Thursday, April 11, 2013

Happy List (Follow-up to "Peace of Mind")

This is a follow-up to the last post that I wrote.  If you would like to read "Peace of Mind" first, please click here.


 1. Aiden's genetics testing results are in and he did not test positive for the gene mutation in question!!


If you were sitting next to me right now and I spoke these words to you, I would likely have to say them over and over. I am so insanely excited that my declaration sounds like a jumbled mess spoken at a speed indiscernible to the human ear. This is wonderful news, people. WONDERFUL!

(Insert: music and happy dance.) Whoot! Whoot! Whoot!


2. I got a job! And it's in healthcare! For a company that I grew close to while Aiden received treatment!

(Insert: music and happy dance part deux.) Whoot! Whoot! Whoot!

This whole job search thing has been the pits. I did submit some contract work to a client last week, which felt good but I have missed corporate healthcare marketing. Over the past several months I have felt like a professional interviewer. It has helped boost my confidence, though, and resulted in a few job offers. I had difficult decisions to make, but I am certain that I made the right one not only for me, but for my family.


3. Aiden got a lil' stomach virus! It was not associated with chemo or low counts! Nope! Just an icky, run-of-the-mill bug that toddlers like to share!

(Insert: music and third happy dance.) Whoot! Whoot! Whoot!
(Insert: sound of dancing music screeching to a halt and shocked gasps from readers.)

Okay, let me explain the third item on my happy list. Back a long, long time ago in a land known as Fairfax Hospital, stomach bugs resulted in hospital stays. Looooooong hospital stays. Sometimes we were quarantined in our room; highly communicable infections are not taken lightly on a floor dedicated to children with compromised immune systems. These infections usually resulted in more infections, perpetually low blood counts and, as a consequence, delayed treatment. Now that Aiden is in remission (it will be two years come August), his body is able to receive, fight off and share germies like any other runny-nosed chickie. Yep, I am one happy mommy. Plus, let's be real, vomit does not scare this mama in the least. I got this!

Watching The Lorax 3 times in a row makes everything better...

* * *

I know that I have spoken of perspective in many of my posts. I think it is an important state of mind to celebrate, but it also serves as a personal reminder. Life gets hard and that won't change. I used to think that I should get a “free pass” on the next sh%#t storm scheduled to dump torrential rains on my so-called happy life post-cancer, but that's just not how it works. We all carry burdens and fears, which make us feel alone and angry. The trick is to not let them eat you alive. Living a happy life is a choice; one you have to work at. Once you get in the routine of celebrating all the good, it really starts to come easy.

Dare I say, “easy as 1, 2, 3?!”

Come on, “baby, you and me” let's do this happy dance together!

Tiny Moments (since my last post):

Picnic lunches.

Even Batman likes sidewalk chalk...

Baby love - Aiden is obsessed with babies...

Friday, March 29, 2013

Peace of Mind

I think I have been avoiding the blog.

It wasn't completely intentional (dot dot dot).

However, I did knowingly shoo away a thought last night about Hello Sunshine and when typing in the web address for a Bloomingdales gift registry, I felt a twinge of guilt when I saw begin to appear, then quickly vanish from my Google search history quick click bar.

It's always hard as a blogger when you feel as if you can't (or are scared to) share parts of your life. I really strive to keep it real, but sometimes anxiety and my overwhelming inclination to quadruple-guess myself takes over. Fortunately, my passion for writing usually wins out (at some point).

Wild passion - 1, Unfounded worry - 0

* * *

About two months ago, Chris and I placed Aiden's portable DVD player on the edge of a narrow glass-toped table. I pushed back a hard plastic flyer holder and moved a pile of brochures. We sat him in a worn maroon-colored chair; the kind with little fabric cushions on each arm to make the metal frame more comfortable. Aiden was happy as a clam once a paper plate of salt & pepper pistachios landed in his lap and Word World appeared on the tiny TV screen in front of him.

I sat next to Chris and began rubbing my right index finger over my right thumb. It's a nervous habit, but calms me down. Cold winter days mixed with excessive amounts of hand-sanitizer, though, made my hands overly thirsty which caused this stress-reliever to offer little relief. Chris just starred straight ahead as if the ecru-colored walls were trying to tell him something.

