I'm the proud mom of four boys. Four amazing, loved boys. Dom, Vinny, Vito and Luca are my life. Dom is my sweet, witty, caring, wants-to-help-everyone kid. Vinny is my wild child; we say he came out running and has never stopped since. Vito is my old soul; that charmer has a smile that you will never forget. My Luca has a mischievous grin; he is going to keep me on my toes.
We were that family. The family that took everyone to the grocery store, everyone to each sport game and therapy session, the one you said, "Geez, can't they leave the little kids at home?" about. My husband and I rarely had date nights. If we wanted to do something, we made sure to find something for the kids to do. If it was a movie for adults, we waited until it came on On Demand, and I usually fell asleep.
I hated those weekends when I didn't have something planned to do. Usually by 10:00 a.m. on Sunday I was Googling somewhere for us to go. I hated being cooped up in the house with nothing to do.
Then the diagnosis came. Then my world shattered. My not-even-1-year-old had cancer. No longer were we looking for family things to do. No, instead, we were splitting our kids up among friends as we drove our Vito to his appointments.
I was the mom who never put her kids down if they were crying. I can't even count how many nights I spent sitting up because I did not want my sons to cry. Now, I was walking away as my 2-year-old screamed and reached for me. I hung up the phone as my 8-year-old bawled how he just wanted to sleep in his bed. I handed my week-old over to anyone willing to hold him. Oh yes, I became that mom.
At Christmastime, people asked what toys my children were into. I gave generic answers -- trains, planes and automobiles. What I didn't tell them was: I honestly had no idea. None at all. I didn't know what toys my 8-year-old wanted for Christmas. I hadn't had a conversation, a true conversation, with him in months. I knew he liked Legos, but did he still like Legos? I know he asked Santa for something, but I was busy fixing Vito's TPN pump and I didn't hear, and I forgot to ask. What kind of mom doesn't know her son's interests? This mom.
Dominic had practiced the first half of his school year for the holiday sing-along. However, the flu was spreading like wildfire through our school at the time. I couldn't risk him sitting in a jam-packed gym with 800 kids and the possibility that a classmate had the flu and still went to school. See, Dominic's brother was finishing his third round of chemo. The flu in our house would be detrimental. He cried as I called him in. He told me I didn't care that he worked so hard for the holiday sing-along. He stormed away as I tried to hug him and explain it to him. He didn't care. He just felt that a) Mom didn't want to see the great job he did practicing and b) his brother's needs once again trumped what he wanted to do.
That was the beginning of winter break. You know, those fun times you're supposed to spend playing with your Christmas toys, eating tons of cookies and sledding. Dominic spent it on the couch next to his brother's crib in the hospital.
Then, that day came. The day my 8-year-old had a breakdown. He walked into Vito's room as they were putting a catheter in. How do you explain that to an 8-year-old? The screaming, the crying, the fear at a very scary image of your baby brother and nurses trying to shove a catheter into his privates.
Dominic lost it. He ran out of the room. He ran to the family lounge. When I say lost it, I mean crying and screaming in the family lounge. Screaming about how he is angry. He screamed and yelled. He told me how he hated cancer, he hated me and he hated his father. Crying out of fear his brother could die. I held my Dom and cried with him. It's all I could do. I couldn't do anything else but hold him and cry with him.
I am no longer the parent who does homework with her child, who takes him on runs around the block, who plays crazy games until we are sore from laughing so hard. No, I have become the mom who almost forgets his birthday, hasn't sent in a signed reading calendar, forgets about field trips and is lucky she remembers to pay his lunch account.
We very excitedly called Dom and told him our great news. Our second surgery removed his brother's entire tumor. We have a chance at a cancer-free life. Dom very excitedly said, "YES! Vito won't be in the hospital anymore! Chemo is done!" I told him no, not yet, we still need to do chemo. We aren't cancer-free yet. To which he responded, "So my brother could still die?" He then hung up the phone.
My sons lost both of their parents when Vito was diagnosed. There is no other way to say it. My other sons are on the back burner while we are in a fight for Vito's life.
Dominic doesn't realize it, but his brother's diagnosis made me cherish him and his other brothers more. See, there's no reason Vito got the cancer as opposed to my other children. Cancer didn't pick one kid over the other. Cancer just picked Vito. It could have easily been my other sons. Cancer has taught me to hold on to each hug a little longer. Before I say shush because my head can't take another Doctor Who reference, I think how fortunate I am that Dom is able to tell me about Doctor Who (PS: you will not find a bigger Doctor Who fan than Dominic Skaro). Cancer taught me that my children are mortal and every day I have them on Earth with me is a blessing and a miracle. Too many parents bury their children, and I am so lucky all four of mine are here with me, even if it means celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas in the hospital.
Dominic's sacrifice is learning too young that death does not care how old you are, and sometimes, no matter what you do, it can take you. His sacrifice is his innocence and naïveté. My son no longer thinks that horrible things can't happen to him. No, he knows all too well that they do.
The other day, Dom told me he missed it when it was just my husband, Dominic and me. After some questioning on if he misses when he was an only child, he sat in silence and said, "No, I love my brothers, I just miss it when my life didn't have cancer in it, when Vito didn't have cancer, I have so much on my little shoulders and I just miss my old life, life with no cancer. I hate cancer." I just hugged him and said, "You will always be my world, and I hate cancer, too!"