If I could only find myself…

It’s not everyday that I go back in history to the child I was once.  To be honest, I wasn’t a child long enough to really go back there.  My days were forced.  I always had this crazy feeling that I was alone but not alone, if that makes any sense at all.  I remember being a small child and climbing our fence to the top board, closing my eyes and pretending that the wind was simply my transporter to another land.  I would feel tears stinging my cheeks as I begged into the wind, just for someone to love me.  I didn’t realize this was not normal back then.  I never knew what it was like to be the center of all the attention.  I recall being teased by my siblings that I was adopted and I completely believed it, because I knew I did not belong anywhere that I knew.

Going back a little farther…  As my parents separated, my 5-year-old mentality was just that. Terror gripped me with every second of the last day I was a child.  There was a fight.  My mom and dad were yelling at each other and my dad told my mom, she could not take his kids.  He was wrong.  I remember my mom picking me up and rushing out the door, and feeling like I was dying.  What was happening?  Was she really going to take us away?  Every second my mom ran away, my heart was begging her to run back.  My last time I saw my parents together and married, my mom was full of anger and determined to see her plan through.  My dad was sitting on the couch, a coward in my eyes.  Why was he not reaching for me?  Why was he not trying to keep me?  Why did nobody care that they were scaring me?

As we neared the car, I remember looking at the very fence that would soon be my secret getaway and it seeming so tall.  Following it down to another fence that led to my grandmother’s house.  I remember panic setting in as I realized we were leaving my grandma as well! (Technically, she was my great-aunt but we called her Grandma) She was my security.  She was never afraid to tell my parents when they needed to get a grip.  She taught me arithmetic and read me short stories that she took time to write, just to share with me. She told me never to cry unless I planned on doing something about it. She was tough and witty and always looked clean and pressed even when she was troubled.  She took care of people, even when they were dying and there would be no return.  She was bold, and intelligent and oh, how I admired her. I loved her, even when she made me hold lava soap on my tongue for sassing her. I asked my mom if I could just go to Grandma’s house. She didn’t speak at all. I received my answer when my mom set me down and guided me into the car. The answer was, “no”.

Heading down our long driveway, I watched out the window through watery eyes, just waiting for my mom to turn the car around.  Instead, she made a left turn toward town.  On the right, as the car accelerated, I saw the home of my Kindergarten teacher.  She was my comforter, her and her husband.  They taught me to churn butter and reminded me that Jesus would one day be my best friend.  My parents never talked of Jesus, so it was doubtful to me.  I listened all the same though, because everything she ever promised me, always came true.  She was honest, and loving and she believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.  I loved to sit on their couch and run my hands through the pelt that was from Mr. Herbst’s first hunting trip after he and Mrs. Herbst wed. They asked me to come along anytime they did chores and welcomed my presence for any task they might be doing.  It was where I first learned to ride a horse. I remember the smell of Mr. Herbst when he would come in from working outside and how he would always smile at me, even if his arthritic fingers were bleeding from his work.  He was strong and kind and always willing to teach me new things.  I quickly saw my chance and asked my mom if I could please go to Mrs. Herbst’s house.  Staring forward, completely unaware of my voice, I was pretty sure she had already forgotten I was in the car.  Reflections of trees and haystacks strobe past my window, hope lost.

That’s all I remember from that day.  As a matter of fact, that is the last memory I have until a barbecue quite a while later where we met my mom’s future second husband.

It was a warm and sunny day and the air was filled with hickory scents of smoked meats and Summer.  My mom, who seemed unusually happy, was just visiting up a storm.  I think we may have lived in this home but I can’t remember.  I just remember trees and fence and house.  Somewhat of a secluded little prison of sorts.  When introduced to this man, he invited me to sit and talk a spell.  He asked me questions about assorted things, like how old I was, etc.  Just as I started to relax a little, he pulled me close and whispered into my ear. “You wanna know a secret?” He asked. “I don’t like children.” He said it very casually and just as I thought he may be joking, he slid me off his lap and stood to join the adults.  Within a year, he and my mother married.  It turned out, that he proved to be quite the liar as he obviously did like children, just in a terrible way.  He and my mom moved back into the home that my grandfather (technically, great-uncle) had built.  I was so glad to be near my grandma again and even more happy that we would be living there forever so I would never have to leave there again!  At least, that was what I thought.