After sitting down to face us, the genetic counselor began speaking.

Below is my summation:
The type of cancer that Aiden had is linked to a specific genetic disorder; the disorder (and therefore the linkage) is very, very rare. It is caused by a gene mutation that is hereditary, though it can be spontaneously created by the index child. This disorder greatly increases the risk of developing several types of cancer. It is not likely that Aiden will present with this gene mutation as our family history does not offer a reason for concern. The age of diagnosis, though, of the index child (under 12 months) can sometimes indicate a small increased risk.

With all that being said, Chris and I have decided to get Aiden tested as the results can potentially impact his health-management moving forward as well as our desire to grow our very young family. (Note: The other day Aiden actually informed me that he would like there to be a baby in my belly. My eyes grew very large and I patted him on the head three times.  He then continued to paint at his easel as if the preceding mention never occurred.)

* * *

Now, rewind to earlier this January.

“So have you and Chris started trying to have more kids.”


“Why not?”

“I cancelled the genetic testing appointment last October.”

Aiden's oncologist is great. She always gets right to the point and on this day in early January she was no different. She informed me that she would be reaching out to the genetics department again and that I need to schedule the appointment. She is not at all worried that Aiden will test positive for the gene mutation, she simply wants Chris and I to be able to move forward with our lives. She is right, though, this unknowingness has been a barrier for me; a colossal-sized wall of worry. I thanked her for the push and said that sometimes I just need a swift kick-in-the-ass. With a smile and hug, she happily obliged.

Every time I meet one of Aiden's new specialists, I ask the same questions. Maybe it is my healthcare marketing background or my crippling need for information, but I try to research every chance I get. Now, I am not haphazardly Google-ing, but I do frequent abstracts from medical journals, white-papers and call up physician-friends for advice. I am not only Aiden's mom, but his advocate. No matter how hard life gets, I know in my heart-of-hearts that ignorance is not actually bliss; at least not for me.

Peace of mind, peace of mind, peace of mind... That is what people keep telling us.

The results will offer peace of mind. I sure hope so because waiting a month+ for findings is offering very little in terms of peace. Fortunately, life goes on. We are still waiting to hear from the genetics department, but I am determined not to let anxiety whisper sour nothings in my ear any longer.

I love my Aiden more than I can even exponentially express. He is a fun-loving, curious, insanely stubborn, amazingly empathetic little man and he needs his mommy and daddy not to be crippled by worry. (Note: Chris will likely want me to edit this sentence to read “he needs his mommy not to be crippled by worry” but I see it as a team sport.)

So here we are today...

Yes, I already called the genetics department. No, I have not yet been added to their “transfer straight to voicemail list.” And no, results are still not in.

You know what?

It doesn't matter.

In this moment I am grateful for my faith, my family, our health, our home and our love for one another. Truly if you have all that in your life, nothing else really should matter. Right?

Looks like the final score is in...

Unwavering faith and love - 1; Sneaky, ill-hearted anxiety - 0

Tiny Moments (and one REALLY BIG one) - Since My Last Post:

This smile gets me every time

Yummy pre-Easter chocolate from Memaw Gigi

Aiden's celebratory sundae after meeting Washington Redskins quarterback, Robert Griffin III!
I do plan to write an entry about our amazing "dream day" at Redskins Park, but I am waiting to get the professional pictures from The Gold Hope Project.  The Gold Hope Project helped make the visit possible and we are so very grateful for all that they did.  We can't wait to share the pictures and experience with all of you.  For now, though, be sure to check out the story written about Aiden on the Washington Redskins Blog: The Washington Redskins organization has been amazing and their kindness truly touched our hearts.  HAIL!

iPhone shot of Aiden giving Robert Griffin III a high-five :)

Monday, March 18, 2013

TINY MOMENTS MATTER: Tempering the Tantrum

Sunday, 10:00PM



Mommy, you annoying me! Do you hear me? Mom-maaay!

I heard the words (“annoying” happened to be a new one), but I couldn't help but smile after the weekend we had.

