Anyone rather personally touched by Cancer is forever changed. It’s left me scarred, occasionally scared, frequently sanctimonious, and quite blabby. Everyone approaches it differently. More elegant victims suffer it without blogs or incessant status updating. Me, I’m share-y. But every cancered parent I have met has at some moment uttered this mantra (prayer?) of thanksgiving: if Cancer must happen, then let it be me. No matter how terrifying those early moments during diagnosis, at least this was mine to bear. The children were safe.
But for thousands of parents each year, cancer isn’t theirs to endure, but instead—impossibly– to witness in the suffering of their children. Christopher’s Haven exists for them.
You might have followed a famous sports bet between adorable celebrities who promised to dress up as their superhero alter egos to benefit sick kids in the losing team’s town. But when the Patriots won, so did everyone; and Star-Lord and Captain America made appearances that did quite a bit more than lift the spirits of children with cancer. They brought attention to organizations like the Christopher’s Haven, blowing up their website in mere minutes with donations. These are things superheroes do.
Yesterday, a lovely lunch was held rather quietly in the lower level of the Loews Hotel. Co-hosted by elegant Sue Farrell and eloquent Diana Knightly, and emceed by the charming and even-prettier-up-close Shonda Shilling, this gathering honored Chris Pratt for his social media endorsement and real life contribution to Christopher’s Haven. There was an enchanting pediatric fashion show featuring current residents and alums of the Haven alongside local kids and a handful of adorable toddlers with famous last names from Fenway. And then… and then… a parent.
I’m not sure how you can speak to strangers about your little boy and his devastating brain tumor without sobbing or reverting to stock cancer tropes or feigned optimism. But this is exactly what one mom did: she stood in front of a room full of well dressed ladies and famous ball players and do-gooding Bostonians and told the truth. Daily life seemed impossible in the face of cancer treatment for their son. How would they commute two hours to the only hospital offering the only hope? Would it be possible to afford two homes or maintain some sort of family routine for the care of their other children? Adrift, terrified, and googling, this mom found Christopher’s Haven.
Within minutes this family had options. Even more, they felt immediately like they had a support network of other parents and children who could minister to their fears and hopes, share their tears and prayers, engage in actual fun, and create those forever kind of friendships. For only $30 a day, Christopher’s Haven provided them a home away from home and an opportunity for their son to have the kind of treatment that offers cautious optimism, but aims for a cure.
Cancer is around every corner for me lately. Two close friends with new diagnoses of invasive cancer and another who learned hers is metastatic disease followed the still very fresh loss of Lisa Bonchek Adams. The quiet in the wake of Lisa’s death is a daily reminder to many of us that it’s never really over. I cry whenever I learn someone must endure the drastic-surgery-and-go-bald kind of treatment. The scientist in me knows this is an impersonal effect of cells gone rogue, but the Churchy Jesus Girl falls to her knees to pray for miracles. Yesterday, the angry skeptic appeared and wanted someone to make sense of a world where children die because we cannot reliably control tumor growth.
The ultimate salve for these emotions is love. There was great love in that room of lunching benefactors yesterday. With a bit of time and money, places like Christopher’s Haven combat sadness with comfort, replace loneliness with friendship, and attack fear with community.
There is also great love surrounding my friends who in upcoming weeks will face a blur of appointments, mutilating surgeries, and terrifying, 3am googling of side effects and survival rates. For them, there may that tiny bit of relief that this is theirs to bear. But while they endure the Let It Be Me, the rest of us will rally to be their superheroes.
In the meantime, everyone in the Cancer world will appreciate these. If you don’t know what to say to your newly diagnosed friend, well, this gal will say it for you. And if you wanted to join in and help families who are enduring the worst cancers—those affecting their children—then please click on over here and be Captain America fabulous.
Love and prayers, friends.
Britt, every time I read something you wrote, I am even more grateful that I had the opportunity to meet you and spend some time talking to you. Our thoughts and prayers go out to your friends and all of their Superheroes.
Thanks for reading, Jim… and for making these lovely comments… and for taking this super fab picture of me! xoxo
Uptown girl has amazing gift to make things very very real. I love you.
Love you back.
I am impressed that the Churchy Jesus Girl in you can still pray for miracles- I like her, she is also a Superhero. I’d like you to wave her magic wand over me. That girl has changed for me and when I get the awful news that seems to come more often these days of sick children, Mother’s, friends and want to pray, my words are stifled. My new reality (and yours and so many people’s)- really bad shit happens. And the prayers I’d like to say of quick and easy recovery are choked by the understanding that I have no idea what God, the Universe, destiny’s plan is. So I find myself in my prayer place jumbling out what I think I’m allowed to pray for, “less-painful, wonderful loving support, that they can have an open heart when all of this is over or beautiful days between the terrible ones that allow them to pass on peacefully.” But now I have another tool to pass on and add to my confusing prayers thanks to your blog- a wonderful organization that IS the miracle.
I relate to that “what I’m allowed to pray for.” It feels arrogant or presumptuous or wrong to ask for the moon. But my former priest… now the Bishop of Pittsburgh!… taught me that praying for miracles is totally allowed, encouraged even. And so I do. I do.
That’s so interesting. To me it doesn’t feel “arrogant or presumptuous or wrong” it just feels not possible. Why pray for something that is going to happen no matter what I do- it’s not my call. And yet even science has seen prayer do magnificent things. I heard of a study where they had 2 tests groups not aware that one was being prayed for and the other one was not. And the test group that was being prayed for healed better! AMAZING. And yet there are so many times when we pray for a loved one to live, maybe even a grand whole community is doing it and they die anyway. That’s what makes it confusing for me. Cause if they die, your like “ok, either there is no God (but i know that’s not the case), an evil God (and I know THAT’S not the case) or there is a greater reason that I don’t yet understand (my opinion, I know that one pisses a LOT of people off). And if they live, then I feel it does become arrogant to say “MY prayers worked”! Praise Jesus, he is good (to me). I believe in so much gratefulness for the life that has lived, but not sure how those two feelings intertwine. Sorry if this is off topic from your wonderful blog, but it something I grapple with on a daily basis, so I write in hopes of more discussion so I can learn more; I encourage dialogue to hear other people’s growth from their tragedy, to heal my heart more- help it to open up more so I can pray the way I used to be connected to prayer or find a new better way. For now I will hold on to your words… “The ultimate salve for these emotions is love.”
Oh, Katie… this IS the whole conversation. To me, this IS what belief in God looks like. It looks like hope and confusion and fear and anger and helplessness and gratefulness and uncertainty and magic and nothing at all. Depends on the day.
In remission and want to say you have hit the subject spot on. Nice job.
Thanks, John. Thank you so much for always reading and being so wonderful.
Well said Britt. Thank you for writing about this topic – the more exposure Christopher’s Haven gets the better.
I love Emily McDowell’s cards the way I adore your writing. No matter the topic, you bring beauty and kindness to each conversation.
Humor! Beauty and Kindness, yes, but Humor. How did I edit humor out of that compliment? It is the thing I love most about Emily’s work and the tapestry of your prose. You each have an ability to gift laughter and smiles that make my day shine a little brighter.
Oh, Marie. I’d love to know if you speak the same way you write! Sitting down to write my next collection of paragraphs, I will be unable to remove the image of prose tapestry. I’ve been plagues by busyness and will reward myself at the end of this week reading more of your gems. You are one of my favorite wordpress gifts! xxoo
Sadly I speak in circles that require extensive unraveling and occasional apologies.