I did not personally know the young warrior Sarah Duval, but she left a mark on my heart from her cancer journey and battle.
It is said with a heavy heart that the beloved Sarah passed away earlier this week at age eleven after contracting a blood infection. Sarah had been receiving and undergoing treatment since this past May for B-cell lymphoblastic leukemia. Her cancer journey has impacted many people from those knowing her closely to those reading about her story.
One of my friends had sent me over Sarah’s story in May and I immediately had to put together a care package for her. I followed her story and purchased a #SarahStrong T shirt that I wear on a weekly schedule.
Her story resonated deeply with me as she was a young hockey and soccer player, playing on teams I played against when I was a young kid. What I could tell from her battle and story was she radiated positivity and wore her smile no matter the day which is the toughest thing to do at one’s age going through something as life altering. You learn those attributes when you play sports and work alongside your teammates- and Sarah Duval is a testament to that.
Her passing has weighed heavy on my heart and many others. I wanted to shed light on how cancer, especially childhood cancer, deeply impacts family, friends and communities.
Honoring Sarah Duval is of great importance to me and I hope it is to whoever is reading this post. So here are a couple ways to support her cause and story:
Sarah became inspired to become a reading teacher when she grew up after she was placed with a reading teacher in the first grade. Her teacher left such a positive print on her that it was her aspiration to help kids in her future with reading. In her honor, a Sarah Duval Scholarship Fund has been created via GoFundMe.
Family and friends encourage all to leave a hockey stick outside your door with the hashtag #SARAHSTRONG and posting it onto social media to show support.
As Sarah endured something much greater most people do beyond her age, I wanted to gift the Jimmy Fund and Dana Farber Institutes with a donation in her name. The Jimmy Fund and Dana Farber are tripling all donations for the month of February – so let’s raise some money for our beloved fighter Sarah.
These donations will go towards researching and implementing breakthrough treatments for patients like Sarah Duval and thousands on thousands of others. You can donate directly through angelasarmy.org/donate or through any of Sarah’s listed links above.
After a month and a half selling winter Angela’s Army beanies, we were able to send off a generous donation to the Jimmy Fund/ Dana-Farber Cancer Institution.
I am super excited about this recent donation because the Jimmy Fund is tripling all donations made through their website.
As I approach my fourth PET scan this Friday on the 5th, I am optimistic everything will be okay and I will get positive results. However, during these times amongst COVID – other patients need more help and resources. My goal is to provide them with that by fundraising more and more with the help from you all.
Throughout the month of February, donations made to Angela’s Army will be given to the The Jimmy Fund to help provide research for new treatments and technologies, cancer research for patient care, patient outreach programs, and breakthrough immunotherapy treatments.
Any donation of any size can be super impactful as the Jimmy Fund is tripling the size of any donation, that means your 5 dollar donation turns into 15 dollars!
Below is a chart from the Jimmy Fund that outlines how any donation will fund multiple cancer patient programs and scientific research:
I understand that not everyone has the resources to make a donation; so even just sharing Angela’s Army posts or stories from Instagram to your own account spreads awareness throughout our community. Sharing posts about a beloved one battling cancer, or even just a simple follow to Angela’s Army is incredibly important as this spreads the word about our mission to help serve the cancer community!
I will link the direct donation webpage below for the Jimmy Fund/Dana- Farber as it is a quick two – three step process to make a donation!
We heard the little footsteps in the hall of our daughter Sydney, five, and our son Jack, three, racing towards our room. Their eyes were wide with excitement that the Easter Bunny had come. My husband, Adam, and I had just bought our house about nine months prior to that Easter Day, and the kids had been so worried the Easter Bunny wouldn’t know where to find them. But thankfully, his footprints were all over the house (every year since we had children, I would make baby powder footprints). After the kids finished their Easter egg hunt, I started making Easter dinner. This would be the first time I was hosting a family holiday for my extended family, plus it was going to be the first time many of our loved ones would be visiting our new home, so you can imagine I was under some stress. Now add in the COVID-19 pandemic that had recently sent the world into lockdown, and life was even more hectic. Adam and I had just been laid off like so many others during this unprecedented time. I thought I knew stress…
As we struggled with all of the challenges of young adulthood in a COVID filled world, we began to notice Sydney was also behaving differently. She was missing her typical spark and youthful enthusiasm. At first we chalked up the change in her behavior to her being bored, not being in school, and not being at dance. Her routine and schedule were all messed up, not to mention mommy and daddy were home way more due to being out of work. We thought that maybe it was her just being a typical five year old who wants to hang at home and watch TV. We couldn’t sort it out. My husband and I had both noticed a significant change in Sydney over the past few months. She has been so tired, EXTRA tired, and let me tell you Sydney has slept passed 5:30 a.m. maybe ONCE in her lifetime. She had been lethargic and very emotional. Her mood swings had become so intense and significant we considered that she may be experiencing some type of early puberty, and we were not the only ones to notice her sudden change in behavior. Her teachers at school, her aunts, her Nana had begun to notice and mention that Sydney was just NOT herself. This morning was different though. I felt it.
