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14 Things I Learned About Life, Leukemia and Love

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Dear Cancer,

You came into our lives 12 years ago when our son, Karl, was only 4. You came in the form of leukemia — a word I learned to hate.

I also learned that kids who have Down syndrome, like Karl does, are 10-15 percent more likely to get leukemia. I thought that was so unfair, but then I realized you’re never fair. You had no idea who you were picking on when you took on our family.

Karl beat you and beat you good.

He not only survived, he thrived. I know it’s wrong to hate, but I will forever hate you. You did, however, teach me some lessons. I wrote these down when Karl was going through his three years of chemotherapy.

Some things I’ve learned about life, leukemia and love:

1. It’s a shame that we take our family’s love for granted until something as horrible as leukemia makes us realize how valuable love is.

2. It’s hard to look at your child’s bald head. But, when you’re holding him tight, it’s warm and soft and makes you remember him as a baby.

3. True friends never say things like, “I’m sorry I haven’t called, but it’s so hard for me to talk about it.” True friends know it’s hard for me to talk about it too, but I need to sometimes.

4. So much of what I used to consider important in life is now insignificant. You can’t cuddle a big fancy car, you can’t kiss a fancy wardrobe and a nice house won’t crawl in your lap, put its tiny soft hand on your cheek and say, “I love you, Mommy.”

5. I no longer admire celebrities and sports figures. I admire doctors and nurses who work long hours to save my child’s life. They are the ones who deserve the million dollar paychecks.

6. Only a child would smile, hug and a kiss the person who sticks a needle in their spine once a month. And only an oncology doctor or nurse is deserving of such admiration.

7. Heroes don’t save lives on movie screens. They save lives by donating blood, platelets and bone marrow.


8. The most courageous story I know of is that of a young teenage boy who, after a second relapse, decided he wanted to end the battle on his terms and with dignity. He halted all treatment and died at home in peace.


9. The second most courageous story I know is of the mother who let her son choose to end his life on his own terms and die at home in peace.

10. When standing at the altar saying their vows, few people realize the true meaning of the words, “In good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.” I now know what they mean, and I know that my husband is truly a man of his word. I will love him forever.

11. My mother is one of the strongest most amazing women I know, and I will never be able to repay all she has done for me. Karl loves her so much.

12. I believe that just when you think you can’t go on, God will throw you a lifeline — hug from a friend, a phone call from a sister or a pat on the hand from a kind nurse.

13. It’s OK to let your child see you scared and crying. How else would they know it’s OK for them to be scared and to cry?

14. There are many ways to cope when your child has cancer, but the best is to hold them tight and know that love may not conquer all, but for now it’ll do.


So goodbye, cancer, I thought of you today, but those days are fewer and fewer. I know you hate that, and that thought makes me happy.

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Originally published: March 13, 2015
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