What a veteran mom learned about Childhood Cancer this month

soccer net

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month.

If you search my blog from 2007 to the present, there isn’t a blog sometime in September that doesn’t start with that sentence.  It’s usually followed by a lot of facts or figures or rants about how underfunded childhood cancer research is.

Not this year.  This year I’d like to share what my daughter taught me about childhood cancer.

In late June my daughter came to me and explained she wanted to try out for the school soccer team.  I’m not sure who reading this has ever watched soccer but despite its classification of being a non-contact sport it’s a very contact-oriented sport.  It’s not like she came to me and asked to run on the track team or swim on the swim team.  Not to diminish track or swimming in any way, they are both strenuous sports.  But neither track nor swimming involves a 5’7” 135-pound girl running full speed at you attempting to take a ball away without using her hands.

Thinking she would be discouraged I told her she needed to find out more about practices and try-outs.  Less than an hour later she told me they practice every night from 5:30-7:00 and try outs are on July 31.  This was a Friday, she told me she planned on starting the following Monday.

I sat at my desk trying madly to come up with excuses not to let her play.  She had played up until she was 12 and quit when the girls started getting a little more aggressive and a lot bigger than her.  I stopped short of just saying NO and I tried to gently point out the challenges she would have to overcome.  I should mention at this point that she’s had 2 brain surgeries and multiple surgeries on her left arm, hand, leg and foot to correct some of long-term effects from the brain surgeries.  What long-term effects?  Oh… yeah, she’s hemiplegic on her left side.  And she has NO peripheral vision on her left side either.

I gently reminded her that she would need to run, and she hadn’t been working out regularly – so she should consider that.  In my mind I was recalling my son playing soccer in high school where he ran a minimum of a mile daily all summer long including when we were on vacation.  She put on some running shoes and came back, fairly quickly and dejected.  She had tried to run around our neighborhood which is exactly 1 mile around the outer roads and she said she couldn’t.  I told her she could cry for 20 minutes and she needed to pick herself up and move on.  Secretly, I was kind of hoping that she would see this obstacle as too much to overcome.

She did exactly what I told her to do.  She cried for about 20 minutes, came out of her room with shin guards and cleats and told me to get in the car because practice started in 30 minutes.  Sigh….. OK I’ll take her to practice.  We arrived and only a handful of girls were there, a few more arrived a little later.  The coach, Sarah (who is amazing – by the way), showed up and started running drills.  I watched, anticipating that at some point she would realize she was in over her head, but she kept pushing on drill after drill.  And not to diminish her success, but I was expecting soccer like I had experienced with my son – cut throat competitive “take-no-prisoners” travel soccer which spilled into the suburban high school level as well.  This was a group of high school girls who thought it would be fun to play soccer – which in all honesty is what school sports should be.  On senior night, every one of the girls was going to college with a scholarship for music or art or their 4.6 grade point average – none of them mentioned continuing their soccer career.

She was super excited after practice, talking non-stop and when I asked if she wanted to go back tomorrow she said “YES!”  So, we practiced, night after night up to the day of tryouts.  Sarah had talked to her about her limitations and they came to an understanding about what she was and wasn’t capable of doing.  Their school is a small urban college prep academy with a focus on fine arts and music – so they only have a Varsity Girls soccer team.  But the coach is a heads-up kind of lady who realized that she could have the underclassmen play on a “B” team and the upperclassmen play on the “A” team and the “B” players could gain experience as necessary.  Teagan, with all her hard work and challenges, made the Varsity “B” team playing defensive back.

I was proud, but still very nervous and skeptical.  Sure, the girls on her team weren’t “do or die” soccer players but what about the teams they would play against? I have nail bitten my way through several games while she plays about 10-20 minutes as a relief for her “A” team counterpart.  And she’s good, she knows where to play on the field, she doesn’t back down from a challenge – she has proved me wrong.  For all I know that has been her motivation the whole time.  And she loves it and she’s having a great time being part of the team.

