Oftentimes in my travels with my work with Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, I meet hero families -- families who have a child battling cancer. They are frightened, anxious and worried about the unknown. As Alex's father, I've experienced the same uncertainty and sympathize with their pain.
This is a letter I am writing from myself as one parent of a child with cancer to another parent of a child with cancer. This letter is not meant to scare anyone, but instead hopes the parent's transition into this new life of having a child with cancer will be a little bit easier.
Dear Hero Parent,
It is likely that the day your child is diagnosed with cancer will be the most difficult day in your life up to that point. You will feel overwhelmed and like your world has come crashing down. Despite what you might be thinking, you can and will get through this. You will get through this because you are stronger than you think and because you will do this for your child. People often tell me, "I could never handle it if my child had cancer" or "I could never do that". Parents can do things they would never think they could handle when they have a sick child. They get strength from this same child.
Right after my daughter Alex was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, I was heartbroken. The next day my job was to take her to back-to-back appointments all over the hospital while my wife spent time with our oldest son. I cried at virtually every appointment at the beginning of the day. As the day went on, however, I saw how strong my daughter was. By the end of the day, I was strong too. When I saw my wife that evening, I clapped my hands and told her that "we've got this," and that we needed to make a plan.
After your child is diagnosed with cancer, you will cry harder than you have ever cried but you will also laugh harder than you have ever laughed. This might seem contradictory, but it's possible because you see the world differently after your child is diagnosed with a deadly disease. You will stop sweating the small things. The good things seem better. The funny things seem funnier. The sunny days seem sunnier and the rainy days are great, too.
You will also appreciate your children more. Many times we take our health or our children's health for granted. That will never happen again. You will worry about every little complaint or ailment your children have. On the flip side, you will appreciate when those same children are healthy.
With childhood cancer comes intense treatment and unpredictability. I hope you will take that opportunity to be spontaneous with your kids. During the times when your child is feeling good between treatments, do unexpected things on the spur of the moment. Even if it is just a trip to a new park, going shopping for something special or a chance to have a family movie sleepover in the living room, seize the good moments to do something great.
This doesn't mean you won't have difficult or bad days during your child's treatment. You will, but you will pull out an inner strength that you never knew you had. You will make it through tougher days than you ever imagined. You can do it. I know you can. Your child knows you can.
Your supporter and cheerleader,