After they had their Easter egg hunt, Jack wanted to play outside. He got dressed and ran out to the yard, Sydney however wanted to stay on the couch in her pajamas. I was getting things ready for my in-laws to come over when, BANG! I heard the sound echo through the house and instantly I heard my little girl crying. I rushed out of the kitchen to find Adam picking her up off the floor. She had slipped on the Easter Bunny’s footprints and fell and hit her head. Initially, Adam and I thought that she had a concussion; she was falling asleep, refusing to play, crying a lot, and just not herself. I kept flashing back to our hikes these passed weeks and how halfway through she would start to cry and complain she was tired. Adam and I ignored her complaints and again chalked it up to her age and the stress of COVID-19.
HOW DID I NOT SEE?!
Almost an hour and a half after she fell, she was still crying and she couldn’t explain why. I wish I could say it was at that moment that I knew something was wrong, but it wasn’t. I tried to calm her down and sent her to her room to get dressed for Easter dinner.
HOW DID I NOT SEE?!
After sending Sydney to go get dressed, I returned to the hustle and bustle of a busy holiday household, I put the ham in the oven with the vegetables, and I went to get ready. As I was showering, Sydney began crying again, a different type of cry, I heard a small voice whimper for “mamma” followed with a loud painful cry. I opened the door and saw Sydney making her way to me in the hallway, barely able to stand, about to fall over and leaning on the wall for support. I rushed to catch her, and I yelled for Adam. In that moment of holding her, it all came into focus; my mind flashed to the past month or so, all of the small behaviors and actions that were just not my Sydney.
HOW DID I NOT SEE?!
I knew this was something different. I felt it.
The family arrived, Sydney slept.
We ate our late lunch, Sydney slept.
We went outside, Sydney slept.
I had enough! I called my grandmother, who was a nurse, for advice and guidance. She recommended calling Sydney’s primary care physician to speak to the on call. The doctor on call told me I could either wait until the morning to bring her to see her doctor, or I could take her to a walk in to be checked out. With everything going on regarding COVID-19 I couldn’t even think to take her to a walk in. I figured I’d wait for her doctor’s to open the next morning. Desperate for answers, we did what most people do, we turned to the internet and speculation. Adam started mentioning how Sydney doesn’t eat a lot of meats, or fish and that maybe this could be a vitamin deficiency. I also learned low iron ran in my family, so I started to think anemia. But the more I thought about it, the more I began to have an urge to go inside and look at her. Laying on the couch, barely awake and instantly something told me to bring her in. I went online I booked her appointment for 3:30 p.m. at the Fairhaven walk in.
When we got to the walk in we planned to have her tested for a vitamin deficiency. The nurse at the walk in sent us to St. Luke’s Hospital for testing. When we got to the hospital Adam pulled right up to the door and I went to check her in, they informed me they only allow one adult in with her, due to COVID-19. I went in with Sydney while Adam waited in the car. They checked Sydney in and brought her into a room, I explained the symptoms again and also explained her behaviors over the past few months. It all seems so repetitive. They told me they felt that they should draw blood. At 4:47pm I was holding Sydney down for the IV, as she screamed “Mommy help me” in tears. I kept telling her it would be ok and we will be home soon not once thinking we wouldn’t be seeing home for a while.
The doctor finally came in at 5:18pm and asked to speak to me outside the door.
HOW DID I NOT SEE?!
He informed me that they need to do more blood work to determine her blood type and that the hemoglobin count was low the first time and with that they want to test again to be 100% accurate before determining any cause of this. I can’t even remember asking what that meant or anything, I just said “Ok, go ahead”. I went back into the room, held my girl, and updated Adam. I told Adam that when the doctor came back in with the second set of lab results I would call him.
HOW DID I NOT SEE?!
When the tests came back the doctor had me follow him into another room, a vacant room..to discuss the results with me there and Adam listening through the phone. He informed us that she is highly, severely anemic. That her hemoglobin levels were very low. Average levels are a ten, and that Sydney’s were just making a three. He explained that we would be transferring her to Boston Children’s Hospital for more accurate testing, but that he felt there may, could be… cancer in Sydney’s blood.
When you hear the word cancer your mind doesn’t go right to children, I know mine didn’t. It’s not every day that you go into the grocery store and see a mother shopping with her child who’s battling cancer. You see commercials on tv and billboards to raise awareness and funds to one day find a cure but never really see it out in the world right before your eyes, I know I haven’t. So when it came to my daughter being associated with the possible diagnosis of cancer, it was almost like I fell into a dark fog.. I just remember everything becoming blurry.
HOW DID I NOT SEE?!
I cried with Adam still on the phone and I could hear he was not ok either. Here we are, me in the hospital with her and him waiting in the parking lot, getting the news that our sweet angel could have CANCER. I sucked up my tears, I let the red in my face fade and I walked back in that room. It was the first time I had to put on a brave face for my daughter. I held her close for another hour and waited for the ambulance.
Everything began moving at such warp speed, by 7:11pm we were in the ambulance and on our way to Boston. By 8:56pm we were all at Boston’s Children’s Hospital. Sydney was officially admitted, doctors and nurses ran tests and took blood. By 9:30 it was confirmed that she would not be going home for the night, due to more tests being run on her blood. So we waited…
And wait some more..
