A Cancer Patient's Legacy of Laughter

It’s difficult to wrap your head around the fact that your five-year-old child has an inoperable brain tumor when just one month earlier he was giving you a minute-by-minute summary of his Kindergarten Round-Up.

It’s impossible to describe the feeling of sitting across from a pediatric doctor who tells you that your son is going to die when just two months earlier he was given a completely clean bill of health by another doctor.

It’s inconceivable to think about signing a “Do Not Resuscitate” order for your oldest and most dearly wished for son because you want to believe that he can somehow be cured – will be cured – of the beast that has inhabited his brain.

But the horrifying and sad fact is that more families than just mine have experienced these same difficult and impossibly inconceivable realities. I falsely believed when Joey was diagnosed that we were the only people who had ever had this happen to us; that somehow, through some fault of our own, we had caused this to happen to our child.

I was the mom who longed for a houseful of children; yet when they were finally all here, I was overwhelmed and unappreciative. I had healthy, vibrant, fun-loving sons; yet I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I didn’t understand that life need not be perfect for it to be wonderful.

Then Joey got sick, and that all changed. Some of our best and most wonderful memories were made while Joey was battling cancer. 

Joey was a hilarious kid. He had a constant grin on his face, he loved to laugh, and silliness was the name of the ever-changing game for him. He loved to pretend and make up games and everyone was included. He was a horrible hide-and-seek player, though. Since he loved attention, he would yell out the seeker’s name so he could be found first.

After the initial grand mal seizure that took us to the hospital and led to his diagnosis, he changed though. To strangers and to the doctors and nurses who would care for him, he was still a sweet and funny child. But we knew his energy was gone. The constant motion, the ideas, and the giggles were more infrequent. I think that’s what broke our hearts the most about this horrible disease: he was a shell of his former self.

Every once and a while, we would see glimpses of the old Joey. The day he came home from kindergarten and asked us if we wanted to see what he learned that day, we were thrilled. He had been sleeping in the nurse’s office for the good majority of each school day. When he very carefully placed his beloved stuffed cat, Stripey Kitten, on top of his head and balanced her perfectly there with his tongue sticking out of his mouth and said, “Ta da!” we had to laugh. No, he wouldn’t be learning anything beyond kindergarten, but he was still thinking of silly ideas to get attention.

The Christmas holiday came, and we were so concerned about making a lasting memory for all of us. But Joey was the one who gave us the most precious one. He performed and sang “Jingle Bells” using a harmonica and a set of sleigh bells that his little brother had gotten for a gift. He delighted both sides of the family with an identical performance and soaked up the attention. Just when we thought his personality was gone forever - that the brain tumor had stolen it all - he would say or do something or show one of his trademark huge grins. Even his last request, strawberry ice cream, was so Joey.

Like every mother who has lost a child, I wonder. I wonder what Joey would have been like. I wonder who his friends would have been or what kind of grades he would have gotten in school or what activities he would have enjoyed. I mostly think that because of the kind of person he was in his six short years of life, he would have grown up to be someone amazing. Surely he would have changed the world.

I realize Joey probably wouldn’t have changed the world. Maybe he would have been some ordinary, average guy. But one thing I know is that he would have always made people laugh with his silliness and his willingness to try something goofy or put himself out there. Cancer may have stolen Joey's life, took him away from ours; but cancer can never steal the memories of that giggle and smile and sparkling eyes and his goofy Stripey Kitten voice and silly tricks. 

Cancer can never steal the lesson a five-year-old child left to his family: the lesson that you only get one go-around, so make it fun and do the things you want to do. 

I think maybe that is how I am going to help this cause. I’m going to tell Joey’s story with love, laughter, and honesty. I am going to make other cancer parents feel understood and comforted; and make them realize that they are not the only ones going through something hard, and that it is not their fault. 

I am going to show people what it’s like to experience the unthinkable happening. And I’m going to share Joey stories – good, bad, and funny - because I think he would have loved that. I think he would have loved being the center of attention – making people smile, laugh, or even cry. He would love that to be his legacy, knowing that his mom is knocking cancer back down by showing people that cancer doesn't take it all away

Not if we don't let it. 

Struggling with what to say to someone who has lost a loved one to cancer? Here's my advice. 


Football, Food, and Family Fare

*This post was sponsored by Family Fare Supermarkets, but all opinions are my own. 

Fall is here, and in most parts of the country football is a HUGE pastime. At least, in our house it is. During the first college football weekend, I think Hubby watched every single match-up, just to scope out The Huskers' competition (Go Big Red!!).

Of course food goes so well with football - all the dips and munchies and sauces and everything you can eat with your hands while jumping up and screaming at the television.

I'm so lucky that Hubby loves to cook, and that he's an amazing cook! In July, we visited Family Fare for their grand opening of several stores in the Omaha area. You can read here about the great deals and yummy food we found. So of course, when Family Fare contacted me again, he jumped at the chance to go grocery shopping for something to make an amazing football feast.

And he didn't disappoint!

Hubby bought himself a smoker for Father's Day, and he loves to cook meat (and since I think everything in life relates to an episode of Friends, click here :) ). He was like a little kid in a candy store in the Family Fare meat department. Pork ribs were on sale, salmon was on sale - so many yummy choices. He finally decided on a bone-in pork butt so we could make sliders.

Along with it were all the other foods for a fun fork-free football festivity - chips, pre-cut fruits and veggies (thanks to Family Fare's great produce department and savings from our Yes card), and Hubby's favorite gluten-free beer. (Did you know Family Fare has a large selection of gluten-free products? Yeah, that made Hubby happy, too.)

Game Day Pulled Pork Sliders shopping list:

  • 5-10 pound bone-in pork shoulder or butt (same thing; just don't get a pork roast)
  • Fat Boy Premium All-Purpose Rub
  • Yellow Mustard
  • Slider buns
  • Barbecue sauce (Hubby likes Sweet Baby Ray's because it's gluten free)
  • Dill pickle hamburger slices
  • One white onion
  • Your favorite chips
  • cut up veggies and fruits
    Hubby hates when I make him eat veggies. 
All you do:
  1. Rub pork butt with a thin schmear (a word from our Long Island Days) of yellow mustard and then generously coat with seasoning. Wrap in foil and refrigerate overnight. 
  2. Set temperature of smoker to 225 degrees, remove butt from foil, smoke for 3 hours. 
  3. Since Hubby likes a juicy butt (his words, not mine), rewrap in foil, place in shallow pan, and cook in smoker for another 5-8 more hours (until internal temp is above 193 degrees). The smoking is done after step 2. Step 3 makes it juicy and tender so that it will fall apart nicely for sandwiches. 
  4. IF YOU DON'T HAVE A SMOKER: You can use your grill with wood chips. Follow same steps. 
  5. When meet is done, remove from smoker and pull apart. Serve on slider buns and garnish with onions, pickles, and barbecue sauce. Don't forget the other finger foods!
  6. Cheer on your favorite team and have a blast!!
    Can you tell I wrote "Yum" on the bun?
    Neither could Hubby.

Check out your local Family Fare Supermarket for your next party or get-together. You don't even have to spend a fortune. Just check out their coupons page and START SAVING MONEY!

Family Fare has generously allowed me to give away one $25 gift card each to two lucky winners. To be in the running, comment below and tell me what your favorite game day food is. I'll pick the two lucky winners at random (US residents only) by Thursday, September 29th.

Follow Family Fare on Facebook and Twitter, and don't forget to check out their Pinterest boards for some yummy recipes and party ideas.

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