I sunk a little deeper into the feathery plumpness of my pillow. It smelled like fresh lavender sprinkled with mint and a hint of rosemary. If it wasn't for the snickers escaping my oh-so-considerate husband's lips, I might have been able to drown out the dawning of temper tantrum #248 occurring down the hall.

As a mom of a toddler, certain survival skills are learned early. For example, we build our stamina each time our tot escapes our grasp at the supermarket, makes a bee-line for the lobster “pool” but loses focus and attempts to climb the Pepperidge Farm donut hole display instead. Similarly we master the art of mental preparedness by always having an answer to the question, “why?” Even in the middle of church, when it is exceptionally quiet, on the one Sunday we take our chickie out of children's ministry early to “really” experience worship.

Lastly, we hone our ability to adapt no matter the situation or awkwardness. When our 3 1/2 year old (22-month-post-nursing kiddo) tells us, publicly, that he likes our boobs, we fein an over-exaggerated laugh, ask about the latest episode of Handy Manny and frantically search our purse for anything consumable which can be placed into our little darling's mouth. Toddler outbursts, though, are a true force of nature and test of will. Planning, training, and foresight sometimes do little to temper the actual tantrum.

Hahahaha! Did he just say that you are annoying him?


36 Hours Earlier

Aiden started “soccer” a couple months ago. His soccer lessons are more accurately defined as early childhood development playdates which are regularly scheduled every Saturday for 12 weeks. Yes, he is part of a “team” but there is no dribbling, no passing, no blocking, no get the picture. There is instruction from a coach and the kids learn to follow directions and play together in a semi-structured environment. Aiden's “soccer lessons” are a good thing. This past Saturday, I was flying solo with my little munchkin.

One of Aiden's first "soccer" lessons

The second we stepped out onto the soccer field, I felt it; the knowingness that something was awry. Aiden seemed more disinterested than usual. He refused to waddle like a penguin across the field with his peers. Even though penguin mama was flapping her wings frantically in an effort to cheer him on, he continued to inch forward at a snails pace, no wing-flapping included.

A new game was introduced next. It involved aliens which I tried to sell Aiden in my best extraterrestrial voice. He ran towards the circle where all the kids were seated listening to coach explain the game. It involved mini, orange cones. I took a deep breath, happy that he was going to participate. In an instant, he seized the tower of cones right out of the coach's hands, ran with lightening speed over to the adjacent field and catapulted them forth. I was in full pursuit, but it was too late. I picked up the cones, haphazardly yelled a handful of reprimands, and tried to capture my little marathon runner. Unfortunately, he ran in a zig-zag pattern across the field and away from me; all-the-while crazily-laughing with his hands waving he decided to flap...perfect.

That was only the beginning...

Soon thereafter we left soccer. It was a half-hour before soccer was to end, but we left. When we exited the sportsplex, Aiden got the picture. He started screaming, scratching, hitting and kicking but I had him in a bear hug and mommy survival mode took over. Somehow I buckled him in the carseat; it is all still a bit blurry.

We drove and drove and drove until I realized that my gas tank was empty. No my car did not breakdown (though that would fit well within the context of this story). I made it to the gas station in the nick o'time time. Aiden was still scrying (a cross between screaming and crying) and I was still holding up my code of silence. I refused to indulge his hysterics until he calmed. There were a few moments when he promised to be good and then asked to go back to soccer. When I explained that we were not returning, the tantrum began again.

You are my mommy.

You not 'posed to be mean.

You my mommmmm-my.

At that moment I turned from the front seat and looked at his sweet face. It had been quite a while since we left soccer. His red cheeks, glistening eyes and furrowed brow made me want to hold him in my arms and kiss him all over. (We were parked at the gas station by this point.)

Aiden, mommy loves you all the time.

No matter what, I will always love you.

I asked if he was ready to go home. He nodded and said that he loved me too. I asked if I could give him a hug and, of course, my little babe wanted nothing else. I walked the perimeter of my car situated in front of tank #3, opened the rear passenger door and gave my big boy a great big hug. When we pulled out of the station, $71.23 later, I was proud of myself. I was actually ready for this tantrum, this seemingly unpredictable force of nature.

