In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness day, I want to share my story with you.
Events shape who we are and they can leave an everlasting footprint in our minds and hearts.
The town I grew up in was not the town I lived in when I was born. I moved to Farmville when I was in 1st grade. The only new kid in a small town. A freckled faced chubby new girl with missing top teeth. I had a hard time adjusting to my new school and the other kiddos. I remember eating lunch alone those early days and playing by myself at recess. Until the day I met Sara Beth.
She was another freckled faced chubby girl who had one missing top tooth. She was funny and smart and caring and didn’t care that I lived in a tiny apartment or that my parents drove old, rusted out cars. She liked me for me and we became best friends and inseparable. I’ll never forget her long golden blonde hair that she wore a barrette in every day. And her infectious laugh.
I think I spent just as much time at Sara Beth’s house as I did mine for a while. Her family became my second family. I was the oldest (my mom just had my sister) and Sara Beth was the youngest. I remember having a crush on her older brother – be still my heart!
Sara Beth and I both liked to write and play school. We always seemed to be in the same classes (fate?) and have the same homeroom teachers. When my dad bought the farm she loved coming out and running through the corn fields and having my dad pull us in the wagon on the back of the riding lawnmower. We’d go sledding and drink gallons of hot chocolate together. We’d tell each other our deepest secrets (the deepest secrets that 10 year old girls have).
I don’t ever remember Sara Beth and I having a spat or quarrel; we just always got along and our dads became good friends too. So in fourth grade when Sara Beth started missing school I became really worried.
I remember coming home on a Friday, getting off the bus and my dad was at the end of the driveway waiting for me. He told me he had something important to talk to me about. We walked into the house and sat at the kitchen table. Mom and Dad told me that Sara Beth was sick that was why she was missing so much school. I asked if I could see her and was told she was too sick for visitors but I could make her a card and we’d get it to her.
I made more than a card – I wrote her a story about our friendship and how I missed her in school and how she was missing so much. I told her I loved her.
When I was finally able to go see Sara Beth, it was the summer before starting junior high, or fifth grade in my town. We were changing schools and I was so scared but I knew that with Sara Beth by my side it would be awesome. My dad took me over to her house and her mom answered the door. I remember her giving me the biggest hug in the world and walked me to their living room. There, sitting in a wheelchair was my best friend in the world, Sara Beth.
Sara Beth smiled at me and I walked over to hug her. But I stopped. Sara Beth was missing her leg from the knee down.
Her mom told me it was okay to hug her so I did, scared of what was going on. After the initial shock wore off, we played like we hadn’t been apart for all those months. She was still my BFF. She tired easily and my dad came to get me early but I loved being with her and was happy to start Junior High.
Our first year of Junior High was awkward but fun – and Sara Beth and I remained as close as ever.
Summer between 5th and 6th grade I went on a weeklong family trip with her family. It’s an experience I’ll never forget. Her family was so welcoming to me and I honestly felt lucky to have another family who loved me.
The beginning of 6th grade brought upon a lot of changes. For the first time in about 4 years, Sara Beth and I weren’t in the same classes or homeroom. I hardly saw her during the school day but we talked on the phone and still played together. Then she started missing more and more school. We would talk on the phone but I wasn’t allowed to see her. Our conversations were short and she always said she was “feeling great”.
When she came back to school after winter break more of her leg was gone. She was sick again. Really sick. The entire 6th grade made get well cards for her. I went over to her house shortly before valentine’s day and she didn’t have any hair. She grabbed her wig and we laughed and played around with the wig pretending we were rock stars.
Sara Beth never came back to school.
March 28th, 1991 is a day that I will never ever forget. It was a Wednesday. Every Wednesday after school I walked to my grandparent’s house. When I got there I saw my dad’s car and thought I was in trouble. It was Wednesday, I never rode the bus home on Wednesdays. I walked into my grandparent’s house and dad was sitting at the table and I could tell he was upset.
Dad sat me down and told me Sara Beth had died.
At first I thought he was joking me and I didn’t find it funny. Sara Beth and I had plans she couldn’t be dead. He was lying! I remember crying and hitting him and he just sat there holding me and telling me how sorry he was. I had dealt with death before, a distant relative, but no one as close as Sara Beth. It wasn’t fair. She was twelve. TWELVE! How does a twelve year old get sick and die. THIS ISN’T FAIR I remember yelling. Then I cried and cried and cried.
My dad took me to the funeral and Sara Beth’s parents hugged me tight and thanked me for being such a good friend to Sara Beth. I was emotionally numb. In the beautiful casket lay my beautiful best friend in her long blonde wig and purple framed glasses. She looked so peaceful. That’s the image I have in my head of her now.
As the weeks past, as sad as it sounds, not having Sara Beth in school became the norm. She had missed so much school that we all got use to her not being there. But when I’d go home and see our pictures or hear a specific song on the radio or a television program I would cry, mourning the loss of my friend.
I continued to keep in contact with Sara Beth’s parents through the years. I would occasionally see them at a school function like a band concert or a play I was in and wonder if they came just to see me. They never said anything to me, almost hiding in the shadows, but they were there.
At my high school graduation party Sara Beth’s dad showed up with a card. He cried, I cried and we hugged. That night when I opened the card there was a letter from Sara Beth’s mom and a check to help me out with college expenses.
I moved away to go to college but always sent Christmas cards to Sara Beth’s family. A few years later Sara Beth’s dad passed away from lung cancer. Unfortunately I was not able to make the funeral but I sent a card and told Sara Beth’s family I was there in sprit with them.
Life happens and takes us all different places and I have since lost contact with Sara Beth’s mom. I often wonder how she is. I think about trying to find her address and writing to her. Sending her pictures of my Little Man and just catching up but I wonder if that would hurt too much for her. I honestly still think about Sara Beth and what she could have become and on the date of her passing, I always say a little something to her, letting her know I ‘m here.
Cancer just sucks. It sucks when anyone gets it but a child?! Really? How incredibly unfair to cut a life short for what? To teach us a lesson? What damn lesson could that be? I’ve encountered so many people in my life who have lost a child to cancer or a brother or a sister or a grandchild. I don’t understand the lesson in that.
When I became a mom and held Little Man for the first time, I could never imagine losing him. I can’t begin to understand how moms and dads move on after losing a child. I know time heals all wounds but how much time? I also know that you need to move on – but when? There’s a void there that will remain.
To Sara Beth and all the other “Sara Beth’s” out there, we need to find a cure for all cancers. Children shouldn’t be sick and lose legs and arms and they should be allowed to play and grow up.
Cancer needs to stop robbing kids of their childhood.
Screw you cancer. SCREW YOU