30 DAYS/30 STORIES® 2021
This is the story of the young man you see in this photo. A strong, thriving 23 year old on the verge of college graduation. A man staring at a bright and beautiful future in front of him. A son, a brother, a boyfriend, a “dog daddy”, and soon, a teacher! But this is also the story of a warrior, a survivor. Twenty years ago, his story involved endless bloodwork, too many needles, many spinal taps and bone marrow aspirations, and lots of poison pumped into his little body. One day his story was toy trucks, smiles, and Disney movies…and the next, it was the story of pediatric cancer. On May 28, 2001, I was not a cancer mom. On May 29, 2001, I forever became one.
Cole was diagnosed at age 3 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The “good” cancer. Most common, most curable. And for that, I AM thankful. We are the lucky ones. Once you step inside this world of pediatric cancer, you learn to become thankful for things you never imagined you would appreciate. During his two and a half years of treatment, I became thankful for the nurses who could access his port on the first try, clinic having the “right” Band-aids so he wouldn’t cry, a temperature reading of 100.9 instead of 101, a room with one of the “good” recliners, coffee. I also found myself endlessly grateful for the people who didn’t disappear. The friends and family members who stepped right into the mess with me and held my hand. The new friends I made. The other moms who knew what an ANC was without me having to explain it. A husband who held me up when I thought there was nothing left in me. Cole’s baby brother, Aidan, whose smile made everything better. And his sister, Makenna, who came along at just the right time at the end of treatment, to give me another shot at enjoying a newborn…while not living in a hospital and clinic most of the time.
And wow, was I thankful for this boy…the one who was three and fighting cancer. Those words shouldn’t even all be in the same sentence. But they are. And he did. And yes, there were tears. And screaming. And tantrums. But, heck, there would be tears and screaming and tantrums if I were fighting cancer right now at age 50. Truth be told, Cole was a trooper through it all. And I can tell you, as someone who knows A LOT of cancer kiddos, they are all rockstar warriors. Ridiculously strong. Tenaciously tough. I am blessed to know them all. The ones that are still here – and the ones that are not.
Today, Cole is considered “cured”…a long-term survivor of pediatric cancer. One who remembers little of his experience. One who suffers few if any long-term side effects. One who has a pretty “normal” life now. My crazy smart, wickedly funny, self-admitted mama’s boy! And a new story is beginning for him. And for that, I am beyond grateful. My story will always be that of a cancer mom. I don’t get to give that title up. It might as well be tattooed in ink on my body. It’s part of me. And, in some ways, I am even grateful for that. I am grateful for the lessons and the people and all of things I call “collateral beauty”.
As September wraps up and Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month draws to a close, I ask that you don’t forget our kiddos. The warriors. And their moms and dads and siblings and grandparents and friends. The ones who live pediatric cancer awareness every day of every month of every year. Thank you.
Written by Michelle, Cole’s mom and Executive Director of PCFLV
Please consider donating in Cole’s honor to support PCFLV's mission.
Please also consider helping local kids with cancer by donating blood at Miller-Keystone Blood Center:
Photography by Matthew Cannon