* * *

Late Sunday night, when I heard the rants of my sleepy tot coming down the hall, I couldn't help but smile. Celebrating all the tiny (recurring) moments life has to offer is important; every tantrum, tirade and meltdown included.

Every tiny moment matters, folks.

And for that, I am thankful every, single day.

Tiny Moments - Since My Last Post

Just for fun

A "spring" snowfall

So we had to pull out all the stops...brought Frank the Elf back to leave a little note for Aiden asking him to "listen to mommy and daddy..." 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Word

There is a word that I try not to say...

A word that I take care not type...

A word that I don't let float around my mind, if I can help it...


Ugh, there I just said it, typed it and thought it.

Back in May 2010, our lives changes forever. Aiden, only five precious months old was diagnosed with cancer. Embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma to be exact. From that point forward and throughout treatment and recovery, cancer was a word that I said, typed and thought of often. I was at every needle prick, vein draw, imaging scan, chemotherapy treatment and clinic appointment. When Aiden was sleeping, I was either writing a blog entry, researching aplenty (against my better judgement) or trying to follow up via email with family and friends. That word was not something I was able to avoid.

I remember walking my slippered feet over to the pantry on the Pediatric HEM/ONC floor each night. I had a secret stash of my very own K-cups courtesy of a special nurse-friend. Wink-wink. I can still smell the sweet vanilla bean aroma, which delicately flavored my small disposable cup o'joe. I would carry my beverage back to the room along with a few packages of Keebler's finest and I would snuggle up next to my little snoozer. At that point, I usually lost myself in some quality programming. The Real Housewives of Anywhere were in abundance; the distraction served it's purpose well.

The thing is, though it was excruciatingly difficult to hear the words, “your son has cancer,” life in the cancer-world became routine. My K-cup ritual was routine. Weekly, often daily, visits to the clinic were routine. Hugging my nurse-family hello and goodbye was routine. Placing Aiden's nasogastric tube was routine. Eating my congealed bowl of raisin-brown-sugar-hospital-oatmush each morning was routine. Spontaneous outbursts of tears and/or anger were routine. M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E was routine. Port-accesses were routine. Cleaning up vomit was routine. Kissing my sweet Aiden's big, bald head was routine. Requesting expedited shipping for hundreds of nitrile chemo-grade gloves was routine. As odd as it may sound, I was exceedingly grateful for the “routineness.”

Now unprotected by my involuntary shield as active cancer caregiver mommy, I find the word to be so very loaded. I know this is occurring on a very emotional – almost intrinsic – level but nonetheless, I can't help it. It is hard to read blogs of other cancer-families and images of children lost breaks my heart a thousand times over. I feel so very compelled to help. I want to lobby on Capitol Hill that enough is not being done to protect our children from the number one disease killer. I want to beat down the doors of the American Cancer Society and yell at the top of my lungs that less than 1% is a miserable donation for pediatric cancer research. And I want to volunteer to help families going through treatment; I want to kiss all the bald kiddo heads out there and hold their mommies and daddies so very tightly in my arms. I feel compelled to do these things, but I know that I am not yet ready. I may not ever be ready.

In this way – for quite a while now – I have been deeply conflicted.

* * *

A couple months ago, I was out with the fam for dinner at our local Glory Days restaurant. Covered in remnants of a meal-enjoyed, I carried my love bug to the door. It was then that I noticed a sign imprinted with the words, 'Chris' Crew'. I saw the gold ribbons, the t-shirts and the children. I found my senses heightened. A small voice yelled, “Chris, Chris, come here.” There was running and giggling. I started scanning the room. I handed Aiden to my hubby, walked up to a woman in the center of it all and asked if she was Chris' mom.

“No, but she is right there. Hey, Amy!”

Then I saw her and started babbling. I don't really know what I said. Something like. “Hi, I am Leslie. This is my son, Aiden. He has been in remission a year and a half.” I may not remember the words, but I do remember the hug.

...the connection.