But we did leave there, as my mother and grandmother could not see eye to eye about the new addition to our family.  She never ceased to voice how little she liked our new ‘dad’.  It was exactly the chance he needed, being out from under the scrutiny of our grandma and before long, our step dad showed his true colors.  Slowly, life began to drain from our family.  We moved to yet another home and my brother who could not stand to be home, moved out of our home and into our father’s home.  My mom was gone more and more storing up funds for a future in the Idaho mountains where we would become self-sufficient and have an amazing life! I remember very little from these days, other than abuse, riding my blue Schwinn bicycle with the glittery banana seat up and down the road, and the lady that lived at the end of our street that allowed us to sit inside with a cup of hot cocoa until the bus arrived.  I think she knew. That I was broken, I mean.  She always seemed to hug me just a little bit longer.  It was numbing.  The more people tried to love me without actually helping me, seemed to only make things so much worse.  I spent most of my time in class, daydreaming and slowly slipping away from the surroundings I had no desire to be connected to.

When my dad actually came to pick us up on weekends, he was so focused on his own life, that rarely did he reach into ours.  We saw him as the victim in the situation and never wanted to hurt his feelings.  Regardless, he hadn’t saved us up until this point.  Why would he save us now?  There was no point in burdening him with the specifics of what was happening in our lives.  My dad had moved back into the home our grandfather had built and when he left for work, or whatever he was doing, I would sneak out to the fence, climb to the top board and cry.  I just wanted someone who said they loved me, to save me.  I wanted someone to see my pain but I didn’t know how to tell them.  I talked to the animals and they didn’t mind.  They didn’t cry, make excuses or even try to explain things.  They surely did not tell me they loved me only to hug me and leave me right where I was.  They always listened.

At school, they did a special class about ‘Good touching vs. Bad touching’ and I learned that I had been experiencing bad touching for quite some time.  It was easy to recognize and just like they told me, I said, “No!” and told a safe adult so they could protect me.  My mom was in the shower and my step dad had taken advantage of her being indisposed in the room literally next to my bedroom.  I told him “No!” and after he smacked me so hard that my ear rang, he left the house.  I was so encouraged by his response to leave me alone, it was easy to tell my mom.  I told her exactly what the school had told me to.  “He has been touching me in a bad way!”  I burst into tears, so relieved it was over.  I saw shock in her eyes which gave way to fear, which led to anger.  She pulled on her robe and went outside to confront him.  I ran into my room to watch out the window but when I couldn’t see them anymore, I started to pack my things.  I had a life-size, stuffed, mountain lion my brother had given me, that I cherished.  He was my confidante and my best friend in the whole world.  I promised to come back for him.  I wrapped my arms around his neck and sobbed at the thought of leaving him.

That Summer, we all moved to Idaho together.  The abuse stopped but hope did not return me until one day, I fell asleep in a hammock, quite a distance from our new home which was still in the process of being built.  I had blisters from peeling logs without gloves on, even though my mom had told me to wear them.  I had the first book from the Narnia series on my chest and I awoke from what sounded like a tree falling right by my head.  I sat up expecting something terrible to be happening around me.  Instead, a swirl of leaves blew all around me lying in that hammock and I could feel goosebumps rising on my arms as my hair blew around my face.  There was a hill that climbed up right behind where I lay.  It was covered in beautiful birch trees, releasing gorgeous leaves in the fall that reminded me of fire.  Those same leaves were swirling around me and up the hill in such an odd way that I thought I was dreaming and had fallen into a Narnian stupor.  The blisters on my fingers however, convinced me otherwise.  My hands stung like mad and I became startled.  I began looking all around for the cause of the crashing sound, but found nothing.  I looked up the hill only to see where the new leaves had created a soft pathway.  Trying to get out of the hammock, I was not quite the master of this yet, I fell onto my hands and tore one of the blisters open.  Man, that hurt!

