I was recently reminded of this article from the Huffington Post a few years ago. A sweet friend posted it on Facebook this week and said that it sounded like something I would say. I hope that it was referring to more than my affinity for, and abundant use of, cuss words. Chances are that was the thickest thread between myself and the author, but I hope that it is more.
Many of you know that September is set apart as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. What in the world does that even mean??? If you see a sign that says, “Be aware, there’s a hole in the road ahead,” what do you do? 99% of people (a statistic that I just made up) would slow down, reroute themselves, or go back home and use the hole as an excuse to forego their plans. The remaining 1% would go to the hole and see if they could help fix it. 99% of the people read the sign correctly. The sign did it’s job and told you a hole was there. It didn’t tell you what to do with it. I think that our Facebook posts with gold ribbons and such are only as effective as that sign. People read them and think, “Cool, I am aware of childhood cancer. It seems sad and now I’ll just call and cancel my plans because I’m sad about kids getting cancer,” or “I’ll just keep scrolling and find a happier post. Thanks!”
Awareness is important, but awareness does not affect change. If you are aware that your tire is flat, do you just look at it and feel sorry for it and remember when it was full? Maybe at first, but then you do something about it. If you see your neighbor’s house on fire, do you just say, “Oh, I am aware that my neighbor’s house is on fire,” and continue watching The Young and the Restless? Maybe twenty years ago you did, but that is just another benefit of DVRs. You can pause your soap opera, call 911, and check on your neighbors. You are aware, but you DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! When there is a cause that is important to you, don’t just keep up with those Kardashians after you’ve told people to be aware, do something about it! When construction crews put up caution signs because of road work, they don’t put them up and go have a cup of coffee. They put them up and get to fixing whatever is messed up!
I do put up Childhood Cancer Awareness Facebook posts to remind people that it exists, but I don’t just do that and pat myself on the back for letting the cyber world know that I think cancer is sad. I try to do something about it. Considering I had to get my fourth graders to teach themselves a lesson on how to make some wires and a battery light up a little light bulb thing and why that worked, I have enough self-awareness to know that my “doing something about it” will not be developing a cure. Instead, I volunteer my time with an organization that provides support to childhood cancer patients and their families. We are not eradicating childhood cancer, but we are making the journey a little better for those who are affected by it.
My decades of involvement with the organization have empowered me to turn awareness into action. The lessons that I have learned have transcended the pediatric oncology world, though. The summer after Molly died, I sat at camp reflecting on the organization’s history. Two nurses who saw the devastation caused by a diagnosis and treatment of childhood cancer found a way to make it better. One couple, whose son had been a patient of those nurses, have spent the last three decades doing everything they can to make our organization the top in the country. Countless volunteers give so freely and passionately of their time, talents, and money because they are the parents and siblings of victims of childhood cancer who have been touched by our camp. As I reflected on that, I became inspired. These people took the pain, confusion, pressures, and misery of a terrible disease, and had created something beautiful, relevant, and empowering to help others walking in their shoes!
I admit, I was a little jealous. Would they have given all that camp had become back to have their young loved ones back? In a heartbeat! Still, I knew that at one point or another, they had all been in the emotional place where I was at that moment. They too had wanted to curl up in a ball, under a rock, far away from civilization to lick their wounds and just get along until they too could die. They learned to suppress that desire and to push forward with a new way to lick their wounds.
If MollyROCK was on The Real World, that would be the backstory that you would see when they introduce the roommates… right before you hear, “This is the true story of seven strangers….” (I wonder who our roommates would have been? If only our story was twenty years earlier, I think Pedro would have been our best friend!) At that moment, five and half months after my world crashed, I knew that I had to do something to make the pain worth it. It took a while, it’s hard, and I would do anything to have not recognized the need for MollyROCK; but, I hope that in 30 years, I can look back and see that my little corner of the world has changed because I have told my sister’s story. I will know that I have been successful in thirty years, if one child ever comes to me and says, “Hey, I really screwed up one time, and I should have been scared to tell my parents. But, they started reading your blog when I was a toddler. They told me Molly’s story all the time. We had real conversations about everything, and I knew that they would support me. Also, what is your skincare routine? You have no wrinkles or age spots!” I’ll know that one family has bought in to the MollyROCK mode of communication, and that will be enough. (Oh, and I will be happy that I began a skincare routine in my teenage years.)
So, maybe being aware of childhood cancer doesn’t pinch you in your gut. Maybe just thinking that childhood cancer is sad is enough for you. But, there has to be something that pinches your gut and pulls it out of your eyeballs and slaps you in the back. What is it? Can you live with yourself if you keep sitting back and do nothing about it? We have all had a life experience or two that are difficult to share, difficult to talk about. We’ve had experiences that make us feel hopeless. (If you haven’t, then maybe you have been living under that rock.) There is someone out there who is experiencing what you have experienced. Remember how you felt then. Think of how it still affects you today. Could you be sitting on something that would make the world a little better for someone? Don’t just be aware and re-route from the hole. Go and see if you can help fill the hole. Stand near it to warn people so that they don’t fall in, or jump in it and yell for people to not fall in. MollyROCK is standing by the hole labeled, “When Teenagers and Adults Don’t Communicate As Well As They Could,” trying to tell you how to avoid falling in. Most days, I am personally in that hole trying to fashion a trampoline to hop out of it.
Wear a helmet and an orange vest. Go to your hole and do something.
More than meat loves salt,