10:50 pm rolled around and I was sitting in a separate room with Adam by my side and a doctor sitting in front of us, head on. He asked what we had been informed of. We explained the situation, and the possibility of cancer being in Sydney’s blood. The doctor stared, his face half hidden behind a face mask.. and with a somber tone, he confirmed that Sydney did in fact have cancer in her blood. At that moment, my entire body froze, and I let out a gasp so powerful it felt as if my soul left my body, like everything warm inside of me was trying to escape. I stared at the doctor for what felt like eternity. His words echoed in my head…and in seconds I was short of breath sobbing.. “my baby girl”. I just wanted to wake up from this nightmare and be back home, holding my kids with Adam on my side. “I’ll wake up. This isn’t happening.” Slowly, the tears faded, and I struggled to regain control of my breathing.
I don’t think anyone is ever really prepared for bad news. We may anticipate it or even expect it, but in those moments leading up to it, we hold on to that sliver of hope so tightly that when it is ripped away, we are not prepared for the reality that our fears have come true. Once I heard the news from the doctor, I went into an emotional shock of sorts, I was looking at the doctor and Adam, but everything was in a haze as a numbness overtook my senses. I could see nothing, I could hear nothing. I assumed there was a conversation, but to this day, I can’t remember a word that was said. Adam held my hand, and we cried.
I would have loved for the universe to come to a halting stop so that I could have processed this news, and dealt with the sudden overwhelming emotions I was feeling; but the reality of the situation was that the world was not going to stop no matter how badly I wanted it to. So, I settled into my numbness and did my best to focus on the immediate tasks at hand.
I turned to settling Sydney into her new room, I guess you could say our home away from home considering this is where we would be for some time now. I scanned the room, seeing the medical bed, the distinctly hospital-esque tiles on the floor, and the medical equipment neatly, but prominently displayed throughout the room, and I longed for the normalcy of home. But laying in the middle of the bed was something more important than home, my daughter, and I knew that this is where we needed to be.
As the doctors kept running tests to better diagnose Sydney, I kept hearing that word “cancer” over and over, and every time I heard that word, a new type of anger rose in me, “Fuck that word.” I thought in my head. I could feel some resolve start to build in me, call it my mama bear instincts, but I knew that this word, this thing was attacking my cub, and it would have to get through me first. So yeah, “Fuck that word.” I thought, and I still do.
As I began to gather my resolve, the doctors and nurses worked diligently to diagnose Sydney. The staff would explain each step in mini crash courses that presented new and confusing vocabulary and concepts in laymen’s terms. They ran tests that checked the “blasts” in her blood cells a little more in depth to determine the kind of cancer Sydney has. They also began a blood transfusion to boost her good blood cells since her levels were beyond low.
Adam had already gone home to be with Jack, when I got brought into another room with the Oncologists. I started to feel lost, I needed Adam. I called him and put him on speaker phone so we could be able to listen to what the doctors had to say together. I sat down in the blue chair set up and I looked at the doctors over their masks, into their eyes..
The doctors informed Adam and I that Sydney’s form of cancer was leukemia. They told us that on Tuesday, April 14th she would need to have her bone marrow tested because that is a spot the cancer likes to “hide”, this is called a bone marrow aspiration and biopsy. She would also need a lumbar puncture, which collects fluid from the spinal cord to determine if there is cancer in her spinal fluid as well. Afterwards, she would have an IV put into her arm called a PICC Line that would be a more permanent IV. These tests would better inform the doctors and team on what KIND of leukemia Sydney has.
B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. This is the name of Sydney’s Cancer. We later learned that Sydney got moved from Low Risk to High Risk due to a gene deletion in her blood called “IKAROS”.
Upon learning this information, Adam and I learned the treatment phases and somewhat how they would go. We spent thirty-eight days in patient with Sydney. During those thirty-eight days, COVID-19 continued to alter the world drastically, robbing Sydney of the same experiences many other children had had in the hospital. Visitor restrictions meant that Sydney was forced to be kept from her brother, her grandparents, her aunts, her uncles, her cousins, her dog and her Daddy for significant stretches of time during the thirty-eight days at the hospital. Additionally, due to COVID-19, the resource room at the hospital where children could go and do a craft or two and socialize with other in patient children was closed. The staff told us about Pizza Friday, how they would typically all get together on Fridays and the Child Life Specialist would take the kids to have pizza while the parents went to the cafeteria. Cancelled. I know this seems trivial, to complain about a pizza party being cancelled, but it wasn’t about the pizza, it was about normalcy, hope, unity and companionship. COVID had taken those things away and left us alone, confined to our room, just me and her eating pizza by ourselves. Those were hard times.
On April 29, 2020 Adam and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary. Instead of celebrating, we experienced Sydney’s first haircut. And when I say first, I mean first. Sydney had never had a haircut. She has always been in love with her hair. She had natural ombre beach curls that framed her beautiful big green eyes. People would always comment about how beautiful and full her hair was, and her eyes would light up with pride. So when we first got the hospital Sydney saw another five year old girl further into her treatment, it was scary for Sydney because this little girl had no hair. She asked if her hair would do that. I had mapped out a quasi-type speech in my head for this situation, but in that moment, my words left me, and I just held her close.