I was distracted again though.  What was that sound?  I hiked up the hill to notice a strip of trees that were blowing steadily while the others just twitched their leaves in the breeze.  I walked farther into a little meadow that I had never even considered entering before.  The trees circled it but where the creek went through, there was this really strong breeze  that was able to pass through.  A mound nearby was catching my eye and soon the crashing sound no longer even mattered.  When I neared the top of the small hill, I felt the breeze even stronger.  It was soft and high and wonderful.  I closed my eyes and all I could hear was the sound of peace in my ears.  You know, that sound you get when you put earplugs in and everything just seems so far away.  I don’t even know how long I sat there.  All I know is that when I heard a whistle (our call out to each other if out of earshot) I opened my eyes and realized for the first time I had been crying.  My cheeks were wet and cold and I felt like something familiar was happening.

We moved back to Oregon that following year, just our mom and us girls.  We left many things behind, including my hill with the breeze, which I had grown so fond of.  It was okay though, because we would come back, I remember thinking.  We didn’t.  We did, however, move in with our aunt and uncle, the sister of the step dad we had just left behind and were reminded every day of the life we would never be able to entirely forget.  My aunt told me once when her daughter expressed concerns of how her husband looked at me, that I needed to not encourage him by sitting too close.  It didn’t change anything.

When I was 9, we rented a home from a family friend.  I remember feeling so excited because the homeowner was so nice to us and always seemed to be genuinely interested in us. I secretly had always hoped he would be our dad, but it didn’t work that way.  My mom was a hard worker and at that time, focused mostly on trying to get back on her feet.  We rarely saw her and even more rarely communicated with her about anything other than chores and trouble.  It was not exactly the life we were expecting, but who knows what life will bring, right?  The great part about this house, while it being in town was a great downfall, there was a school right down the road, where you could climb these high metal stairs and sit up on the platform where the wind whisked through from the positioning of the buildings, creating somewhat of a tunnel.  I would just sit there with my eyes closed and let the wind blow me to another place.  A place where I was free but wanted.  Every chance we got to go to our dad’s, I would run out to the fence and just breathe.

This is a part of my childhood I avoid revisiting often and to be honest, life didn’t get much better in many areas for a really long time.  However, the years since this time in my life are a completely different story! Have you ever heard the song by Miranda Lambert, ‘The house that built me’?  Here you go!

Well, that is such a picture into how I used to approach my pain.  If I could just go back, somehow and see something I missed in my memories that would allow me to heal.  Well, let me tell you a sad story.  The house that built me, wasn’t a house at all.  It was several houses, most of which I can no longer visit.  All of them have both good and terrifying memories.  Additionally, those houses didn’t build me, they are just the locations that these things happened.  I have never truly felt at home.  Not once in my whole life have I ever felt that the house I lived in was the house I was going to remain in for the rest of my life.  Maybe it is partially because I grew up moving and even after I was on my own, I kept on moving.  I don’t know….

What I do know is that I have always found a way to make wherever I am, where I am supposed to be in that moment… Wait, let me rephrase that… What I do know is that a way to make wherever I am, where I am supposed to be, has always been given to me.  It’s not a pain-free life.  As a matter of fact, this is just the bold print in the first chapter of the book of my life!  Every day, I am faced with the passing of my life.  I don’t like to call it my past as much as passing, because these memories are still very alive and clear in my mind.  They affect my choices, my preferences, my parenting, my relationships, and my walk with Christ.  All of these things matter, but what REALLY matters is the fact that no matter where I was and no matter what was happening to me, at every turn, I was given a place to climb up closer to my Lord and feel the wind blow all my burdens away!

Obviously, God is everywhere, and does not depend on hills, or stairs or even tall wooden fences to be close to us.  Many times I have been on the floor, on my knees, lower than low and felt Him heal my heart, but there is just something about getting outside of your routine view of things that truly make you see, you are not alone and the One who loves you CREATED THE WIND! He washes all your tears away. EVERY time you cry them, He is there, just waiting for you to surrender them.

