If you want a lesson in life, I don’t think you need to go to church or read a self help book. I don’t think you need a therapist or a group counseling session, although I believe all of those things can be helpful. In my opinion, if you truly want to learn what life is all about, you simply need to have a deep conversation with my niece.
The story I’m about to tell you took place a few years ago. Lily was about six months into her treatments for leukemia and we were all starting to settle into this new reality. She was home from school and not allowed to go many places. My brother and his wife had their hands full trying to keep Lily healthy and happy while maintaining their own sanity. I did what I could to give them a break and so there were often evenings when I would take over for a few hours while they headed out for some time together. I treasured these moments alone with my niece but I didn’t realize how much I would learn from them!
Probably one of my biggest lessons came over dinner on some random weeknight. Brad and Peggy were out for a movie and Lily and I were enjoying some quality time at the kitchen table. It was rather lighthearted until she turned to me quite seriously and this is where our conversation went:
Lily: Auntie Dawn, I have sicky junk all over my body. I have it from the top of my head all the way to the bottom of my toes.
Me: Yes, I know you do.
Lily: But I’m fighting it!!! And I’m going to win!!!
Me: Yes, you are, Lily! You are the strongest and bravest fighter I know.
Me: But Lily, I am very sorry that you have the sicky junk.
Lily: Oh, it’s ok. Everybody has sicky junk in them sometimes.
I’m pretty certain that I will never forget that conversation. When a four year old schools you on one of life’s biggest realities, it has a tendency to stick with you. Ever since that day when my niece shrugged off her cancer as just something she was going through while happily slurping up her spaghetti noodles, I’ve come to recognize the importance of her statement. I suppose some might argue that Lily was really too young to understand the gravity of the disease she was facing and there would be some truth to that. Even today, Lily recounts some parts of her experience in a flippant way that only the innocence of childhood could allow for. But regardless of how she came to that sage moment where she reminded me that we all have “sicky junk” in us at times, her message is profound. And memorable.
I have to tell you, when the idea of Lily’s Pad first came into our heads, we almost didn’t want it. Don’t get me wrong, we wanted Lily’s Pad. We wanted a place for immune compromised kids to go and reclaim their childhood through good, clean fun. But we didn’t want to be the ones to do it. Because once Lily beat cancer, we all just really wanted to walk away from that whole thing and live our lives. We didn’t want to dive back into the rabbit hole and remember the pain and fear that came from a child fighting a life threatening illness. We didn’t want to remember how alone and isolated we felt. We knew hearing others’ stories would drag us back there and it would be harder and harder to forget. But Lily’s words resonated for all of us. “Every one has sicky junk.” And we’ve come to learn, the only way to truly fight yours is to dive back into that rabbit hole and help pull others out.
Over the past 8 months, we’ve all been thrown into this pandemic life. Some of us have lost our businesses or our jobs. Some have lost family members and had to mourn their deaths alone. Some of us have been diagnosed with illnesses and endured treatments without the comfort of loved ones nearby. And some of us have celebrated the end of treatments only to find the quarantine and isolation extended into our normal lives. In one way or another, in some shape or form, we are all overflowing with sicky junk from the tops of our heads to the bottom of our toes. We are powerless to stop those circumstances from happening to us. But we are not powerless in how we react.
My little niece is a fighter. She’s spunky and sassy and full of sage wisdom that someone her age shouldn’t have. She’s also a six year old cancer survivor who can shrug her shoulders when confronted with her illness and remind us that others are suffering too. Our family is no longer afraid to be the ones to build Lily’s Pad. We are ready to provide families out there fighting for sanity through childhood illness and isolation a place to find hope. We are anxious to open the doors to Lily’s Pad and share Lily’s wisdom. We want these kids to find their childhood joy on the playground. But we also want them to find a community filled with people not only strong enough to fight their own sicky junk, but powerful enough to help others fight theirs too. And we are pretty certain that every kid that walks through those doors is going to school us in life’s lessons, one play session at a time.
Written by Lily’s Auntie Dawn
– Director of Operations for Lily’s Pad and Advocate for Sicky Junk Warriors