I have always been the type of person who needed to know what was going to happen. But when I first began this journey ten years ago, when life threw a range of symptoms and diseases my way, including rare liver, gastrointestinal and allergy conditions, the last thing I had was control. Thanks to some incredible gifts that my illnesses have given me, however, I’ve learned that every day may not be good, but there’s something good in every day.
Yes, that’s right. I said my illnesses have given me gifts.
These gifts have come over time. They weren’t immediate and I only began to see them when my heart was ready. Some are simple, but breathtaking — a good belly laugh, a new set of sheets on my bed or hearing my favorite songs on the radio. But one of my greatest gifts came in a tiny package, in the form of a sweet 11-year-old girl at the time.
Almost two year ago, I got a message from a woman named Karen, the mother of Jess, a little girl with a brain tumor. Jess and I attended the same children’s hospital, and she explained that her daughter could really use someone who understood what she was going through. Although I don’t have a brain tumor, I did understand what it was like being sick at the prime of your childhood.
When I met Jess, she was sweet and shy, with a tiny voice like Minnie Mouse. She carried a stuffed teddy bear wearing a tiny t-shirt that said, “One tough cookie.” During that first visit we talked, laughed and shared stories about our illnesses and our times within hospital walls. Then, just as quickly as it began, our visit was over.
My visits to Jess continued, and each time we played silly games to get to know each other, talking about our favorite smells, songs we can’t stand or foods we love to eat. We also talked about what made us anxious and sad. For her, it was going to the hospital for appointments. To help ease that anxiety, I decided I would go to her next appointment with her. And although I was determined to make it a positive visit for her, as she did with everything in her life, Jess made the visit positive for me.
For example, her tumor, which she named Tommy, isn’t something that’s trying to hurt her, but something that will help her grow. Chemo isn’t damaging her, it’s helping her get better. She is always there to remind me of the beautiful things in life.
Helen Keller once said, “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows. It’s what sunflowers do.” That is Jess. That’s why I nicknamed her “my sunflower.”
I was given the sunshine that day. She’s taught me that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful, and that beauty can be found only when you want to find it. With Jess, I always want to find it. I hope everyone find their own Jess one day, and I hope that she inspires you.
As Jess and I always say, the best is yet to come. Hang in there.