My daughter turned six last week, as did my cousin’s daughter. It’s a special relationship, the two girls. They were born within a day of each other and despite living an hour apart, they are close thanks to face-time and frequent visits. It helps also that Helen’s mom, Josie, and I were raised in an extended family so we grew up as sisters. Ironically, Josie and I are completely different. I am a social butterfly; she likes to keep her circle small, mostly just family. I love being in the kitchen cooking, she loves to clean…as in vacuuming HER ENTIRE HOUSE multiple times daily! I love to entertain, she loathes it! She has cancer, I do not. And therein lies the biggest difference between us.
I knew Josie’s treatments would prevent her from planning anything for Helen so I offered to take care of the birthday celebration months ago. Not only was she relieved to have it off her plate, she seems to have used the birthday as her milestone. Josie scheduled her chemo treatments and surgeries hoping that the recovery time would allow her to attend Helen’s birthday party.
I was nervous about her anticipation and more nervous that she would push herself too much. Instead, it was like the rainbow theme of the party…a beautiful thing to work towards to earn that pot of gold. And while Helen turning 6 was Josie’s inspiration to finish healing from surgery and chemo, she couldn’t deny the limited control she had…but what control she did have, she planned to execute all the way.
With an agreed joint birthday between us, I just had to convince the girls. Like most kids, Asha has been talking about her birthday for months. Specifically she wanted a Minions cake, something about bananas and golf clubs. Oh...and Shopkins cookies since they are just so cute! Our kids are obviously aware that Josie masi (Aunt Josie) has not been well. When I asked Asha if we could offer to have a joint party with Helen, she face-timed her favorite cousin right away to talk about what they could plan for their special party together. Helen had her own ideas. When Asha asked what she wanted, she said “a rainbow cake with raindrops and clouds and both chocolate and vanilla flavors.” I heard the conversation and wondered how the Minions would merge with the rainbows but Asha responded, “That’s exactly what I wanted too!” Voila, cake plans made and I was so touched and proud of Asha at that moment.
We were all a bit anxious with Josie insisting she would be well enough to join the party. After her HIPEC surgery she was in the hospital for a couple of weeks, home for a few days and then back to the hospital. I really did not think she would be healthy enough to travel an hour to my home from Richmond to come to the birthday party. But sure enough, she made it. It was thrilling to see her out of a hospital gown and in regular clothes. We agreed not to talk about her weight loss and to keep the talk happy and light and focused on the girls. It was a better than expected day. We limited our gathering to just family and a couple of friends, small enough to keep worries of a compromised immune system at bay. It was a really good birthday and a memorable day. Josie was determined to be there and she was there. She worries now about the cancer coming back but we’re going to put that thought away and try to enjoy the day to day of life with these girls. Screw cancer, we have lives to lead and children to raise!
Last summer Josie was diagnosed with Appendiceal cancer. Three chemotherapy treatments and two major surgeries later, her body is minus an appendix, gall bladder, uterus, ovaries, ovarian cysts, part of her diaphragm, omentum, stomach lining and spleen. After her first surgery, which was basically a hysterectomy and appendix removal, she told me that there was a silver lining; she went in at 125 pounds and came out 114 pounds. We laughed then, not knowing that the weight loss would become an increasing concern over time. It’s a horrible and daily struggle, this disease. But she continues to impress me with her courage and determination and today, in this moment, she is cancer-free!