My entire life has been surrounded by signs that God was there.  From being a 14-year-old 120 lb girl, hitch hiking across the state and making it not only alive but unblemished to being a mom of a child with cancer and from waking up after a night of partying in another state at the age of 15 to being the wife of a meth addict.  I see Gods hands in every single one of those moments in my life… but I didn’t always see them when I was going through them…

Many times, I was pulling hair, sobbing, vomiting, shaking with fear, anxious and flat-out depressed.  I was worried about what I could not control and refused to hand over what I knew I was not even meant to.  I was angry and sometimes mean.  Self destructive and venomous toward those who had hurt me.  I refused to be weakened by life and was DAMN PROUD OF IT!!! I was proud… proud of a life that continuously tried to destroy me and I was single-handedly going to kick the living shit out of it.  It does not take a genius to see what this led to.  Yep… I kept being broken.  I kept falling under attack.  I kept trying to deal with everything that had ever happened to me on my own because I KNEW THE ANSWERS!  Then why in the hell was I so miserable?  Let me tell you why…

I refused to see God’s hand because I couldn’t fathom that He was there and that He loved me and that He hugged me and STILL LEFT ME THERE!  I couldn’t face this because He is God! Isn’t He supposed to be the One that saves me?  COME ON!!! Doesn’t the bible say Jesus loves me?  I had heard it!  It wasn’t news to me, I just didn’t BELIEVE IT!!!  I was pissed and scared and confused.  I had no more trust to give!

Then, Jesus came to life in me.  I had nothing left.  My husband and I were separated and God nailed me every chance He could get with the scripture I had in my head but had refused to accept into my heart.  God challenged me to no longer attempt to use Him like a genie in a bottle but as the KING and RULER of ALL THAT IS HOLY!  He breathed life into me and left me no choice but to acknowledge Him.  He said write me a story, and I threw my paper away.  He said give me your burdens and I held on as tight as I could.  He said let me love you and I yelled to Him, “I HATE YOU!”  …   Then, He went silent.  No longer did I receive comfort coming to Him because the only time I came to Him was when I wanted to see things done… MY WAY.  He stopped reminding me of His words and I found no comfort in anything I sought out.  I had no joy in anything I did.  I had separated myself from God, and He did not punish me.  His silence spoke volumes of a parent giving their child time to figure out that their parent is right.  I recognized it as I was a mother of four.  I saw it and for the very first time in my life, I actually saw God as MY FATHER.  He disciplined me, not with anger but with truth.  That without Him, I am TRULY alone.  I never really knew alone until this time in my life, nor had I ever known what LOVE really looked like…

I still live in this fallen world, and my life has never been easy.  But I am never alone and I never will be… We serve a Living God and His real name is Love.

~For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Jeremiah 29:11~

~He who does not love, does not know God, for God is Love.  1 John 4:8 ~

~The God of my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, My stronghold and my refuge; My Savior, You save me from violence.
2 Samuel 22:3 ~

~Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.   Matthew 11:28~

I pray that in your life, as well as mine, there will always be a place to climb and have your burdens blown away from you, until the next time, you will need to climb again.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

For Her…

   About 1,340 children are expected to die from cancer in 2012… About 12,060 children will be diagnosed with cancer in 2012…

   Wait… Let’s try this again…

About 1,000 + 300 + 40  children are expected to die from cancer in 2012.  

   How many people really know this number?  Even more important, how many people are touched by seeing that number?  

 

    Meet Faith

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   Faith was a typical 5 year old girl, who loved to dress up and put on Tinkerbell eyeshadow and pick beautiful flowers for her mommy and daddy.  She had no comprehension of cancer or the terrors that came with it.  Her favorite color was yellow like the sun… her favorite song was Jesus Loves Me and her favorite thing to do was dance and play with her brother and sisters.  She giggled endlessly and loved playing jokes.  She loved princesses and ballerinas.  Faith only got sick on an average of once a year, even during flu season.  Strong, healthy, vibrant and beautiful.

   November… Thanksgiving Day, while playing with her siblings and cousins, Faith fell on a rock pile and scraped her back, leaving a bruise just like any other fall. A few days later, she was fine and her scrape was healing fine.

   December… While preparing for our first Christmas in our new house, Faith seemed to be a little less excited than usual, complaining of feeling tired.  One night, while eating dinner, Faith complained that her tummy was hurting and started projectile vomiting.  While she was getting sick she started crying and grabbing her back.  The bruise on her back was still there, but there seemed to be no other sign of anything wrong with her back from the outside.  A call was made to the bone specialist but they couldn’t get Faith in until the 28th, 3 days after Christmas. The following morning, Faith seemed totally fine and said her back didn’t hurt any longer.

   A week later, the whole family got the flu except Faith.

