“Mama, that boy has girls’ shoes on.”
“No dear, that is a girl.”
“But she has no hair, like a boy.”
“Because she is also sick like you and she lost her hair. And you will lose yours too, like her one day, because that’s what will happen.”
“But Mama, I don’t want to lose all my hair.”
How is a mother to respond to such a plea?
And what of the angst, when this child pleas with her mother and father that she doesn’t want to feel the cold and relentless prick of a needle in her arm? That pain and discomfort, all too familiar now, as she endures such steps in this many years’ journey that has just begun. This little girl, so charming and so smart, as smart as a slap to the face of reality that so many lives have changed overnight. Because, that’s what really happens when cancer hits close to home. Maybe you have cancer now, or your spouse or child, or you had it or know someone who did, however close or far the relationship. Maybe I’m just late to writing about cancer, but as much of a challenge it is, it brings together people who truly care about people. People.
We lose people in the news headlines every day it seems, that it’s an everyday occurrence that social media is filled with loss every day. And then the countless lives lost that don’t even make it to the ugly pretty news. Lives that are never even mentioned but are lost all the same.
And somehow you forget or maybe overlook the little victories, about people who live and survive, like a beautiful little girl who is taking well to the chemotherapy and eating and enjoying all the things children are supposed to enjoy. She may look different on the outside but she is the same spritely and joyous soul in a little body. Davy and I got to spend some time last week with Noah’s friend, Farah. She is just short of two months into treatment for leukemia. I’ve written about her before, and her parents Houda and Daan and baby sister Lynah.
Last week was emotional but we had fun that night with Farah in our presence. It was so very special. We did not bring Noah with us. One day when it’s possible we will.
But Davy and I saw Farah and she was as sweet and girly as ever, her eyes twinkled as always. She was her coy self and talkative in spurts, when I sat with her. We had blankets beneath us. We laughed, trying to get a video up on the iPad, because she wanted to show me something in English because she knows it is a language I speak.
Farah’s spirit sparkles and she is still everything good and right with the world, though her little body has been through many changes from head to toe already. And I wished I could take away as many daily dilemnas and pains as I could for Farah, as a mother and as a friend to Houda.
I say Houda is one strong woman. No matter how weak Houda may think she’s being at times. But she should never think herself weak. Houda keeps it together and she lets go when she has to. There is no shame in that. You must cry and lose your shit, in life, because it keeps you balanced and human and honest. But it takes a strong person to keep that balance. And I think Houda is really cool. That’s a rarity these days, sadly. But it makes you cherish it when you find it.
Since we last saw Farah, Houda and Daan have had to make the tough decision to cut her hair very short, because she started losing it at an alarming rate.
Since we were all last together, there has been one word that’s been stuck in my head because Houda kept using it in conversation. Confronting.
Confronting, as it relates to seeing your child go through drastic and sometimes overnight changes, and to be able to handle that kind of change. How you handle it truly shows what you are made of as an adult, as a parent.
Confronting. It’s actually the perfect word, and maybe often not used enough. Because sometimes shocking isn’t the right word but we use it, because I feel like I can’t use confronting because what I feel is not the same as Houda’s. But we are both mothers so I know well where Houda is. And she’s so honest about it it’s something to truly respect.
It must be indeed confronting. And maybe lonely. Because how many parents do you know in your immediate and one degree of separation’s away radius, whose child was just diagnosed with cancer?
Confronting. Even though you may tell your child, during chemotherapy, that this will inevitably happen. Maybe that conversation happened just a week ago, and it’s a most difficult reality to swallow for everyone. But I truly appreciate Houda entrusting me with her family. I try to balance what is customary here with who I am as a person.
Since then I’ve been wearing half my clothes inside-out some days, because so much has happened while my brain is trying to catch up with it all. Davy has since the last blog basically changed “bosses” at the Port of Ghent, where he’s a heavy machinery dockworker. So there’s a whole new hierarchy of authority for me to get to know, as “a docker’s wife.”
And Noah, he deserves all the love and attention he gets from those who love him, as he should.
Noah takes very seriously his “little shop” where he parks his stroller outside and tends to business selling me croissants and cakes. He grows by leaps and bounds faster than my iPhone can capture, but I try. He is unabashedly wiser than his years but frolicking his childhood away. We have much to be thankful for every day, but especially cognizant of Thanksgiving coming up…
Noah also takes seriously indulging my mother in New York, when we all Skype after school. Lately we’ve been playing some of Noah’s simplest games and it gets pretty intense and very funny watching the whole thing unfold. There’s lots of love not to be taken for granted at this pace of life we all fall into place in. We hope to, in the future, Skype with Farah, as both she and Noah both have already agreed happily to a date.
This is a photo of love and support sent from many parts of the world to be donated to the children’s cancer ward of UZ Gent, the hospital where Farah is currently receiving her care and treatment. Cancer has far too many faces.
At first Davy and I were piling boxes into the dining room but then the boxes transformed into just outpouring of love. Even the always cynical Davy was touched by the immediate response from so many of you. It’s right there in our personal space, it can’t be missed.
Thank you to everyone who has given their words of wisdom and love and support, and those who were able to give through the Farah’s World wishlist and fund. Your cash donations will be matched and the wishlist fulfilled. I had no idea what to expect, and the boxes of love keep coming.
It’s not really done here. Fundraising and donations, mostly because civil and social functions in Belgium are well-funded. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a need, even at basic humanitarian levels just to bring smiles to children’s faces. I struggle with riding the line between who I am and stopping myself because “it’s not really done here.” Because I don’t want to change too much while adjusting to life here. Since starting the wishlist of animal blankets, I have talked to parents and grandparents and friends and fans who have all been touched, in some way.
Thank you. For whatever your reason for being kind today, it has made a difference in someone’s day. That’s a good thing, still, that nobody can take away.