When I was merely 12 years old, I fell ill with what was the beginning of a life filled with rare chronic illnesses. Looking back on some of my first hospital admissions, I associate them with some of the worst times of my life. The anxiety and depression that I had merely just faced before, engulfed me and became almost impossible to ignore. The worst of those memories? How alone I felt. I have two younger sisters, so once I became accustomed to hospital life my parents weren’t able to stay with me at night and with work during the day…our visits were just visits, and I was alone many days and each night. Don’t get me wrong, I understand. I understand that my parents did and are doing the very best they can to keep our family afloat, and that meant dividing their time between me in the hospital and them downtown. Despite having an incredible support team, I did spend many days alone and relied on the resources and people in the hospital to keep me smiling and feeling safe.
There was one night that I was laying in bed during a long admission and it was just after my mom had left that I broke down in tears (as I usually do). I cried, and cried and for some reason I could not stop. The silence of my quiet, dark and empty room was so overwhelmingly loud and prevalent. I cried because I hated feeling alone, I was anxious and afraid, I yearned for home, I knew discharge wasn’t in the near future; and I just wept. It was that night that I was so fed up with the reality I was forced to live and could not change that I had two choices: to give up, or give back. I could let the depression consume me, I could let the pain overtake me, I could let the exhaustion silence me or I could fight like hell to make sure that no child ever had to lay in a hospital bed and cry for the reasons that I did…for reasons that could be changed, helped, or avoided.
I’m sure you can assume which one I chose.
In making that decision to give back, I’ve been given a reason to keep going. I have met so many kids with stories and hearts beyond their ages. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work with a dance organization that work tirelessly to use dance to raise funds for the child life department at the children’s hospital I attended. They have graciously allowed me to share my story at their annual gala each year and have held events at the hospital for children who aren’t able to attend their high school prom. They have become a family, my family, they’ve connected me with some of my favourite people that have kept me from giving me up. I’ve connected with my best friend through their efforts and events. Not only that, but they’ve given over $100,000 to the hospital strictly to give the children their childhoods and memories for families. The faculty that has become family, and that family is the glue that keeps me together
Over the years I have made connections with patients and their parents via social media, and I’ve attempted to create a movement that I still have not named. It comes with the promise of the company of not another nurse, or doctor, family member, or volunteer but the promise of a friend who can understand what it’s like to lay in that hospital bed. It’s the promise of time spent with someone who wont be intimidated by their reality or surroundings, it’s the promise of comfort in the form of a cozy blanket or a snuggle, it’s the promise of laughter through movies or conversation. For parents it’s the promise of someone to love their children and understand their reality, it’s the promise of comfort that they can run down for a coffee or head home to be with their other children, it’s the promise of assurance and reassurance, it’s the promise of understanding and companionship. For me it’s the promise of a reason to get through every bad day and appreciate every good day, the promise of a reason to smile and perservere, and the promise of a love that is a profound gift to give and recieve.
I know that so long as I have those beautiful hearts to love, I will always have a reason to fight. I will always have a reason to perservere. It’s funny because I always thought that in giving back I would be helping others, in turn it has helped me so much more than I can even begin to explain and more than I could have ever anticipated.
The promise that I made that night laying in my hospital bed was the beginning of a new era; a newfound love and appreciation for life, a different sense of gratitude, a deeper meaning to my purpose, and a profound healing that has brought more restoration and relief than any medication or doctor could offer.
My illnesses have altered and taken away so much of the way life used to be for me, but they will never take away for my drive, love and ability to give back. So long as another child fights a battle they shouldn’t have, my heart and arms will always be open to them.
In all of these years of being sick, I’ve learned many lessons but I had no idea that the greatest lesson I could learn was within myself: through the magnitude of the love and desire in my heart and the power of two open arms.
In the new year I’m excited to announce a new segment that will be posted weekly that highlights the stories and experiences of the kids that I have come to know and love, and how you can help me keep this initiative going. They are some of God’s greatest souls, the wisest minds and kindest hearts. They are direct examples of the beauty that remains despite the harship that exists and I am so excited to introduce them to you.