It is two days before Christmas and I have just put all three of my children to bed. Logically I know I should be right behind them, but tonight my heart is in charge. It is a very sad day as we just learned earlier tonight that Kendra McBain, the beautiful young woman I wrote about a few months ago, has lost her hard fought battle with cancer.
Kendra turned 18 just two months ago. She was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer when she was 15. For the past three years, she and her family have waged a war against this terrible disease. It is so very unfortunate that a cure did not exist for the sarcoma that invaded her body.
Kendra had a maturity beyond her years. In the midst of her personal battle, she organized "Kendra's Walk for Kids" this past May. Through her efforts, over $100,000 was raised to renovate the teen's room at the Cancer Clinic. Apparently the teens haven't been all that keen on sharing their space with toddlers and school-age "punks" like our Dane and I can't say as I blame them. The renovations are currently underway and I understand that Kendra was receiving regular photo updates of this wonderful work in progress.
Kendra was kind, compassionate and from what I saw, very positive in the face of adversity. Although I understand that "punks" are not always high on her list, she seemed to bond with Dane. They shared stories during chemo treatments and on a particularly rough day for Dane, she put her new two pound puppy in his lap to ease his stress during an IV insertion. The puppy and Dane never moved for an hour and we all talked like we'd known one another for years. Even when she knew near the end there was no cure for her cancer, she was bright and forthright.
Although you don't know Kendra except through my description, please believe me when I tell you she is a symbol of many important life messages. Our family is privileged to have known her and although I hate cancer, I am thankful she came into our lives. Dane and Ashley shed many tears tonight when they heard she died, however only as children do, they were able to park their sadness. I suspect though there will be many moments over the next little while when one or the other talks about Kendra.
For our family, it has been exactly a year since Dane first showed signs of being ill. Although I try not to think about it too much, it is very evident looking back now that he was so not himself last December. He really just went through the motions during the holidays because that's all his little body could handle. This Christmas he is "fired up" - at home, at the rink, at friends, etc.. And although his attitude still drives us over the edge at times, we are so very grateful his quality of life is back.
If it hasn't become evident yet, I am writing tonight because I need to. It's my therapy once again, as it was in the early days of Dane's journey and at the very anxious times in his treatment. And for those individuals who know me "like a book", you will read between the lines and realize this is a very hard day. Hard because I am the mother of a child with cancer and as much as I can rationalize that leukemia is so very treatable and Dane should never relapse, I would be lying to say losing Kendra isn't traumatic. Hard also because I am a mother who has grieved the passing of a child and that is a heartache that cannot be understood unless you have walked that path. Hard because even though we said good-bye to Cole long before we ever wanted to, we did not really know him like we do Dane, Ashley and Clare and I can't imagine the anguish that Kendra's parents and brother are feeling right now. So hard because I wish I could DO something for the McBain's that is more productive than banging away on my keyboard, but I know that although they are likely surrounded by loved ones right now, this is a journey they ultimately have to make very much on their own. So very hard because embarking on parenthood is a leap of faith and although we hope with all our hearts that our children will be healthy, this is not always the case. Kendra's parents had the same hopes and dreams for their special daughter that we all do for all our children.
As I close Part I, I do so with a story from last January when I was still "reeling" from Dane's diagnosis. It was late at night and I was restless so I sat down and wrote. I wrote a letter to a FP columnist about Dane and our family. In the moment, I really didn't know exactly why I was writing him but it was something I just needed to do. He contacted me right away and was going to publish our story. During our back and forth correspondence, I told him I was ok with the story being told, however I would never want people to read it and feel that I thought we were the only people facing adversity or worse, seeking their pity. Some time went by and he never wrote the column. A few months ago I made contact with him for another reason and told him I appreciated that he never wrote the story. Just knowing I could write to him had been enough for me. I was able to say out loud that "this is a tough, lonely walk" but we were "so thankful we had so many wonderful people supporting us" and we asked that those who believe in a higher power "say a prayer for Dane because we really needed a good outcome this time around". My mom knew about my letter and recently she commented that it was fate that he kept our story private, because it was likely meant to come out as positive as it did in the CCMB Foundation campaign. The Foundation's "ask" for us to be involved came out of the blue and it has truly been a wonderful experience for our family. I share this story because for me it shows how far we have all come this past year. At the beginning I could have jumped out of my skin and shouted at the world. And although I knew we were not alone, I was very lonely. So even though I still have these thoughts and feelings, they don't dominate my days and that in my view is progress.
Thank you for your patience tonight and I hope that most of you don't read this until after Christmas. I'm starting to unwind a bit now so after I post a very quick Part II, I will call it a night.
From our entire family, our heartfelt wishes for a wonderful holiday season.
Warm regards - Janie and Dirk