Have you ever been to The Great Wolf Lodge? It is an amazing water park and hotel. The whole focus of this park is family and fun. Our family was fortunate enough to spend a night there a couple of weeks ago. We had a great time. Our girls were both too short for majority of the water slides, but we (as any good parent would) taught them the art of deception. They would stand as high as they could on their tippy toes and were able to make the height requirement for most of the water slides there.
We had a carefree weekend playing in the water, sleeping on bunk beds in the kid cabin, eating, using magic wands to find treasures, winning BINGO, swimming, playing in the wave pool.... did I mention playing in the water.... It was a great happy-go-lucky weekend of pure fun with the kids.
We checked out of our room, but then used a day pass to get as much use out of the park before we had to go home, we wore the kids out. Olivia could barely stand up when we went to the locker room to shower and dress for our ride home. It was a Monday, a pretty slow day, and we were the only people in the locker room (which I am always thankful for!), we took showers and were trying to pull our clothes over our damp skin without slipping on the wet floor when one other person came in to shower.
I did not even look up at the new addition to the locker room, I was busy trying to keep Olivia awake and tending to various bruises and scrapes that Ava had acquired while in the wave pool when I heard Olivia say, "Mommy, Why doesn't she have any hair?" Now, remember we are in an empty locker room, and if you know Olivia at all you know she has impressive volume...so, even though you could hear a whisper with no problem, Olivia's question echoed through the empty showers.
I quickly glanced up to find a young women not much older than myself getting ready to shower. She had one tuft of dark black hair right at the base of her skull. Even though she was in a swim suit, the evidence of multiple major surgeries were easily in view. I immediately thought of my dad. I thought of when he had cancer and of how I would feel when we would go places while he was receiving treatments. I can feel the stares of strangers and looks of pity from people we did not even know. I can hear the blowing of the Oxygen tank, I can see his bald head and his pale skin. I can hear strangers and friends alike desperately trying to find something to say to us to make themselves feel more comfortable, like "Oh... this weather sure has been crazy...." while they smiled awkwardly. Just like it was yesterday, I can hear people searching for conversation to try to avoid the giant elephant in the room.... CANCER.
When Olivia asked this question, I quickly realized that I would not make this beautiful woman feel the way we did when we went out on the town for some fun in the midst of torturous cancer treatments.
I looked at Olivia and said, "Honey, She is sick, I bet she has cancer." We all three looked up at this women. I could see her shoulders drop with relief and she immediately began pouring her story out to the three of us.
My carefree weekend of playing, swimming, splurging, laughing and love seemed a little selfish now as I heard her explain that when she was 34, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a bilateral mastectomy and a complete hysterectomy as well as aggressive treatment to try to save her life for herself, her family, and her three young children. She continued saying, "I really thought I had beat it, and my family started to move on and then last fall... I am 37 now... I came down with a horrible headache. I immediately when to my doctor to see if there way anything wrong."
She stood in the locker room with her feet apart and her arms straight out to her sides. At our house if you do that action, it is followed up with, "I am thiiiiissssss big." But for her, she said the doctors told her to stand like that, close her eyes and see what happens. She said she did as they instructed and she immediately fell straight backwards. She was sent immediately for a scan and within an hour and a half, she was told the news. A brain tumor.
Not just one brain tumor, but three. The largest was over 5 cm big. Without pity, but with respect, I asked questions, I explained to my children a bit about cancer and reminded them about their Grandpa Rick.
Our new friend was not just diagnosed with three brain tumors, but three brain tumors and the word "Terminal". She said, "they have done everything they can for me and now I am terminal. I am here just having fun with my family." She looked down at Olivia and Ava and said, "the medicine my doctors gave me made my hair fall out, but my family took my real hair and had a wig made for me, isn't that great... I am not sure the chlorine would be very good for it, so I did not bring it to the pool."
We finished dressing, wished her luck and headed on our way home. We pushed open the heavy door of the locker room and went out to meet Zach. Back into the noisy pool where people were running, playing, laughing without a care in the world. The same way were were minutes before. Minutes before we met our new friend. I thought of our weekend in a whole new way now.
We drove home and I thought more and more about this beautiful woman. I thought about her family, I wondered how old those three kids were, how much time she has, when her next treatment might be... how glad I was that my children were able to meet someone like this. Someone like my dad who (even though he was sick) he lived... he did not live with cancer, but he lived life to the fullest, ever day that he had.
I am not sure how many times I have thought about my friend, but it has been daily. I did not ask the girls much more about our experience with her, I felt like it had been enough in the locker room, and honestly when they are three and five, I did not feel like I needed to define terminal to them. Especially when this woman was not living as if her days were numbered. That is not what she would want my girls, or anyone to remember her by.
This past Sunday at church, after communion, Ava asked if she could go light a candle for someone. There is a little table in the corner of the sanctuary where you can say a prayer, light a candle and then place it in some soft white sand to glow and burn for the remainder of the service. We knelt on the pad and she took a candle and lite it saying, "I want to pray for the lady at the water park."
Tears welled up in my eyes as I watched her place her candle, hop up and headed back to our seats. My heart was full with her prayer. When she got to her seat, she kicked the pew in front of us twice...oops...sorry to our neighbors, she picked up a pen and paper from the pew and prepared to doodle. From being in kindergarten, she is ready to write her name on top of every page, and she could tell this card wanted her to do the same. She asked what the card was for, and I told her it was a prayer request card.
Ava said, "I want to pray for the lady from the park." I simply asked her what she wanted to say, and she told me one word at a time so that I could help her spell it out. In her beautiful hand writing, with a few backwards "D's" and "S's" , she finished the sentence...I would like to pray for..............."my friend who lost her hair."
After the service, she walked right up to the pastor and turned in her card explaining who she was praying for. What a blessing this woman has been to me and to my children. I have been reminded about the importance of caring without pity, about listening and understanding, about fighting and determination, about appreciating mothers and family and LIFE.
I do not know this woman's name, but I do want to pray for her, pray for her family and pray for her life. I hope that this Mother's day, as you are hugging your mother, your sister, your wife, your friend, or your kids, you can say a special prayer for my friend. This amazing mother... who is living the remainder of her young life with her family and a smile on her face. She is living life, she is not living with cancer, she is not terminal, she is ALIVE. Alive in so many ways, and now alive in me and alive in my kids.
Happy Mother's Day to my dear friend.