When I was 7 years old, my best friend was diagnosed with leukemia. Of course, being so young, I had no idea what that meant. But I could tell by the look on my parents’ faces and her parents’ faces, it wasn’t good. Elizabeth and I met in pre-school. Shortly after, our mothers got us involved in the same dance company, where we would drive out to New Boston…her and I being the youngest girls in the class. We were ballerinas one day and gymnasts the next, all the while having no actual clue what we were doing…simply following whoever’s lead to whatever Disney song we were to perform to. One of my fondest memories is when we were backstage for our very 1st dance recital. Our mothers were fluffing our hair and applying our makeup and calming our nerves. My mom said as she was leaving us backstage, just a few songs away from taking the stage, “I’m going to leave some makeup right here for you, if you think you need a touch up on your lipstick.” Needless to say, as 6 year old girls we DEFINITELY thought we needed a self-imposed “touch-up”…lipstick, blush, blue eyeshadow. The whole works.
Sleepovers and pool parties and dance class and then, all of a sudden…she was sick. And just like that, her long hair that nearly to the ground was gone. Then it was us in matching head scarves as we learned to roller blade in my driveway. The slumber parties started to decrease and the worry in her mother’s face was more apparent.
We had just moved into our brand new house. My bedroom was all pink except for this old, ugly recliner that used to be my grandpa’s, sitting against my window. I remember being asleep and hearing the phone ring in the middle of the night. I sat straight up in my bed and waited for any kind of sound to follow. My mother came in a few minutes later, sat me on her lap in that hideous recliner and broke the news to me that Elizabeth had passed away. I remember sobbing until I was sick. It was a week before my 9th birthday.
I can recall being paranoid throughout her battle and after her death. I was in grade school, reading fiction chapter books about teenaged girls fighting cancer. I took every bruise, every time I brushed my teeth too hard my gums bled as a sure-sign symptom that I too had leukemia. Thankfully, I did not.
A couple years later, my Uncle Joe, my mother’s oldest brother, was diagnosed with leukemia. At this point, I felt more prepared with what to expect. I knew it’d be hard. I knew he’d go bald. That was as far as I got in my “mental prep” before he too passed away.
It was around that same time that Elizabeth’s father, Bob, relapsed and fell ill with leukemia. We lost him too. I can still remember sitting at their house after the memorial, not taking my eyes off her mom and her little brother. It was at this point, not even a teenager yet, that I started to understand the frailty of life.
I’d lose more people to cancer in the years to come and they’d all hurt. They’d all seem unfair. But the “leukemia cloud” would seem the darkest.
Last summer, my godfather, Uncle Mike, was abruptly diagnosed with leukemia, just weeks after we lost his brother to liver cancer.
I’ve written about this before but holy shit…writing about it again still feels like repeated punches to my chest. (As I’m currently sobbing off my eyelash extensions and pouring more wine.)
I was so sure he was going to beat it. I really was. It had been 20 years since this disease left it’s 1st hole in my life, surely we’ve come so much further now… He wasn’t a small child. He was my lion. When I saw him just an hour before he passed, laying in his hospital bed, I knew…his victory was not the one I had been pleading with God for. It was Heaven.Even a $5 donation goes a long way in this fight. You can contribute to my Light The Night page at http://pages.lightthenight.org/mi/AnnArbor17/RWilliams