I met with our 2014 LESLIE’S WEEK family on Monday, June 9. Her name is Renee. Her husband came along. We met in the lobby of the AAMC just outside the breast center. This is the first time I met in person the recipient of the LESLIE’S WEEK vacation. Since 2011, when I began LESLIE'S WEEK, the family was selected by Johns Hopkins and AAMC. My only contact was through email. This was a profound experience. It put life into perspective. It defined the importance of what we are doing in a way that left me breathless. You had to be there to understand the emotions, tears, and conversation. I will try and relay to you this experience as I was overcome with her story.
Renee had a sports accident that injured her hip. She thought it was just a pulled muscle and limped along for five weeks. After a time and a lot of pain she went to the hospital for treatment.
After several scans she was diagnosed with a hip fracture. It was noted that she had a small lesion on her hip bone. Renee scheduled an appointment to see a bone oncology specialist. The world famous doctor said the lesion was benign. They gave her crutches.
One day while working with her young elementary students she slipped on the crutches in her class room and fractured the hip again. They decided to operate and do a hip replacement. The operation went well and she recovered. However, the pain continued. She came to AAMC after about a year, as I remember. Further scans took place and it was discovered the lesion was cancer. They sent her to the breast center for tissue sampling (BIG needles). They confirmed she had left breast cancer and it had metastasized to her hip. As she told this story her husband’s beautiful blue eyes filled with tears and his anger towards the misdiagnosis of the hip bone doctor overflowed.
Renee had a double mastectomy to avoid the metastatic chance of the cancer traveling to her right breast. Renee entered Chemotherapy and Radiation. We both have the same oncologist and so we joked about her, and us, and our common thread.
Her eyes sparkle and she is beautiful in her joy and faith. Her strength and courage is masked within her lovely simplicity and innocence. We shared some tears, some laughs, and some experiences.
Her husband asked, “Why us”?
He found it hard to believe that this was free and just for them and their family. He wanted to know what I got out of this. I told him, “We have the joy of experiencing your joy – maybe you can call me a thief because I get to ride on your joy!” We laughed and then he became more conversant. He explained that he lost his mother last year to leukemia and his father this past December to heart failure. He fell silent. I could see the worry in his eyes for his family.
Renee expects to have her implants surgically completed on July 25, just 3 weeks prior to her vacation with us. We both have the same plastic surgeon and we both agreed that he is hilarious, compassionate, friendly and warm.
I told them about Shagbark, the BOD approval as a home base. I explained they would have a support team in Shagbark who they could access and a "LESLIE'S WEEK Essentials Letter" that would give them all the necessary information they would need in the event of an emergency.
When we completed our conversation I went to the parking garage, got in my car, and broke down. I thanked God for just a bit of cancer so I could fulfill His wishes and my dream to make LESLIE'S WEEK a reality for as many Stage 4 mothers and families as I could possibly accomplish. I thanked him for all those who bought into the dream and for their generous spirits, time, partnerships, and donations.
I regathered myself and sat quietly for a moment and reflected upon a scene in a war movie I saw long ago about an English Colonel who rescued a British woman and her 50 children from the orphanage she founded in China. They had to find sanctuary as the Japanese were close behind. They came to a river at the foot of the mountain range they had to cross to escape certain death from the Japanese army. She looked up at what seemed an impossible task and asked, “How are we going to cross those mountains with all these children?”
He replied, “One step at a time.”
They began their journey and we begin ours, one step at a time.