By Mary O’KEEFE
When I was about 5 years old, I stayed awake one Christmas Eve with the hope of seeing Santa. What I saw was my mom carrying presents that were hidden in the closet to the Christmas tree. This was devastating. I had believed in Santa with my whole heart and now not only did I discover he was made up but that my parents had lied to me. Christmas morning I acted as if everything was okay and, after we unwrapped our presents, I ran to my great aunt’s who lived just a few doors away.
Aunt Toot [her real name was Mata] had always been a big Santa supporter. The magic of Christmas filled her home. I needed to tell her what I had discovered. I wanted to let her know the truth, even though I knew if she found out Santa was make-believe it would break her heart. It never occurred to me she was in on this Santa secret already.
I spent the day trying to build the courage to tell her this harsh truth. Finally that night we were alone and I told her. She smiled and gave me a hug, then went to her front window.
“Look out on the lawn. What do you see?” she asked.
I am from Iowa, it was December so – “snow,” I said.
“Look closer,” she said. “Do you see the fairies dancing on the lawn?”
At this point I thought my poor aunt had taken the news too harshly and was now seeing things. She smiled and told me to look closer. We had just had a snow and ice storm. The ground glistened white, the tree limbs were weighted by ice, and the moon was full. The shadows that were created as the tree limbs slowly dipped up and down actually looked like fairies dancing on the lawn. “That is how you see Santa, from the heart of someone who wants to believe,” she said.
That was my Aunt Toot. Three years later she was diagnosed with bone cancer. I was part of her treatment decision process. We chose surgery and it didn’t work. For two years her condition deteriorated. Every day after school I was at her home. I did my homework at the end of her bed. I made certain she took her ever-increasing amount of medicines. My grandmother and I made food for her and my uncle. As the days, weeks, months passed I helped feed her, read the Des Moines Register to her, and filled her in with all that was happening at my school.
Later she was transferred to a nursing home. I would ride my bike to visit and help my uncle care for her. She was the love of his life and I watched him grow older as he felt helpless to save her. The treatments available today were not available then. There was no chance for remission. Her suffering finally ended and her funeral was on Dec. 20.
Over the years I have seen several of my family members battle cancer, I have been part of their caregiver support. A few years ago, I was once again part of that support when a friend was battling breast cancer. I have been witness to how our knowledge of cancer and treatments has changed over the years. I know that there is still so much to learn.
And that is why I have been part of the Foothills Relay for Life for about five years now, and why I felt it was important to co-chair this year.
I know what it is like as a child to have a loved one face this terrible disease and also know what it is like as an adult. The feeling is the same no matter what the age – helplessness. But through Relay for Life we can do something. We reach out to those who are dealing with a diagnosis and treatment, and reach out to those who sit on the sidelines as they do what they can to support, even if it is only to watch, wait and pray.
Foothills Relay for Life is on April 11-12 at the Clark Magnet High School. Join us for the Foothills Relay for Life at www.relayforlife.org. Start, join and/or support a team.
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