Giving Thanks

It was nearly three years ago I started to hate Thanksgiving.  But it wasn’t the turkey, the mashed potatoes, the pilgrims or the parades – instead it was about cancer. 

Three years ago was our last day of innocence.  Three years ago, Elena’s loss of voice and weak right foot were a symptom of a cold that could be cured with antibiotics and a bit of rest.  It wasn’t until the day after Thanksgiving that we realized how wrong we were.  And no antibiotics could cure this cancer.

Three days later she and I boarded a plane bound for Memphis.  There we would study the cancer, submit to a barrage of tests and evaluate the options she never had.  And at night we would have turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberries as churches and boy scout groups from around the city battled to serve the best Thanksgiving meal at the Ronald McDonald House that we lived in.  Night after night for weeks on end we were treated to white turkey-dark turkey, mashed potatoes-yams and apple pie-pumpkin pie; so much so that this is probably the second reason I still don’t like Thanksgiving.  Each bite signified the end of innocence, each bite meant that the nightmare was true, each bite was another day lost. 

To Elena it was simply about Thanksgiving.  It was about hope.  It was about living.  And where I expected no hope, it found us.  There, in the darkest of days, we met people that inspired us; people that genuinely cared.  One night in particular we met an Amish family in town to support a 6-year-old boy from their family with leukemia.  Traveling by bus to the city and on foot to the hospital, grandparents, uncles and aunts and friends came each night to celebrate life, celebrate love and celebrate their son in the fight of their life.  And in our conversations with them we learned about ourselves, about their culture and how we were now unified in the fight against cancer.  (We also learned how much they loved video games and the occasional movie.)

Still, as we returned to the room, my opinion on Thanksgiving had not changed.  I hated the turkey, the stuffing and everything it meant.  But turning to me, Elena had a different reaction.  “Thank you Dad for letting us have Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims”, she told me as I pushed her wheelchair down the hallway.  I laughed, not knowing if she knew the difference or if she was simply kidding.  It was the first laugh I shared with her since her diagnosis.

In Thanksgiving I saw cancer.  In Thanksgiving, Elena saw Pilgrims and hope.  And she was right.  I’m still learning from her example.

10 Responses to “Giving Thanks”

  1. I’ve seen your video from a friend on Facebook, and bought the book too. Yet, I know nothing that would help to cure your loss, as all you would want to do is to have your daughter back.

    However, your daughter and your family have taught us a lot, taught us to be thankful for people we have around us, loving us. Being thankful is also what Thanksgiving meant to be, right?

    Good luck, and God bless you all.

  2. criss says:

    can’t help but cry,,such a very wonderful child …

  3. YOUR STORIES ARE SO BEAUTIFUL. MY “TWIN”DAUGHTER WAS
    DIAGNOSED WITH STAGE 4 PINEALOBLASTOMA, ONE OF THE MOST
    AGGRESSIVE FORMS OF PEDIATRIC BRAIN TUMORS. ALTHOUGH SHE
    NEVER LOOKED SICK, SHE NEVER FELT WELL, OR HAD A “RE-MISSION”.
    TEMI SPENT MOST OF HER 16 MTHS. OF ILLNESS IN THE HOSPITAL, WHICH AS YOU KNOW IS VERY HARD CONSIDERING HER TREATMENT BEGAN AT 17 MONTHS.
    OUR FAMILY WILL NEVER BE THE SAME. ALTHOUGH WE HAVE 5
    BEAUTIFUL KIDS NOW, (ALL UNDER THE AGE OF 11!) MY HUSBAND HAS
    NEVER FULLY DELT WITH OUR LOSS PROPERLY, AND SO WE DO NOT
    REALLY TALK ABOUT IT TOGETHER.

    YOU ARE SO LUCKY FOR A TIGHT FAMILY WHO HELD IT TOGETHER
    WITH OPEN AND HONEST FEELINGS AND COMMUNICATION.

    THANKS AGAIN FOR SHARING,

    DANA

  4. Tammy Roseberry says:

    Thanks for sharing this. Hey story has really touched me. My friend was telling me of his friend that found out her friend had cancer and only has six months left to live. I told him about Elena and how bravely she fought and how positive a little girl she was. I hope it helps him live his last months with courage and know that he is not alone. Elena’s story has help my own outlook as well. I just recently had some bad things happen to me while traveling abroad in Africa. The day I watched your family talking about Elena was a particularly bad day for me. After watching your show and looking Elena up on the internet it made me get out of bed and go enjoy my day instead of feeling sorry for myself. So thank you and God bless you and your wonderful family and most of all thank you Elena.

  5. Rita says:

    What a powerful story. My you blessed with all God’s blessings. Elena is truly an angel.

  6. Seri says:

    I just read the book…. My heart was touched by this devastating story. i am 13 years old.and i have a new goel in life. to help find the cure for cancer. i am hoping by the time i am 20 i can raise a million dollors for the cure starts now. Elana has touched my heart. even tho i have never met her, i miss her sooo much!! i love her. i am making a promise to the world that i will find the cure for cancer!!!! please donate to this wonderfull cause. every one was born for a reason, and that reason is not just to take up space on this planet. it is much more. please help me and the rest of the world to find a cure to the disease that took so many lives. as they say, the cure starts now!!!

  7. Samantha says:

    Hello,
    My name is Samantha Covinton I signed up for your newsletter and journal entries. Every week I am touched more by your feelings and the courage you have to share all of this with the public. I have no idea how you feel. I can not imagine what it would be like to lose a child. You, your wife, and dear little Gracie have more courage than i will ever have.
    I hope this makes somewhat of an impact on the pain and sadness you have been feeling.
    I always pray for those who have lost loved ones to this horrible thing we call cancer. One day there will be a cure, I just know there will be.
    I hope you know how much I care,
    Samantha L. Covington

  8. Ashley says:

    I agree with seris comment above. She is only 13 and she has inspired me to donate to the cure starts now. We should all learn from her words of wisdom. If you ever read this seri, i want you know that you warmed my heart from your message. in honor of seris words i will be donating 1000 dollors to the cure starts now. Thank you Seri!!!

  9. Lisa says:

    Three years ago on Thanksgiving Day, our then 11-YO daughter started chemo for ALL (leukemia). This year, for the first time since her diagnosis, she celebrated Thanksgiving off treatment. Today, the day after Thanksgiving, she went to our local Children’s Hospital for her monthly blood counts, and we were called and given the all clear. And today, too, I read your book.

    I cried…for the daughter you lost, for the daughter we’re so thankful to still have…and for the loss of innocence I imagine both our families have.

    Thanks for sharing Elena with the world. I’m so glad to know her through you. And thanks for sharing your experience with all of us. Through our individual stories, we can motivate a change…and a cure.

    All the best to you and to your family, on Thanksgiving and always. Your story will remain with me, and my thoughts will remain with you.

    Lisa

  10. Courtney says:

    hello, my name is courtney Hutchinson and I’m a junior at valley center high school in vc, California. I don’t know how I came cross this story, but I must tell you that I cried.. your daughter has become my hero (: I went to school that next day at told everyone about her!! I have even put this book on my Christmas list (: she was a corageous littlt girl and I truly wish I could have met her, but I know that the day will come when I get to (: she has made me want to find a cure for cancer, so noone else can lose someone hey love so much.. I will make sure to get her Story put a little more and to keep you guys in my prayers (: thank you for what you have done for your daughter (: -courtney

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