It’s been a long time since I’ve written. As Sally’s Infant Leukemia treatment winds down, there is a message we received on Sally’s Facebook page a few months ago that a day hasn’t passed where I’ve thought about it. I’ve included it below, completely unedited, with Lauren’s permission:
“I saw your post today about “the wall” and had to write to you! My name is Lauren (Flood) Kennedy and I’ve been following Sally since September. I am a MSKCC pediatric cancer survivor – 18 years and counting! I’ve been hoping to bump in to you and your family at MSKCC to tell you in person what an impact Sally has personally had on me. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 1997 at age 12 and treated by Dr. Trippett – she still follows me and I make my way back to the pediatric floor every year! Chemo, radiation and lots of love and prayers later, I was cancer free. Fast forward 18 years, I’ve earned my masters, chaired Relay for Life twice, taught 8th grade algebra, married my high school sweetheart, and had three kids in as many years (which, of course, they told me might never happen). In February 2014, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer – a side effect of the radiation. I was treated at MSKCC once again and fortunately only needed surgery this time around. During the summer, the breast surveillance program at Sloan recommended I consider a prophylactic double mastectomy because of the risk from the radiation I received as a child. This was about the time I started following you on FB (my husband’s family is from Marine Park and Breezy and they were following you). I am in awe of Sally’s strength and perseverance. When you posted the video of her when she broke her leg, I was absolutely heartbroken. When you posted a video soon after of her scooting around, I knew right then and there that if this sweet baby girl could fight this hard, I sure as hell better do the same. In this moment, I was reminded of the strength and courage and drive I had as a child to beat my cancer. I decided to do the surgery and am 2 months post-op now. Sally’s inspiration has brought ease to my husband and kids (Brendan 4, Michael 3, and Anne 20 months) in that they never have to worry about me suffering from breast cancer. Thank you for sharing your beautiful daughter with us! She has such a special place in my heart and I pray for her and your family every day.
Separately, I want to thank you for being so willing to share your experience so openly with complete strangers. In addition to giving me the final inspiration for my surgery, Sally and her story has made me realize what my whole cancer experience must have been like for my family. Now as a mom myself, I can’t imagine the stress and heartbreak of seeing your child sick. I’ve called my parents so many times after reading a Sally update and just thanked them. I’m convinced it was harder on them than me! They were so strong for me and at the time I never realized what they were going through. The story of Sally’s brother trying to clean the house of germs brought me to tears. Cancer is just as hard for siblings. I’ll always remember my 9 year old sister at the time using a dust buster to vacuum all the hair from the back of my shirt as it was falling out. She was so impacted by the experience that now she is now a nurse at MSKCC on M14. My other sister who was 6 works in a hospital as a PT and my brother was just 6 months old is a volunteer at Sloan and going pre-med in college. By you sharing Sally’s story, I’ve been able to step back and acknowledge that while I was the one with the actual cancer, we really all “had cancer.” We fought it as a family! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your story. I will continue to pray for Sally and your family! If you ever would like to talk or ask questions about my experience, please let me know. Please let me know if you have an address where I could send something to Sally. Lauren Kennedy”
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Sally in the present, but also about what her future could be. Lauren’s powerful message gave us a unique insight into the long-term obstacles that come with current childhood cancer treatments. At the same time, we are so humbled about how she handles her challenges with such a positive outlook. We never imagined that Sally’s experience could one day drive our children towards careers that will allow them to make the world a better place. Lauren is right, we all battle childhood cancer together as a family. When one of us has childhood cancer, we all have childhood cancer.
At the same time it rocks me to my very core to know that Lauren has faced three different forms of cancer, all before the age of 30 and two from the original treatment. And not just Lauren, we have come across many childhood cancer survivors with similar stories and challenges. These stories have become the foundation for our determination to be vigilant about monitoring her health, to catch any long term effects or relapse as soon as possible. We never imagined that one day we’d have to teach Sally about the importance of this vigilance as she grows older as she will need to carry this torch on her own as an adult.
One day I pray that Lauren’s story will no longer be the ‘best cast scenario’ for children who battle cancer. We love when Lauren shares photos of her family celebrating milestones together, and that she continues to receive support in her ongoing battle from family and friends after all these years. We dream that Sally will live to experience similar moments of joy one day, and know all of you will continue to support her in the years ahead.
We are both surprised and moved that a blog we started as a way to keep friends and family updated, and as an emotional outlet for Matt, has made a difference in Lauren’s life. Matt and I wrestled over much of the content we shared, including whether or not to share the video of Sally’s leg breaking due to her treatment. Receiving Lauren’s message validated that sharing Sally’s unfiltered story was the right thing to do, it made opening our lives to all of you worth it.
Although Lauren remarks how much Sally inspired her. The truth is Lauren, you have inspired us in your battle, and in your openness with us. We are now honored to call you our friend, and hopefully one day a mentor for Sally.
Please keep Sally and all the kids that battle or have battled childhood cancer in your thoughts and prayers.