   Christmas Eve… While celebrating Christmas with her grandparents 100 miles away, Faith complained of not feeling well and asked to lay down. While resting, she began vomiting and the flu was evident. Faith was very pale and we decided to travel back home where we would be closer to the doctor. 

   Christmas Day, Faith still felt sick but was holding down food and fluids. She never spiked a fever, and managed to open her gifts with interest.  By that evening, she was complaining of back ache but her tummy was feeling better.  

   The day after Christmas, Faith felt a lot better and only had mild back pain and only when she bent over. She stayed in bed for the next 2 days to prevent any damage to her back.  

   December 28th, while at the bone specialist, the x-rays showed absolutely no sign of injury. Ribs were in tact, spine was in tact, and there was no sign of new bleeding.  The most concerning part was that fact that Faith was getting more pale by the day.  While the doctor ran his fingers up her neck, he found a lump on the left side and recommended that her pediatrician see her immediately.  She was rushed to her pediatrician who just happened to travel the world, helping countries who are less fortunate medically, to diagnose rare diseases.  He checked her over for about 10 minutes and ordered lab work to be done promptly.

   December 29th, 7:00 am… Faith is sleeping peacefully for the first time in days and wakes up with a sleepy sigh and sweet smile for her mommy.  She says she is feeling “okay”… The phone rings…

   I answer the phone to the doctor, a little confused that he is calling before the office even opens.  “Angie, I need to talk to you about Faith’s lab work,” he says gently. “I need you to listen real closely.”  I stopped pulling cereal boxes out of the cupboard. “You have my full attention,” I reply, fear creeping into my chest.  I knew it.  I just knew she had something wrong with her back.  What I couldn’t figure out is what in the world that had to do with her lab work. “Angie, after looking at Faith’s lab work, I believe she has something called leukemia…” I felt my legs giving out.

   Rewind… September, earlier that year… I sat watching a St. Jude’s fundraiser on television, tissue in hand.  A young boy, bald and pale, yet absolutely adorable, talks in a little voice about how much he misses his sister and daddy and how he just wants to be able to get better and go home… As tears roll down my cheeks, I thank God that I am not enduring what those mommies are enduring and swear that I would never be able to watch my child go through such terror.

   “Angie… Angie, I need to know you are hearing what I’m telling you. Angie… do you understand what I am saying?”  … I keep answering, “Yes, yes.” but he just keeps saying my name.  “Angie, I think you are in shock right now and I need you to only concentrate on answering me.”  I realize that my mind is saying yes, but my voice just won’t cooperate.  I take a breath and I don’t even recognize my own voice anymore.  “I understand.”  That’s it. That’s all that comes out. “There is already a bed ready for Faith at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland.  They are expecting you by early afternoon.  You need to leave within three hours if possible. It’s critical to get her there as soon as possible.” 

   We packed light and called our friend and youth pastor and my mom and asked them to meet us at the church.  Several church staff members, my mom and sister, my husband, me and our kids all came together to ask God for something we didn’t even know if we had a right to ask… understanding.

 

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   Upon arriving at the hospital, we were flooded with strange smells, nurses, doctors, technicians & fellow doctors (doctors in transition to the floor).  We were overwhelmed by the confidence of the physicians and their thorough testing. Our family of 6, unwilling to separate, found a way to sleep all of us in one room.  I slept with Faith in her hospital bed, Vince slept in the recliner and the other three kids slept linked together on the couch.  I say slept and by that, I mean, in between beeping machines, flashing lights, nurses coming in and out, blood pressure cuffs resetting, and families whispering the nurses enter the rooms beside us.  Our lives felt like a slow moving horror movie.

   January 2, 2007… the test results have come in.  The team of doctors come in and their faces are unreadable. Calm, considerate, compassionate, and burdened, they walk into the room and quietly take a seat. Over the last few days, these people have not only earned our trust by being completely honest with us, but they have also become our only lifeline here on earth and we know it.  As soon as the words ‘cancer’ and ‘leukemia’ left the doctors mouths, we were flooded with paperwork, facts, statistics and plans for treatment.  One thing that our doctor told us that gave me great comfort, was that not only were they very familiar with the type of leukemia that Faith had, but that over the last 10 years, the survival rate had drastically gotten better due to research and modern technology.

