How the Toy Army Men Came to Life and Why We Keep Fighting!
I spoke at the kick-off lunch for the Winship 5K. This is the story I shared. This is a short story version of the past year and a half.
First of all - I am honored and so grateful that Pam asked me to speak today and I am humbled to stand here before you and share a little bit about our Journey of Faith, Love, and Hope. I could easily stand up today and talk ONLY of how devastating Cancer is and how it turned our lives AND continues to turn our lives upside down. But I would not be telling you anything that you didn’t already know. Each of us is here today because either YOU or some one you love deeply has been touched by Cancer. That is the common (yet really crappy) bond we all share.
Yet on this deep level, Mike and I have discovered a love and hope that we never knew was possible. So INSTEAD, I want to share this story with you - the story beneath our surface story. A story of how on May 6th, 2016, when Mike was officially diagnosed with Leukemia, we decided to choose HOPE when doubting would have been a heck of a lot easier.
Of course, our surface story, I feel sure, is similar to yours, in that it makes people sad.
The day we received the phone call confirming Mike had Leukemia, our oldest little boy, Jake, was 5 years old;
Celia, our little girl, was almost 3; and our baby, Graham, was only 5 months old.
But from Day 1, MIKE DID NOT WANT ANY SYMPATHY.
I have to share a little about Mike. He is about the most stubborn and hard-headed person you might come across (sorry, Mike). He is from Louisiana and has Cajun blood, so that paints a pretty good picture. :) So, in true Mike fashion, he didn’t believe the doctors when they told him he had Leukemia. He kept asking - Are you sure? You must have the wrong guy. And probably, he still doesn’t believe Dr. Kota today. :) But this mindset has played the most important part of why he has survived and endured all he has today. He doesn’t complain, he doesn’t give up, he is a fighter. My fighter. I have discovered this spirit seems to be the common thread amongst all Cancer fighters.
I sent an email to our family that first night in the hospital stating that our new chapter of hope had begun. We let our family know that our mission was to FIGHT LIKE MIKE, but at the at the end of the day, we trust God will take care of the rest.
That first night is when our army formed. Our army of love fueled by hope and courage. Our army of prayer warriors that were fighting for us when we were too tired. They surrounded us with light and hope and sat with us in the dark. These soldiers slowly became our FIGHT LIKE MIKE ARMY.
We soon had a visual of our army come to life. A dear friend of ours came to visit Mike one of the first days he was in the hospital. He brought Mike a bag of toy army men, some sharpies, and some small name tags. I brought some visuals for you guys to see. These soldiers belong to Dr. Arrellano and our main Commanding Officer, Dr. Kota. I think Dr. Kota and I have continued to compete over whose soldier stands first in line throughout this fight. Although most of the time I gladly let him take over. :)
Every nurse, doctor, stranger, family member, and loved one got to pick out their own solder when they came to visit us. It was our constant reminder that so many were fighting with us and for us. But most importantly that we were never alone. Our army brings an indescribable comfort amongst some of the scariest days of our life. We set up our army in our hospital room on the window sill every time we came for stays in the hospital. The picture is of a sunset, with our army below. Now the army has its permanent spot above our windows in our living room at home.
One week after Mike was admitted, May of last year, Dr. Arellano was the attending doctor. This is when she earned her soldier (because Mike sometimes made you earn your soldier, haha). She recruited him for her team, the Leukidators, for the Winship 5k the first day they met. Both of them share the same competitive nature, so they were a perfect match. Mike took on the fundraising, t-shirt designs, and recruiting runners like a full time job.
Little did I know the impact the day of the Winship 5k last year would have on my life. When I think about hope, love, and courage, I see a picture of the Winship 5k. I see the sea of orange tutus, balloons, and all the people that love us - our army - surrounding our family in this picture.
The day of the race, our closest friends and family along with our new family at Emory and so many other fighters, came to walk, run, or cheer us on. Mike and I had no idea we would raise the amount of money we raised. We were blown away. But it gave me hope in a way I can hardly put into words to describe. I thought - well, if there is one thing cancer can do, it can bring together so many people of different races, political views, and religious beliefs, and unite us. All differences were set side for a few hours that morning.
