By Faith Wilcox
One year—365 days to be exact—was unlike any other year in my life. In the waning days of summer, my thirteen-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer. My once-active, athletic child lay prone in a hospital bed while I watched chemotherapy drip, drip, drip into her central line. Cold air wafted down from the air ducts above and sent chills through us. Only weeks earlier, Elizabeth had raced down the lanes in summer swim meets, biked with her fourteen-year-old sister, Alex, to their favorite bakery, and relished overnights with her friends.
I remember the night that her doctor told us that Elizabeth had tumors in her femur, hips, sternum, ribs, skull, and lungs. Elizabeth gasped for breath; I was rendered speechless. All I could do was to hold her hand, look wordlessly into her hazel-colored eyes, and repeatedly push the call button asking for more Ativan until she eventually stopped hyperventilating.
And yet, as Elizabeth’s chemotherapies sequestered her physical strength, her awareness of those suffering around her grew. One day she told me, “Be happy, Mommy, and remarry one day. Go and read with children again like you did when I was in first grade.” And she grew braver. When children were newly admitted to MassGeneral Hospital for Children, she slid off her bed into a wheelchair, pulled up the hood over her bald head, wheeled herself down the hall, and knocked on their doors.
One mother came up to me and said, “We just found out that my daughter has cancer, and we are so scared. During our first evening in the hospital, your daughter lit up our room with her radiant smile and asked if we had any questions. We asked her about what to expect, and she told us what would happen in a language that we could understand. We’re still shocked, but she eased our fears.”
How did my once-often-shy-teenager blossom into a compassionate and knowing young woman? This is what I’ve learned: a devastating illness stole her precious life but it will never, ever claim her indominable spirit, which lives within each of us who knew and loved Elizabeth.