As her treatment began to progress, her hair began to fall out and cover everything. And although I was informed and thought I was prepared for this, I learned I actually wasn’t. It was coming out in chunks, right in my hands, in the shower, clogging the drain. Hair was all over her pillows and wrapping and tangling in her PICC Line tubing. I knew cutting her hair would kill her spirits. She wanted nothing more than “long beautiful hair for Aunty Meg’s wedding” coming up. She was, she is the flower girl. It was really hard to get through, but we did it together. I watched her sob, I watched my husband sob, and I sobbed as I combed through her long and beautiful hair for the last time. I braided her hair, and I cut the braid off as she held Adam’s hands and cried. I still have the braid.
The moment of cutting Sydney’s hair was significant. For a child, hair is something they can see and touch and hold. To have that taken away because you are sick makes the sickness tangible in a way that words and ideas cannot. But, more importantly, it also brought my daughter’s resiliency into focus for me. I realized what a bad ass my daughter is. I had never realized the bravery and strength Sydney had until these past few weeks. She had shown how strong she had been this whole time! How much of a fighter she is.
A few days later, her hair started to fall out even more. She said she was sick of it getting in her mouth and food while she ate. I told her what we could do and what I thought would be best, that Mommy could shave it. I reassured her it will grow back and left the choice up to her. She chose to use the clippers we used on Daddy a few days before. I shaved her head… and she laughed because she said it tickled. I don’t think she quite understood though because afterwards she rubbed her head and asked why it felt like Daddy’s. She spent the remainder of the night very quiet, and I just kept telling her that this is a reminder that her medicines are working hard to make her better.
It was May 18, 2020 and my little super hero went under anesthesia and had three major procedures done and came out on top! She had her PICC Line taken out of her arm and her new Port put into her chest/heart. She had her third Bone Marrow Biopsy done, and her third Lumbar Spinal Puncture with Chemo insertion. She would have to endure two new chemotherapy medications through her port, but after a hard thirty-eight days we would be going HOME.
It is now August, and as much as everyone keeps talking about how fast summer is coming to end, I can’t help but feel the slow paced effect it is having on myself. Watching your child struggle through something like cancer is really the hardest thing I think I will ever endure. To see my five year old have to have her very first hair cut in the hospital UN-WILLINGLY, to see her go through physical pain, vomiting more often than not, procedure after procedure, it’s all so gut wrenching, and yet at the same time it has opened my eyes to see Sydney in a different light.
Sydney wasn’t always tired, moody or lethargic. She couldn’t wait to start kindergarten this year. She is super, super smart and sweet, and a bit of an old soul. She is so gentle and nurturing that it scared me from time to time that when she would grow older, she would be too passive to take on challenges. But seeing her battle cancer has made me realize her passiveness is anything but weakness.
Also, she’s very in tune with people and animals and their feelings. She’s a little fair-haired Snow White, believing that all birds and animals come to see JUST her! She has big plans for herself and she wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up. If you ask her what types of animals she would treat, her list will range from kittens, to Roo-Rats, to Komodo Dragons and back down to puppies. She also loves her dog, Boomer. Some of her favorite things to do, along with her Tap & Ballet classes, are drawing, coloring, anything artsy, and learning to spell everyone’s name. She wants to be with Daddy outdoors doing whatever he’s doing, planting a garden with Mommy, going on walks through the woods and playing with her cousins. She is full of life and a joy to be around.
Sydney is also the best big sister to Jack and loves him so much. They’re not like your average brother and sister. They are best friends! When Jack was born he had his own handful of health issues and personal struggles. Sydney was RIGHT THERE by his side through all of his doctor appointments, helping with his food, handing me towels when he threw up uncontrollably, singing “You Are My Sunshine” when he would cry, or needed to take medicine. Being away from my son for so long and returning home to see he has grown and thinned out broke me into pieces. I have never been away from my children, and in a blink of his tiny eyes I disappeared for thirty-eight days.
Since Sydney has been diagnosed, I have struggled to persevere at times and quell the anger that rises in me when I think about circumstances that have taken over our lives. But, anger and pity will not change them. And more importantly, anger and pity will not heal Sydney. It is more important to find the normalcy in all of this, to help Sydney find a balance between her physical limitations and her emotional needs. Allowing her hope and love to shine.
When we finally came home on May 19th after thirty-eight days spent in-patient it was really hard for me to adapt to being home. Though we still have to travel to Boston for seven day admissions or twelve hour clinic days, I would say as a wife, and now a mother to a child with cancer, adapting to this new “normal” has been the hardest struggle. Having the huge support system that we have is the best remedy. People from all over putting in their hands to pray, to donate, to make a meal, to send a care package, to send a picture, to send a card, to just sharing her story is all I could ask for. Spreading her story, stretching her prayer chain for as far as we can see.
Seeing her fight with strength and courage, and seeing her sick as can be one day, but still look at me and smile hardens my resolve.
This road is long, and it’s all so uncertain, but when she smiles..
through her body aches
through her nausea
through her head aches
through her exhaustion
through her infusions
through her Port Accesses… (Sydney hates this one and it’s an absolute nightmare.)
When she smiles, I see a small glimpse of her back to herself again.