My “learning moment” however didn’t really come until August 31st.  I received a group email from her coach stating that she had been nominated by a teammate to be the “Man of the Match.”  She didn’t win because she scored a goal or blocked a goal or for that matter even set foot on the field.  One of the upperclassmen’s locker had jammed and she couldn’t get to her jersey, shin guards or cleats.  She gave the upperclassmen her uniform, shin guards and cleats so that she could play.  Her coach pointed out in the email that she always gives 100%, never misses games or practices and was “a stellar example of a perfect player.”

I cried a bit that morning. There were happy tears because I was proud of her for her accomplishment.  But there were guilty tears too.  I was ashamed that I had assumed she wasn’t capable of achieving this goal because of her disability.  In all fairness I was mostly concerned for her safety because she trips over air on a good day and you can literally be standing next to her on her left side and she can’t see you.  Neither of which lend to success in a sport like soccer.  But she was determined, and she showed me and a lot of people she’s got a lot of resolve packed into a very small package.

I guess I didn’t learn anything “new.”  Mostly, I forgot that she is more than just her brain tumor.  She is not defined by the tumor she had when she was five and all the damage it left behind.  She is in control of who she is and who she’s going to be. She is writing her story and the tumor was a chapter but it’s not the whole book.

I won’t forget that anymore, I promise.

 

PS.. really not loving the “soccer mom” title again, jus’ sayin’

 

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Pink Ribbons and Pumpkin Spice

It’s the middle of October.  I realize this is not Earth shattering news, but it’s what got me started thinking about this blog.

pink ribbon pumpkin

When I was a kid I used to love the month of October.  Yes, it was partially due to my birthday being in October, but I also loved so many other things that only are done in October.  I loved visiting orchards and pumpkin patches (which as a kid seemed like two different locations but as an adult I’m thinking it was really just one) and my elementary school had a fall festival.  I would plan very elaborate Halloween costumes which was a) silly because I lived in the country and could only trick or treat at about five houses and b) unrealistic as many of my ideas would have required a Tony award-winning costumer.  When I was five my mom made (as in sewed with a sewing machine) me a pumpkin costume and bought me green tights, when I was six she made (again sewed) a witch costume and made a pointy hat and when I was seven she made a Bugs Bunny costume complete with a faux fur head.

October was the best month ever and it ended with my two favorite holidays – my birthday and Halloween.  As a Queen of course, my birthday is a holiday.

Now October is over run with Pumpkin Spice and Pink ribbons.  The first is just a strategic combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and all spice but the way it’s advertised you would think it’s some miraculous super food that everyone must consume in the Fall.  And I won’t lie, I like a Pumpkin Spice Latte or two when they come out however I refuse to buy Pumpkin Spice cookies and candy and cereal and…. the list goes on.

The second is complicated for me.

Pink is one of my favorite colors (duh, my blog is PINKbookdiary).  And breast cancer has taken more from me than you can possibly imagine.  So, you might imagine I have a lot of pink ribbon adorned stuff but here’s where it gets complicated.  I’m not a big fan of all the pink ribbon adorned stuff you can buy in October and I haven’t been for a while – like ten years to be specific.  It’s like the Pumpkin Spice stuff, it started out as a great coffee drink from Starbucks and then everyone had to jump on the bandwagon.  The pink ribbon started out to promote breast cancer awareness when it was an underfunded type of cancer (PS it was originally Peach).  Now you can buy shoes, socks, shirts, pants, lunch boxes, gloves, hats, appliances, pens, stickers, safety pins… do I really need to keep going?  Go to Amazon and search pink ribbon merchandise, there is 20 pages of stuff.

I saw a Facebook post the other day from a young woman captioned “Breast Cancer is not Pink Ribbons” and she shared a picture of herself topless revealing two horrific mastectomy scars, she was in the middle of chemo so her IV port was accessed and her bald head was covered by a scarf.  She had a point.  Breast Cancer is ugly and the farthest thing away from a pink ribbon as you can get.

