September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and our guest blog was written by Jessica Martinez after she lost her 6 year old daughter Livy to complications of chemo. Livy had stage 4 high risk Neuroblastoma and this moving piece gives us a tiny glimpse into the world of childhood cancer.
It's hard to put into words all of the feelings and life changes that the word cancer brings.
I've always been a photographer at heart, so pictures speak louder than words for me.
This long, seemingly endless staircase is what having a child with cancer is like.
It all starts at the bottom of those stairs with your ears ringing with the echo of the words, "YOUR child has CANCER".
It bounces off the walls of that narrow staircase and the echo hits you over and over again.
Then your climb begins. Looking up from that first step its a dizzying unbalanced feeling... how will I ever get her to the top?
You look down at your child and you do what any parent would do, you hold their hand and up you climb.
With all the fresh adrenaline surging through you as you make that fight or flight response to this beast called cancer that is attacking YOUR child the first flights of stairs aren't so bad... or at least you don't have time to really stop and notice. You have to keep climbing and that's all you can focus on. There is no time to stop and rest. There is a time limit on this upward journey and you're not willing to find out what the cost of stopping might be.
Now you're many stories up in this stairwell.
At this point reality is setting in. You now take more notice that you are not alone on this climb. There are other parents making this same exhausting climb as you. They're holding their kids close just like you. Some are just a few steps ahead or behind you. Some are stories above you while others are just taking that first step.
No matter how strong you may be, you're tired. Physically and mentally drained.
There are no elevators to get your child to the top though, so you climb on. There's hope at the top... the promise that if you can just get them up there they could live.
There's also no stopping either. Once you start this climb, if you want to get to the top, you don't stop. So that means those tired little legs attached to the tiny hand you've been grasping onto need help.
That's when you pick them up and keep climbing... through the tears, through the screams of your tired aching body you keep putting one foot in front of the other. Through your child's tears, pain, fears and anxiety you press on.
At some point you start to notice some of those other parents on this climb are passing you on the way back down. You may even let your mind wander to the time when that will be you and your child.
Then it hits you like a punch in the gut... some of them are walking down alone. Their arms are empty.
You hold your sweet child even closer. You kiss them and hug their fragile, frail little bodies and hope you can get them to the top before they wither away in front of your eyes. You dig deep to find it in you to keep going for both of you.
The worst part of all of this?
Even if you can get them all the way to the top there's no promise that it's the end. That they will never have to do this again. That you will never have to make them climb this stairwell again.
And that stairwell is full.
Its full of exhausted parents on every level.
Its full of kids who are fighting an invisible monster instead of fighting with their siblings over toys at home.
It echos with the sound of both joy and pain.
Its not a guaranteed one time climb either. Some will make it to the top only to be told halfway back down they need to start climbing again.
This is what having a child with cancer is like.
It's a steady stream of parents and kids moving in both directions. It's a congested stairwell in a tall, dark, very old building. With all these families climbing every hour of every day and no one on the outside of the brick and mortar walls sees them unless they happen to pass by one of the very few windows along the way.
Thank you Jessica for allowing us to publish your story and help you to spread awareness of childhood cancer.
Remembering beautiful Livy - forever 6.
If you want to find out more about how you can support a loved one with cancer, sign up to receive our Cancer Supporter Toolkit.