Sydney knows the word Leukemia, she knows the names of her medicines, and she knows the names of her chemotherapy. She teaches them to her brother and her family members. She will come to know that she battled something so much bigger than herself, and conquered it, and she will one day tell her story, from her own point of view. As for Adam and I, we have learned that time frames right now are not necessary as we have been told to take things one day at a time. As scary as that can be, it is relieving as well to know that we have today with our girl. So the days that she smiles and laughs and plays with her brother we soak them up, and the hard days where she is sick, and tired, and not the Sydney we know, we hold her. We hold each other. We pray. We hope, and we just Love every day, for every day is another day we have been gifted in spending with our children.
When you’re a kid, life seems never ending and full of excitement — whether it is a family road trip, or a sunny day or an endless summer. We are put on this earth, really with no clue why or how, but we go about our days not thinking of a future or even our pasts. One of the most beautiful things about being a kid is the ability to focus on the present, and not comprehend the fact that everything does, unfortunately, come to an end.
My sister Chelsea was a junior in high school, just turned 16, when she was on her way to class and her leg broke. In the emergency room at Maine Medical, she was told that she had osteosarcoma, bone cancer in her femur bone.
I was only two years old- so visits to Boston Children’s Hospital became part of the routine and were not out of the ordinary for me. Her sickness was almost just as part of my life as any other thing. I didn’t really know her without the cancer. I just knew her as a fun, older sister that I wanted to be exactly like. She would have me stand on the rack that held her chemo bag and give me rides around the hospital floor. At home, I wanted a cast on my leg just like hers, so I took my brother’s shin guards and walked side by side with her. I remember her fixing my hair and putting makeup on me, her funny voices and accents, and the skits we would perform for our family.
I remember the day that she died like it was yesterday. It was right before Christmas, and we went to pick up my brother from his 8th grade basketball game. I was only 9 years old at the time. He asked if he could go to a friend’s house, and my mom looked at him and quietly shook her head no. He must have known something, and in a weird way, as young as I was, I had an idea of what my mom was about to tell us as well.
At such a young age, I don’t think I really understood the concept of death like my brother did. He was aware that she wouldn’t be around to see us go to college or get married, give us advice or experience life with us. I knew that she was gone, but I don’t think I realized what that meant until I got older.
She was 23 when she died, the same age I am now. I have an insatiable thirst to hear stories about her. That she was a brat sometimes, that she could be lazy and didn’t get the best grades in school. That she loved shopping and makeup and movies and travel, that she had a sassy side and loved a little gossip. The greatest compliment is being told I remind my family of her. She had dreams of being a makeup artist in Hollywood, I only wish she could have made it there. As I keep getting older, I miss her more. I constantly find myself going through phases of life that she did, and wondering how she did it while battling this horrible disease.
Losing her has made me realize the importance of the little things of life; and to not take them for granted. When I find myself feeling negative, I try to become more aware and appreciative of this beautiful life I was given and do my best to enjoy the entire experience because she wasn’t able to.
As heartbreaking as this loss was and still is to our family, we keep Chelsea alive through telling stories about her, having a good cry every once in a while, and my brother and I even got tattoos to symbolize what she means to us.
No one can replace Chelsea but in Angela, I have found another sister. We met in the student center at Kimball Union Academy when we were 16 years old. We instantly clicked and developed a beautiful friendship. We are constantly on the same wave length; always laughing about something new, or going on 4 hour drives talking about life.
When I got the call from Angela that she was diagnosed with cancer, my mind went to the worst. I had seen this story before; I had lived it. I tried to be strong on the phone with her because I didn’t want to scare her or make her feel worse about the tragedy that had just struck her life. When she hung up, I immediately called my mom and started uncontrollably crying.
Selfishly, my first thought was “I can’t lose her. I’ve already lost a sister.” I think it was hard for me to imagine someone so strong, so emotionally intelligent, and full of life, to be going through something so terrifying. I was scared for her life, but I didn’t want her to know that. I think everyone who knows Angela, or someone who goes through a life-threatening illness, can relate to that feeling.
I have learned so much from Angela but never so much as in this last year. It is okay to be scared for people. It is okay to feel helpless when trying to console another human that is going through something so awful. It is okay to laugh and make jokes, it was her new normal and it became mine.
When people get cancer, their loved ones want to do anything they can for them but sometimes, you can’t be there with them. Sometimes, a person with cancer just needs to talk to someone who has been there, who has gone down the same road. Angela’s Army makes that possible.
One of the reasons why I love this organization so much is because it brings attention and awareness to the various different lives that are affected by Cancer. It builds a community. It helps others who have gone through similar situations, losses, experiences, etc. to feel like they are not alone. Angela is one of the strongest people I know, and I am in awe of her every day.
Mostly everyone has experienced the tragedy of Cancer in one way or another. I hope my story can remind everyone that its okay to not be okay, and its okay to be scared. Loss is not easy, whether it be big or small, but it is something that we all go through in this life time. I am so incredibly proud to have Angela in my life; and I will forever be thankful for the sisterhood she has given me.
I have always been a strong believer that everything happens for a reason, up until about two years ago. My life has changed in so many ways that I never imagined.