But…… the pink ribbon worked.  Breast cancer is the #1 funded and researched cancer (both by government and not for profit organizations) in the United States, twice as much funding as Prostate Cancer which is the 2nd highest.  And yes, Childhood Cancer – which is like 25 cancers rolled into one title – is still at the bottom of the list receiving 4% of the National Cancer Institute Funding.  That’s when my dislike of pink ribbons began.

So, like many things in my life I have a love/hate relationship with pink ribbons.  And Pumpkin Spice.  And I miss my mom and the October’s of my childhood which were filled with pumpkin patches and orchards and festivals and Halloween costumes that were more than just themed lingerie. I really wanted to insert a line from Mean Girls here, but it’s probably not appropriate given the next sentimental and super emotional part of my blog.

Since it is Breast Cancer awareness month I want to share a poem that I found from 2004 that my mom happened to clip out and give to me but I don’t remember why she gave it to me.  Now it’s her:

I find an old photograph

and see your smile.

As I feel your presence anew,

I am filled with warmth

and my heart remembers love.

I read an old card

sent many years ago

during a time of turmoil and confusion.

The soothing words written then

still caress my spirit

and bring me peace.

I remember who you used to be

the laughter we shared

and wonder what you have become.

Where are you now,

Where did you go,

When the body is left behind

and the spirit is released to fly?

Perhaps you are the morning bird

singing joyfully at sunrise,

or the butterfly that dances

so carelessly on the breeze

or the rainbow of colors

that brightens a stormy sky

or the fingers or afternoon mist

delicately reaching over the mountains

or the final few rays of the setting sun

lighting up the skies

edging the clouds with a magical glow.

I miss your being

but I feel your presence,

in whatever form you choose to take,

however you choose to be.

Your spirit has become for me

a guardian angel on high

guiding, advising and watching over me.

I remember you

You are with me

and I am not afraid.

~Kristi A Dyer

OK so now you’re in tears, well I’m in tears, so Mean Girls it is:

 

Recipe for Childhood Cancer

 

(( Credit for this idea goes to Mrs. Pineda — this “Emotion Recipe” is actually Teagan’s Homework tonight))

Lemon cupcakes recipe

Recipe For:  Childhood Cancer                        From the Kitchen of:  Andi Baughn                  Serves: 32 kids every day

Ingredients:

1 Cup Fear                                                          3/4 Cup Anger

2 Pints Anxiety                                                   2 Cups Courage – thinly sliced

3 Quarts Hope                                                   3 Tablespoons loneliness

1 Tablespoon Luck                                            1 Box of Frosted Flakes (a.k.a. Tiger Cereal)

Directions for Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350F degrees.  In a large mixing bowel beat Fear, Anxiety and Anger until fluffy or until you feel better about beating them.  Quickly add in Luck.  Mix in generous amounts of Hope and Courage.  Line 32 cupcake liners with Loneliness and pour batter evenly in each liner.  Bake for 6 weeks to 14 months depending on type of cancer involved.  Top with crushed Frosted Flakes….. because childhood cancer just isn’t the same with Tony the Tiger.  Serve to Friends and Family and explain that they should pass this recipe on to everyone they know because the only way to CURE this is for more people to be AWARE of how many children it effects daily.

For Teagan’s writing assignment tonight they had to come up with an Emotion and then write a recipe for what makes up that emotion.  She picked anger — not sure why exactly but she had a lot of good “ingredients.”  Yes I know Childhood Cancer isn’t an “emotion” but trust me it comes with a whole lot of emotions.  I’m actually glad I did this post instead of the anger filled post I had planned.  September is a very hard month for me – but I will make it because I can share Teagan’s homework assignment with you – because she is one of the 328,000 childhood cancer survivors.

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