anticipate, and we didn’t want you to pay the price. When I had to fly across the country for my lifesaving surgery, we made sure you were taken care of. You don’t remember living with your grandparents for those three months while I recovered. What you do know is that a tight bond was formed in those months that will last a lifetime.
Your dad and I try not to dwell on the fact that the first 18 months of your life was overshadowed by my cancer treatment. I guess it’s a blessing in a way because you don’t remember any of it. You don’t remember me laying on the sofa, recovering from chemotherapy while you played and brought me toys. You don’t remember rubbing my back asking, “Mama OK? Mama OK?” while I retched over the toilet because radiation made me so very sick.
You don’t remember much about those first few years, and for that I am thankful.
I’ve been so happy to mark the years with your birthday celebration. It’s how I keep track of my years of survival — and now we are coming up on 11.
I can’t tell you enough how proud I am of you. I’ve watched you grow and tried to provide you an example of how to treat others. It makes my heart sing when your teachers tell me you try to include everyone in your group or reach out to the kids that others ignore. I love how you love to give and how you’re always thinking of others.
When, for your 10th birthday, you wanted to raise money for the Humane Society instead of getting presents, I was beyond proud. You told me not long after that you like helping people, like I do. You brought tears to my eyes when you told me that.
Every day you do something that makes me laugh out loud. Your sense of humor is too old for a typical 11-year-old, and you understand more than most kids your age. But then again, your dad and I probably have a different outlook on parenting than most because of my cancer battle. It shaped all of us and continues to shape you.
I can hardly wait to see what 11 brings. Every year, I say this is my favorite year. I imagine 11 will prove no different.
Just don’t grow up too fast, OK? I hope part of you will always want me to snuggle with you before you go to sleep, and I hope your love of stuffed animals lasts a few more years. I’m not quite ready for you to grow up that much yet.
I know this for certain, no matter what the future holds for us as a family, you will be OK. You are strong, resilient, smart and kind. I love you more each day and thank God I’m here to celebrate 11 years with you!
I can’t wait to celebrate many more.
All my love,
Follow this journey at www.mesothelioma.com/heather.
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