My first Relay for Life was in 8th grade, and to this day I remember that night. My closest friends and I were sitting on our high school’s turf with the participants when we were asked a series of questions, aimed at if and how cancer had affected us. Slowly but surely, every hand was raised. Whether it was a sister, aunt, friend’s grandmother or teacher, everyone on that turf was touched by the disease.
My first situation with cancer was in 5th grade, when my grandmother was diagnosed with uterine cancer. At the time I was 10 years old and had no true understanding of what a cancer diagnosis meant. I have some memories of when she first went through chemotherapy and then remission, and then when it came back.
When I was 14, my grandmother Victoria passed away. At my young age, I assumed that would be the only cancer experience I would have so close to me. How naïve that assumption was.
Fast-forward to the summer before my senior year of college, I was at a routine gynecologist appointment with my mom. We decided to go together because we were both overdue. As I sat in the waiting room for my mom to finish her exam, I had no idea that day would change my life forever.
She walked out of the room with tears in her eyes and asked me to start the car. We didn’t talk the entire ride home, and when we pulled in the driveway, she turned to me and said she would be going back the following week for another exam because they found a lump.
Over the next few weeks I kept this information to myself, aside from family and one friend. The day after my mom’s birthday was when she was scheduled to meet with her doctors to find out whether or not the mass was cancerous. Hours passed, I finally called her to ask what happened. I was not prepared for the words that came out of her mouth. “I have breast cancer,” was all I heard as I tried to keep it together until she hung up. I immediately called that friend of mine and she knew from my eyes. The feeling I felt is indescribable.
The next months were filled with planning, scans, surgical decisions and more scans. Her official diagnosis was Stage 2 ER-positive breast cancer, which seemed promising. My mom decided on a lobectomy to remove the mass along with the lymph nodes affected.
After the surgery, my mom had more scans to determine the next steps. We were told she would need to undergo 24 weeks of chemotherapy followed by a month of radiation. The initial shock of this was scary and upsetting, but we knew she could overcome it. The strength I saw in my mom was inspirational. My mom finished chemotherapy a week before I graduated from Salve.
Throughout this time, I shoved my feelings aside, not allowing myself to feel anything because if I felt anything, I was overcome with sadness. I’m sure this comes as a shock to a lot of people because I am usually described as overly emotional. However, when it comes to my family and feelings close to me, there are definitely walls there.
Being away at school made my mom’s diagnosis both easier and harder. Easier because I didn’t have to face the fact my mom was losing her hair and getting sicker before she got better, and harder because I was not there. My mom’s diagnosis affected me in ways I can’t begin to describe. But after all of her suffering and pain, she has now come out of it on the other side as a warrior. I am so proud of her. As of this past September, she is in remission. I love you mom!
Now let’s backtrack to May 2019. The week of graduation was so exciting, not only because my extended family was able to be in Newport and celebrate with me and my friends, but we were able to celebrate my mom. Now a week or so later, the excitement subsided when I got a text from Angela that she has an appointment for this bump we noticed earlier that month. I passed it off as a swollen lymph node because she had been sick. Needless to say, Angela was sick on and off all year.
After the appointment, Angela was back in Newport, finally moving into our summer house and she visited me at work. In the middle of trying on clothes she received a call from her dad, and as I saw her face, that same indescribable feeling washed over me. She mouthed, “I have cancer.” I knew I had to keep it together for her because if she saw me cry it was all over. I left work with her and we just sat in bed.
Later that day, I called my mom to tell her this news and I absolutely lost it. I was in so much pain, right after my mom overcomes this awful disease, it comes back in my best friend? I didn’t know what to think other than that I had to be strong for her.
Since Angela’s diagnosis, I have gone through the same up and down feelings of not knowing how to feel or what to say. I was with her during some really raw moments of her cancer story. I was sleeping next to her a night before she was admitted to the hospital for a respiratory infection. I cried with her when she just needed to cry.
As you know, Ang is one tough cookie and that is just one reason why I love her so much. I admire her strength and grace of handling this awful hand she was dealt and turning it into something so beautiful — hope for others battling this disease.
Throughout the past year I have bonded with others over cancer and how we have been affected by it in our families. It is definitely a weird bond to have with someone — where cancer brings you together. Respecting their privacy, I am honestly glad to have close friends who understand the inexplicable feelings I am trying so hard to put into words.
Angela asked me to write about how I coped with people I love being affected by cancer, but I don’t really think I can do that. I did not cope with it; I lived it and I felt every last part of it. I wished and prayed it away. I am so thankful for the doctors and nurses that cared for not just my mom, but Angela and my friends’ family members too.
That being said, my life has been affected by cancer in ways I thought it would never be. Sending a lot of love to everyone reading who is battling cancer, survived cancer, lost someone to cancer, is a caregiver and the loved ones of those affected 💜
Hello everyone! I hope everyone is staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. I wanted to give a life update to all of you:
I am so very grateful to my cousin Paul Thompson who is apart of the American Hockey League playing for the Springfield Thunderbirds organization. A couple days ago I received a check from his team, donating almost $2,000 from their Hockey Fights Cancer game that took place this past November. Paul raised this money for my charity by simply being the incredible hockey player he is. During their Hockey Fights Cancer game, his jersey had Angela’s Army on the back in place of his last name. All of the Thunderbird fans came together and bid on Paul’s jersey to raise money for Angela’s Army. A few days later I received his jersey in the mail, I was ecstatic to have his jersey in my home.
