This summer, I had many memorable moments – from CRASH of trees falling before my very eyes as I sat lazily at Care’s Corner, Leon Jernstrom being top Mat-Su fund-raiser for Relay, to watching Bubba grow (into a ?HORSE?!!) and spending time in Talkeetna, one of Alaska’s fun little towns, where Bill worked all summer.
But there was another – well, I can’t exactly say it was a ‘moment’, as it happened over time, but it certainly has been memorable.
Take a look at the photo above. Doesn’t it say it all? Pure delight~ But for me, the photo says ‘HOPE’.
The boy is Connor Dunham. He’s my co-hort in Toys R Us mischief (we don’t want to grow up!), one of my special chemo companions, my Relay For Life Ribbon cutting buddy, and truly, MY mentor in perseverance and how to live life with JOY, even in the WORST of situations.
Notice Connor’s PURPLE shirt? It’s one of his favorites – it’s his SURVIVOR shirt. It is the shirt that he told me “Care, when I wear this it makes people think that if we keep working hard, ALL of us TOGETHER, we can find the CURE for cancer.”
I asked him how he knew that. His matter of fact answer was: “I just do!”
It has been bittersweet. I was able to to see Connor and his family several times this summer. They had made the painful decision a year ago to move from their family and home of Alaska to Seattle, so that they would be closer to some of Connor’s cancer care, instead of the costly airfare and coordinate commuting to appointments. He has been fighting leukemia since he has been 2 years old. He is now eight.
His tenacious, on-top-of –it-all mom, (also one of MY guardian angels), Alicia, his calculating younger brother, Carson, and dad Steve were up to visit, and got to meet Bubba. It was wonderful. And the photo proves it!
I was also blessed to stay with them in their new ‘home’, Mukilteo, where they were my taxi service/ bed/breakfast during my unplanned spring doctor appointments and at the END of my 40th high school reunion/N. Clark County Relay trip (unplanned too, due to my “football concussion”/loss of driving privileges, but WHEW! what a safe haven! )
Dad, Steve, (and the family) have made the difficult sacrifice of Steve being away week, sometimes months, “working the Slope” (oil fields). He does this not just to provide financially, but mostly so Connor can keep getting the medical care he needs. How hard it is for ALL of them to be so far away, worrying, wondering , while Alicia goes solo, without her best friend/husband at her side.
Try to imagine what the last 6 years has been for this family. Daily they deal with broken health care systems – their regulations, changes, uncertainty and absurd mangled messes and maze. Add daily coordination of multiple appointments, chemo, and radiation, a transplant, continual follow-up care, serial casting, therapy PLUS ‘normal’ everyday life (you know – school, grocery shopping, soccer practice/ games, swimming, t-ball, normal “stuff – and making sure Carson, the youngest, doesn’t get lost in it all.)
Yet Connor and his family are filled with HOPE. They give ME HOPE.
So, when I was at the North Clark County Relay For Life, in Battleground, WA (to speak at the Survivor’s Luncheon) I was blown away at opening ceremonies when I was called to the stage and given the humbling honor on being named a National American Cancer Society/Great West Division “Hero of Hope”……and Alaska’s FIRSTHero of Hope!
ME? My mind was reeling. There were so many others I felt who should be standing in my stead. But here I was with National Leaders M.J. Newcomb, J.D. Drollinger and the “Mother of Relay” Pat Flynn. ME?! But I accept the honor with pride, with renewed resolved to FIGHT BACK, and with all that I can muster (yes, I promise to pace!) to keep yapping my trap, training new Jedi Warriors (I AM looking more and more like Yoda aren’t I – cute in his own ugly way, OLD, WISE, talks funny, but has the honor of training YOUNGER JEDI (CANCER) WARRIORS) to fight this ugly battle.
I will take my theme “At The End of Your Hand” making Hands of Hope, helping people realize THEY make a difference……every day, every hour, at the end of their hand, wherever they are.
So…..the photo says it all: HOPE. We are all Heroes of Hope if you think of it….at the end of our hands. Let’s find that CURE!!!
Care Tuk is a nationally known speaker, educator, and retreat/workshop leader. She has been a school, hospital, and home health occupational therapist for more than 30 years. She has been named as a Top Business Woman in America and recognized for her work with youth, disability outreach and awareness, and the American Cancer Society.