When I feel fearful of our future, I find HOPE in what the Winship 5k and Winship Cancer Institute are doing in their efforts to care for all cancer fighters.
I thank God for the care and love we have received from Winship. Not only treating Mike, but also me as a caregiver. Mike has been under the wing of Dr. Kota and his team primarily. And although I would have never chosen to live through this journey of pain and heartache, I often wonder - what if our lives had not been touched by Dr. Kota? We can’t imagine not knowing him in our lifetime. He has shown us a care that goes well beyond treating Leukemia. He has treated Mike as a father of three small children similar to himself, not a patient with cancer. He has treated him as a guy who loves to work, go fishing, watch football, and go out to dinner with his wife ( ...occasionally).
The wall on the stairs coming up to his office reads a quote by Francis Peabody:
“One of the essential qualities of the clinician is interest in humanity, for the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.”
Winship does this. From the moment you pull up at valet, these guys ask me about Mike every day. To the sweet girl who works in the cafe, who knows my coffee order. Tamika, who draws Mike's blood in the lab. Adrienne, who brings Mike back for biopsies. Rachel, who gets him set up for the procedure. Risa, Maddie, and Daniel who hang bags of chemo and distract us with funny stories. Celia, who stops by to ask us about our little girl Celia. Joel and C.C., in the BMT clinic. Everyone on 6E and 8E. I could go on and on about the army we have here. We have never felt alone. We have always been cared for and loved on. This is a gift. This is the story we want to share. How hope and love abounds here, more than most any place in our broken world right now. Isn't it ironic?
The other important piece to this puzzle is the other fighters we have met along the way. They understand us on that deeper level, without a word spoken. We have learned that strength grows in numbers, and so we teamed up with these other fighters in hopes to blow last year's goal out of the water. I recently sent an email out to our friends and family explaining our shirt design for this year's race, and I wanted to share it with you.
On the front of the shirts:
Well, guns. Because when I tried to have them removed, Mike said, “I have been in the damn trenches. I am in a fight for my life. I want the guns.” Touché, I said.
On the back:
Because this army is built from LOVE. Love always wins against hate. Even in the war against cancer.
Our army is fueled by a fierce hope and courage that can only come from above.
Also on the front, an orange soldier. He/she represents the one we are fighting for. This specific battle is Leukemia, because that was the fight put on Mike's plate. But it represents any battle you may be facing. Life is not easy.
The soldiers surrounding the orange person are YOU. You, who have made our fight worth fighting. Family, nurses, doctors, friends, and strangers. You, who give us hope and courage knowing we are not alone.
So, you get a little of both of our journeys.
Deep down we both want to give back in a way that when YOU become the orange man, because at some point in your life, unfortunately you probably will, you are able to feel the same love we felt and continue to feel.
We have an army man for each of you with a tag from me and Mike that we will pass out later. We hope you remember -
You are loved by us and will never fight alone.
And last, my brother shared this quote from Eric Berry with me sometime last year after Mike was diagnosed. I am not sure if you know who he is - I had no idea when he told me about him. But he is a football player for the Kansas City Chiefs. He was diagnosed with cancer and his parents have been interviewed and talked openly about his battle with cancer. I found that his quote so perfectly described my heart, so I have kept it with me on harder days and on days I feel like giving up.
There are so many people I could thank and give honor to, but I just want to talk to the people that are out there fighting, whatever they’re fighting. It’s two words that stood out to me throughout the whole process -honor and legacy, which I got from my big bro Ink...”You honor the ones that come before you and you leave a legacy for the ones that come behind you."
So that is where Mike and I stand with our hopes and dreams in efforts to honor Winship for what it has done for our family. Dreams that one day doctors and scientists WILL discover a cure for all. That no family will have to fight in the trenches on this treacherous road.
But UNTIL WE see that day - our hope for today - in the meantime...
Is that You know you are not fighting alone. And...to raise a heck of lot of money for research.
SO... Let's get out there - and make this one million dollar goal a legacy for those who come behind us. Together we believe we can make that happen.