His generosity encouraged me to finalize Angela’s Army as a non-profit charity in the state of New Hampshire. As of today, Angela’s Army will be registered in the state of New Hampshire as a non-profit charity! I believe in continuing my charity will motivate me to stay positive throughout all the adversities this world throws at all of us. Angela’s Army has gotten me through the darkest of times and brought me to my lightest. Finalizing Angela’s Army was an end goal I have wanted for my charity since the little purple bracelets were created.
I think in this time of uncertainty and fear it is important to stay on the path of positivity. Each day I try to find something that will bring me joy and happiness. Whether that is talking to friends, going for walks/runs, or trying to cook a meal I have never had before. Finding the simplicities in all of this worlds complexities helps each day go by smoother.
Lastly, as a surviving cancer patient I think it is important to explain how at risk cancer patients (and any individual suffering underlying health conditions) are during the pandemic. Cancer patients immune systems are extremely compromised (mine even still is despite being in remission) therefore they are at higher risk of getting sick from this virus than others.
The smallest of viruses and diseases can immensely effect cancer patients.
For example, during the summer when I was neutropenic (which is the lack of ‘good’ cells, leading to increased susceptibility to infection) I tested positive for a cold and was rushed into the hospital. For any other individual this would simply be a cough and a sniffle. For me, it was a week long hospital visit consisting of tubes, IVs, on the oncology floor at Beth Israel. My immune system was so weak it went into shut down mode, as it did multiple times from the smallest of viruses. I am not telling this story to make anyone feel bad, I want it to be a representation of how at risk cancer patients truly are beyond their cancer.
Please stay inside, go on runs/walks, and let’s protect each other during this crisis. The sooner we all come together and agree, the better.
To all the healthcare professionals, essential workers, and anyone on the front lines: THANK YOU!
These are the words of my mother. She told me she is not good at writing so I asked her questions instead and documented what she had to say. If it is all over the place, that is because sometimes my mom is. I love her words in this, it is organic and totally 100 percent her. Take a look and read this to hear from the perspective of a parent dealing with their child going through cancer…
“It is every parents worst nightmare to find out your child is sick. Any time your child is sick it is upsetting, but it was heart wrenching getting the diagnosis. From the very beginning, before knowing anything, I would lay in bed at night and just pray that the tumor was pre cancerous, because why should my child have cancer? At least if it was pre cancer it wasn’t actually cancer.
Getting the diagnosis it was heart breaking, I thought I got punched in the gut and had the wind knocked out of me. BUT I also felt a little bit of relief having that diagnosis. Now, at this point my husband and I said “what is the next step and how do I make her better”? Angela always looked healthy to me but in my head I thought chemotherapy was going to take Angela out for the count. I pictured my daughter as frail and to lose her long hair right away…
I would ask myself sometimes, why does my child have cancer? What did I do?
We had support from the family and the town got involved. The support from our family lead to getting Angela’s amazing doctor at Dana Farber.
But meeting Angela’s doctor, Doctor Crombie, made me feel a sense of ease with her soft spoken voice and kindness. When we sat with her the first time I felt like Angela was her only patient even though she was most definitely taking care of a lot of other sick cancer patients.
Angela’s first chemo was the hardest. Watching my child have poison put into her body was tough pill to swallow. Getting her better meant getting worse at the same time, which still makes no sense to me. The set backs Angela endured were chronic like neutropenia (when the chemo kills the blood cells that fight off infections making cancer patients extremely weak and susceptible to any infection) and a horrible lung infection from one of her chemo drugs.
Seeing my daughter in the hospital three times was nothing but heart breaking, but the worst time was for her lung infection in October.
My daughter could not breathe. I was scared, so I could not fathom how she even felt. Angela was in the hospital for nearly a week because of the lung toxicity. The chemo drug had taken over 85 percent of her lungs, leading to her not being able to breathe. THEN needing to remove this drug from her chemo regiment meant another two rounds of chemo for my daughter. Before this infection… she was supposed to be done in September… now? Late November. It all seemed unfair, my kid is only 23 years old, she is bald, and extremely sick? I was pissed.
However when we finally got to the end of Angela’s treatment, I could finally breathe again. I actually felt a weight lifted off of my shoulders. BUT the best feeling was hearing my daughter was in remission from her cancer, put simply it was pure joy.
What gave me hope throughout all of this was seeing Angela handle everything with grace and her never ending strength. I tried to be as positive as my daughter was, almost as if I was imitating her. If she was feeling good then so was I.
Cancer has changed my life. I can’t sweat the small stuff, even though I still do. But I try not to let small things ruin my joy. I simply believe that you need to be kind to everyone because you never know what people are going through.
Angela taught me that she is unbelievably strong, positive, can handle anything with grace and kindness, but she still always contained her sass and spit fire attitude. She is my rock star.
