I've met some pretty impressive people during the three years I have volunteered in the pediatric cancer community. If I reflect back on each child and family I have met, I am keenly aware that, in many ways, before I embarked on this journey, my world was small and safe and closed. It was generally happy and peaceful and comfortable. Today it continues to be all of those things for the most part, except that my heart is more open and certainly more susceptible to understanding the horror that is the suffering and even death of children just like my own. Remarkably, dipping my toes into a space with some of the scariest and brutal of circumstances, has not darkened my world. To the contrary, there are, in the midst of suffering and even crushing grief, countless sources of light. This light filters through in various forms: courage, persistence, compassion, friendship, loyalty and above all, hope. Each child I meet, each family, each nurse, each doctor, and each volunteer seems to shine brighter than the next.
Their names and faces are many. Sometimes I forget that the blessings far outweigh the burden of this work. Sometimes I wonder if I can handle meeting one more because the reality of childhood cancer is that now I am only able to see some of these faces in photos. Some of them will remain forever thirteen years old, twelve years old, or four years old.
I know that another introduction to another child might bring more worry, more pain, and more potential for loss and grief. I fret that this time it will be more than my heart can bear. Of course, most would understand that walking through the loss of another child might end my capacity to stay here. It would be sensible to back off, I suppose. And I have pondered all of that.
But it is in those moments of hesitance that I remember that light will always shine brighter than the darkness. It is then that I remember that no matter what happens tomorrow or next week or next year, the beauty of new connections and the palpable sense of hope in the relationships I have formed will always win.
Because despite what most might think, often there is hope in this community. There is remission. There is success. There is life.
Last summer, my friend Randi and I were honored to represent Kyle's Kamp at the National Capital Chapter of the Association of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses Scholarship Dinner. These nurses give college scholarship money to students who have been treated for cancer and blood disorders. It was a special night to recognize recipients of APHON's scholarships which Kyle's Kamp had assisted in funding in the past couple of years.
There were a number of remarkable recipients, each who had written an essay as part of the application process. They sat before us in a row and each spoke for a bit about their plans and about their experiences. We listened and nodded and clapped and beamed at the beauty of so many promising futures defiantly rising out of the grip of diseases that had tried to steal their dreams.
And then there was Stephanie.
Stephanie was asked to read her essay aloud to the attendees. And she pretty much blew the roof off of the place. Randi and I listened in awe and in admiration and yet again, with immeasurable gratitude for the opportunity that Kyle's Kamp has afforded us in forming relationships that will change our hearts forever.
This wise, insightful, brave child says this:
"Life is all about relationships. How people are treated - how we treat ourselves - determines who we are and what society is and will become."
And in those moments I realized again how important it is to stay in a place that is full of fear and pain and suffering. Because it is all about the relationships. Relationships with children who are sick. Relationships with parents who are terrified. Relationships with siblings who are confused. Relationships with nurses and doctors and advocates who are depleted, but determined to give their hearts and souls and minds to a broken world.
These are the relationships that have transformed me. They are the relationships that show me that we can leave the world better than how we found it. That night last summer reminded me of the gift that Kyle's Kamp is because it brings me into relationship with people I might not otherwise meet.
And Stephanie, along with those other students standing before me in that room brought that gift to life. That this one more child might take up space in my world? This one more beautiful life? This one more beacon of hope upon hope in the bleakest of circumstances?
It is true that the light shines in the darkness and darkness will not overcome it. I know this because each time I attend an event for pediatric cancer, another child's face casts a light that burns brighter than before. And I am humbled and awed at how as they have each taken a place in my life, my world has become illuminated by a sky full of stars.
Please watch and listen to Stephanie's story and if you would like to help Kyle's Kamp and APHON invest in the futures of these remarkable kids, please donate to our scholarship fund at the link below the video.
Many thanks to Mike Gillette of Truth 365 for creating this video.
Jenn Skinner is a Christian and a Texan(Texas Longhorn to be specific!) living in beautiful Virginia with her very patient and funny husband and her 3 very impatient and funny little boys/ball players, She joined the fight against Pediatric Cancer with Kyle's Kamp in 2013. She also writes about just about everything and nothing and the ridiculously abundant life God has gifted her at her blog, The View From Behind Home Plate