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When Your Child has Cancer…

Young Sarah Smith in treatment 2002 – used with permission from her mom Becky Smith

Our sweet Sarah was just six when she was diagnosed with Stage IV Neuroblastoma.  Our family’s world was shaken.  Our foundations were rocked.  Our grief was incalculable.

Life and Death in a Song

One day shortly after Sarah’s diagnosis, I was running some errands and listening to the radio when a song called Untitled Hymn started playing.

It beautifully described all the different chapters we go through in life and finished up with a verse about the end of life. It closed with the words, “Fly to Jesus and live.”

As the song reached its poignant conclusion,  I melted.  I cried.  I sobbed.  I pulled the car over and fell apart.  All I could think about was that in a very short time, my own daughter could be living that verse about dying.

I didn’t hear the song again for several years although I thought about its message often, especially since Sarah had only been given a 15% chance of survival.

Fighting the Good Fight

Once she had gotten through her chemo, radiation and bone marrow transplant, she did well for a couple of years.  Then when she was ten, she relapsed.  Once again, we were soul-slammed with grief.

One Sunday afternoon in this shadowed season of our lives, Sarah’s 16-year old brother, Nathan, told me he had been practicing a song to sing at church and asked if I would come to his room and listen to him sing through it.

A Comforting Reminder and Refrain

I settled down into the recliner in his room as he planted his tall, gangly self in front of me and prepared to sing. He has such a sweet, baritone voice which often brings me to tears anyway; however, when he opened his mouth and starting singing Untitled Hymn, I was stunned.  I was immediately taken back to that earlier time–the car, the radio, the song, the tears.

As the melody swirled around me, I closed my eyes and breathed in the sound of his tender voice.  I thought about loss and grief and comfort and death and hope and the journey of life.

I thought about him flying off on a mission trip to Ecuador and flying off to college soon after that. I thought about the possibility that Sarah might fly off to heaven sooner than we had all hoped.

By the time he got to the last chorus and started singing, “Fly to Jesus,” I was a mess.  A total and complete mom mess.

Calm in the Storm

Nathan noticed my tears and cast a sympathetic look in my direction as he sang on to the end. And as I listened to his warm, resonant voice filling the sun-splashed room,  I felt something unexpected.

I felt peace.

For just a few luminous moments, our roles were reversed.  The child became the lullaby singer.  The child became the comfort giver.  The child became the solace in his mother’s storm.

On that serene Sunday afternoon,  in a bedroom filled with all the precious pieces of my son’s waning boyhood, I listened as my child sang his heart.

And the peace of heaven was in his voice.

(Note:  Sarah did not fly home to heaven after all.  Ten years after her diagnosis, she is still alive. Healthy. Beautiful.  Happy. A miracle.) 

EdiTOR’s Note: Our family recently delivered our third child. As such, some blogging buddies of mine have graciously offered to write a series of guest posts to allow my family to spend a little time together – away from this blog. I’m deeply grateful for such friends, and I hope you enjoy their writing!

Today’s guest post is from Becky Smith who has been blogging on a regular basis for nine years at http://smithellaneous.com/. By her own admission, Becky  has made tens of dollars and hundreds of friends in the pursuit of this . . . um . . .pursuit and wouldn’t trade her blogging shoes for anything.

However, she has also been through the cancer journey of a beloved daughter (given a 15% chance of survival at six, Sarah is now sixteen) and her own breast cancer diagnosis two years ago.   She is an inveterate, card-carrying finder of joy in tough times.

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  1. Wow, God works in amazing ways.

    • Shawn, yes, He sure does. And we are especially grateful as we see our daughter getting ready for her junior year of High School since we never thought we get to see her at this age.

  2. I have been following Becky and her family’s journey for years. She has helped me through times of trouble with prayer and words of faith and strength. She has made me laugh and cry and sometimes all in the same post. I encourage everyone to join in the gifts of Becky Smith and her blog. You will not be disappointed. All her long time followers and new ones also continue to rejoice in Sarah’s health and happiness, her son Nathan’s new life as a husband of one year and to the amazing Snowy doggie of the family who was one of Sarah’s greatest comforts and protectors. Snowy recently was very ill and nearing a terrifying decision for the family – but, as usual, Snowy has dumbfounded us all, thank God, and is still here for all to love.

    • Mary, thank you for your words and more importantly, your heart behind your words. And thanks too, for following me over here and seeing what’s going on at Tor’s great blog. You’re a blessing!

  3. I too have followed Becky and her family for years, and in doing so, they ARE my family. I have shared the happy times and the sad, laughed with her and cried. She has a way with words that can transport you on a journey that you will never forget. Thank you Becky for sharing your family with us, for letting so many of us love Sarah, and for reminding us to slow down and enjoy the splendors of this life. I look forward to meeting you, and can’t wait to see what comes next.

  4. Really appreciated this post and Becky’s skill as a writer. Proud to be a long-time fan of her blog and the amazing Smith family!

    Debbie Mantik

    • Debbie, glad you to know you liked this post; I didn’t enjoy living some of those stories but I love to write about them and know that they are a blessing to others.

  5. I have followed Becky’s blog for a while. She writes with such sincerity and warmth about her daily life. Such a treasure to read!

  6. Ahhh.. beautifully and poignantly written, Becky. I love Untitled Hymn and loved it even more when you made mention of Nathan singing it. You’ve been through some storms that would shatter most people; thankfully, you’ve found shelter under God’s wings. And in that shelter, you’ve wrapped yourself in the peace that passes all understanding, giving the rest of us hope. I have cried with you, rejoiced with you, and shared you with my friends so that they can both pray for you and be inspired by you. Love you much, and Sarah, Steve, Nathan, and sweet Snowy too!

    • Pam, finding shelter in God’s wings is a great way to put it. There’s no other (or better) place I can think of to run. Thanks for your encouragement today.

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