What I want to say to other people going through any hardship or adversity is to never give up hope. Pray every day. Stay positive. Surround yourself with family and friends who support you. Everybody’s cancer journey is different, but I hope people can see Angelas journey and hold onto it to have faith that they will overcome their cancer.”
I hope you all gave this a read. It is important to know that not only just a patient is going through it, but so are their loved ones.
Heroes can come in all shapes and sizes. My hero is Jack Callahan, the toughest three year old I know. Jack was diagnosed with a germ cell tumor located on his pelvis February 8th, 2019. The germ cell tumor was a result of an infection in his leg called toxic synovitis. Jack was unable to walk from the pain of this tumor for weeks, until his diagnosis.
Fortunately, milestones have been reached by my friend Jack as he finished high dose chemotherapy in early November and his PET/MRI scans seem hopeful to his doctors. However it is still a long road ahead for Jack, as he has to undergo additional cancer treatment called proton radiation which started on January 9th which will target his pelvis with advanced technology.
As for the high dose chemo it caused Jack to have permanent hearing damage which caused him to have to wear hearing aids. BUT any adversity is no challenge for Jack as he remains smiling and happy.
Every time I was sick or in the hospital- I would think of my buddy Jack. He was and is my first beacon of hope enduring this disease. His mother and father, Emily and Mike, are perfect examples of what staying positive and down to earth during something which most would say is the worst thing to happen are. I am so grateful to have come in contact with such an amazing little boy and family.
Thanks for giving me constant hope and strength Jack Attack, you are beyond amazing. The link to Jack Attack’s GoFundMe will be linked down below.
I’ll leave you all with this: Although he may be small, he is so very mighty. Keep on fighting hero.
April into May were two of my favorite months I had ever had in my short life time. My last semester of college, it was full of new friendships, pure happiness (the kind of happiness you see little kids have when they get to eat ice cream after dinner), and magic. Or it all seemed like magic.
Life was so simple and easy because through every Sunday to Saturday I made every day into a new adventure. It was my last days of college and I wanted to take every inch and foot with a grain of salt. Which is what I did. It is easier to find the simplicity and beauty of being in the same place with all of your favorite people when you know it is coming to an end. Therefore, I saw every day I was given as something entirely brand new. That is how I think you should view your days as you near the ends of your college odyssey.
May 19th I graduated from the perfect little school Salve Regina University in Newport, RI. There are fascinating things about the little school by the sea I got to go too. It stretched as far as the community of people I met, not knowing if it was going to snow one day or be a heat wave of sun, or going downtown on a random Tuesday after class at noon and drinking mudslides with everyone. Like I said, the days were easy and simple.
I am sure it was a random Tuesday, or even a Saturday night? In all sincerity it could have been any day of the week I found the tumor on my neck as I was trying to perfect contouring my cheek bones to go out with my friends. The second I noticed the abnormality on my body, I knew deep down there was something wrong. But. I did not care because I was not going to let the unknown golf ball laying above my collar bone stop me from having another fun night out with my friends. Besides 22 year olds do not get cancer, that goes against the laws of the world!
Unfortunately, some laws are broken. I looked at my friends and said “Have you guys seen this bump on my neck?” They all had a puzzling look on their face and exclaimed “Well you have been sick all year right? It’s a swollen lymph node… you’re good, you’re fine!” Being the space cadet I am, I just took another sip of my cranberry vodka I had probably been nursing for an hour and ignored my worries.
The only reason I truly found out what was going on was because of my mom. She set up an appointment with my doctor the Monday after graduation. With what should have been an hour long appointment turned into seven. Scans and copious amounts of blood work is what that Monday after graduation was. Sitting and waiting on the bleak and freezing cold doctors office bed, I abruptly said to my mom “It is definitely cancer”. After what seemed like two hours of waiting my doctor slowly came back into my room and to explain how I needed further “testing”. OK??? So you mean like a biopsy which will solidify me knowing that I do have cancer in my body? I called it.
I found out I was living my magical fairy tale life with a cancerous tumor only ten days after I graduated. “You have the good cancer! Hodgkins lymphoma we do not know the stage or treatment cycle yet, but it is the good kind!” Here is a piece of advice to people who do not have cancer and say “you have the good cancer” to a Hodgkin’s lymphoma patient, DO NOT SAY THAT. I know people say it to most likely make us feel better, but you honestly sound like an idiot. The news of my cancer did not scare nor worry me, I was pissed off. I am 22 years old and I have to lose my hair? My freedom? My summer? And go through seven months of poison entering my body? Sure thing! That seems fair.
However, being negative about my situation would only make it worse. Now, I was never over optimistic and cheerleader positive, but I saw my cancer through realism. I knew it was treatable and eventually I could be cancer free. I took every day of cancer with a grain of salt. I continued to smile every day like I usually do and wanted to find new adventures. This was the only way to maintain normal Angela again. Cancer was not going to be a sob story of anger and pity for me, it was my newest odyssey.
Why I highlighted my senior spring in the beginning of this little story is because of the pureness and simple joys it taught me. Cancer was not going to taint my existence, it was going to teach me more about life and how to live it.
In a weird and ironic way, cancer has showed me how strong I am, I have not stopped fighting and growing. So whoever got to this part of my story, I leave you with this when my cancer brings on showers, I continue to grow like a flower.