   I didn’t know it then, but that little bit of hope would change my life and how I gave back in the years ahead.

   Treatment meant many things for our entire family. Separation, fear, strength, hope, growth, friends, knowledge, patience, FAITH, research, support, love, frustration, education, exhaustion, loneliness, and courage are just some of those things.

FAITH

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  At the hospital and while staying at the Ronald McDonald House, Faith would often fall asleep during prayer so peacefully that we just knew God was comforting her every time we prayed. As a mother, I can’t even explain how this picture still to this day floods my heart with so many conflicting emotions. The memories of her being this sick are still really vivid in my mind. 

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Our first trip home, Faith had a few good days.  We tried to capture them as much as possible. She slept a lot, vomited daily, and cried occasionally.  We tried to keep her as comfortable as possible all the time but the steroids made it difficult for her to get comfortable.  Between the chemo and the medication to keep the chemo from killing her, she was a roller coaster of emotion and her immune system was usually at zero. Often, we had to quarantine our home for months at a time and no one was allowed to visit and trips to town were very rare. The smell of most foods would throw her into a projectile vomiting.  We had to completely adjust our diets and cooking methods.

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Some days were significantly better than others.  This picture is Faith’s first trip into town, non medical related.  She was so excited that she even struck a pose for me!  We constantly saw glimpses of the vibrant, beautiful girl that we knew so well and our hope was high.  We had no reason to believe she couldn’t be one of the survivors we had heard about.

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As time went by, Faith had breaks in treatment that allowed her to have visitors.  (These were usually times that the treatment was subtle to allow her immune system to recuperate so she could be hit again) It was bittersweet because it was such a blessing to see her color return and her spunk to be up, but knowing in the back of your mind, it wasn’t over… but even more, just being grateful that it was atleast life.

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Friends came, bearing gifts, including the bicyclists from Candlelighters For Children With Cancer who rode with Cycle Oregon 2007 and sent postcards to Faith at their stopping points to remind her they were riding for her.  We love this organization.  They are wonderful!  Melissa, the first Candlelighters staff that we met continued to support Faith by coming to every one of her doctors appointments for the first 3 years of her outpatient treatment.

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Sometimes treatment even allowed us to attend awareness fundraisers where Faith was always willing to talk about what she was going through. Her smile is what carried me most days.

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Finally, the doctors cleared Faith to go to Disneyland.  She was so excited that she called everyone herself to tell them. Her Aunt Kristie gave her a Mickey Mouse hat that sat on a shelf until this special day of clearance! Faith had to take chemo even during her trip to Disneyland.  They wouldn’t allow us to take her pill crusher on the plane and when we got there, we couldn’t find one anywhere. She chewed her pills with ice cream.  Not even chemo was going to stop this wish from happening!

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There were good days…

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Crazy tired days…

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But they were days…

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They were life…

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She spent her very last day of treatment admitted in the hospital…

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But we still celebrated life…

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It’s all that mattered…  

   So when treatment ended, people assumed that everything ended, but really, it isn’t over.  We were fortunate to parent a survivor, but there are SO MANY side effects of treatment. Faith may never be able to have children… She is more likely to get a secondary cancer… She has to have continued doctor visits for the rest of her life.

 

HERE COMES THE BIG PICTURE… 

   We have a chance..

Image To help…

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ImageTo make a difference…

ImageIn the lives of these children…

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ImageTo bring giggles…

ImageSmiles…

ImageSeasons…

ImageMemories…

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Support is easier than you think!

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Whether you are a sibling…

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A parent…

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It doesn’t matter how you are effected…

         Maybe you are an aunt or uncle… grandma or grandpa…

                 Heck, maybe you are a neighbor….

Or maybe…

You just have a heart…

That is big enough to give in an area you can’t relate to, but you really feel led to reach out.

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Whatever reason you have… if for no other reason, FOR HER!

 

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month… won’t YOU help spread the word?

 

Love,

Her Mom ❤

 

If you would like to reach out and don’t know where, please consider this worthy recipients that we have not only benefited from but support and have seen where the money goes!

Candlelighters For Children With Cancer http://www.4kidswithcancer.org

Caring Bridge http://www.caringbridge.org

Shane’s Walk http://www.shaneswalk.weebly.com

 

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