This past August, 7 year-old Chris was diagnosed with Wilms Tumor, a rare type of kidney cancer that occurs in young children. The family started a Facebook page,Chris' Crewwhich I urge you all to visit. Chris is doing very well and serves as another inspiration (along with his extremely strong mama) to me.  Actually, Chris' whole family - daddy, too - are sources of inspiration.  Please keep them ALL in your thoughts and prayers.

I believe it is true that people do come into our lives for a reason.

* * *

Recently while trying to wrap my head around actually writing a book, my book, that damn word popped into my head. I don't want to write about cancer. Yes, it is part of my story, but it is not THE story; cancer is just a piece of it. I want to write about being a believer of miracles and a celebrator of life. Perspective, perspective, perspective.

That is when it hit me. I am the one allowing the word to encompass so much more. For this reason, I decided to write this very entry. To say the word, type the word and to allow myself to think it. To share my limitations regarding outreach and advocacy. To stop letting a word scare me. Facing fear head on may require a lot of strength in the planning phase but once the obstacle is conquered; energy, ardor and confidence replaces said fear.

Yes, I still hate the word, cancer, – and I always will – but I will not allow it to control how I think, talk and write. Aiden is thriving despite all that he has been through and honestly, I am thriving too. I may not be able to take on our broken healthcare system, but I am still committed to making a difference in my own way.


I just said it, typed it and thought it.

...And I am okay.

You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” –A.A. Milne

Tiny Moments - The Past Couple Weeks in Review:

Our "half" snow day

The BEST snowman ever (before our neighbors got to it...hehe)

Letting creative juices flow

Iron Aiden 


Balancing with Papa

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


“I think I take pieces of people with me.”

Figuratively, of course.

I spoke those words to a school counselor early in high school. I remember picturing little specks of multi-colored glass in the palm of my hand. Each tiny fragment represented a memory or feeling; some were big and sharp but others small and smooth. No one could see this glistening collection, but I knew it was there; the broken pieces somehow made me whole.

I celebrated my birthday this past Friday and I couldn't help but appreciate this memory. I am still a people-piece collector today. Back in high school ev-er-y-thing was a crisis. Though I had my fair share of not-your-average high school problems, I pulled through and became better despite the difficulty. Many years later, when adversity reared it's nasty head yet again, I wasn't ready – by any means – but I definitely was stronger; an army of lessons-learned and feelings-felt was protecting my heart.

We are all broken.

We all carry pieces of memories-past in our pockets.

If we take the time to look at each speck, we will realize that the good in our lives undoubtedly outweighs the bad.

A little while back, I went in for a scheduled waxing. It was of a “personal” nature, which I will spare all of you – and my mother – the details. I was chit-chatting with the esthetician and we somehow got on the subject of Aiden. I noticed her body language shift. Brandishing a hot wax applicator in one hand and a tissue in the other, I watched her dab the corners of her eyes. As she removed hair from skin she shared the story about how she lost her baby girl. Amidst remnants of sticky, orange wax and worn cloth strips we hugged. Mother-to-mother, stranger-to-stranger and esthetician-to-client, we shared pieces of ourselves that day.

I am proud to be broken.

I am one made up of many.

My family, friends, even complete strangers make whole.

To the greeter at Walmart who watched my cart o'diapers while I ran my tantrum-wielding-toddler to the car, thank you for sharing a piece of yourself. To the usher at church who always offers me a smile, even when mommy-brain (and timing) effects my punctuality, thank you for sharing a piece of yourself. To the stranger I “danced” - and wholeheartedly laughed – with at the grocery store while trying to walk past, thank you for sharing a piece of yourself. To the cashier at Panera who always takes the time to ask my child about his day, thank you for sharing a piece of yourself.

As we get older birthdays signify much more than presents and frills, they offer a time to reflect and cherish. Life is in abundance of good moments for those who are willing to seek them out. Stop and take the time to really see the world around you. Take a piece of the people you meet and offer a piece of yourself in return. After all, life isn't about being put-together, it is about being broken.

~ My Birthday Weekend In Review~





Tuesday, February 19, 2013

TINY MOMENTS MATTER: Aiden the Protector

Thanking the barista while I grabbed my extra-dry cappuccino and Chris' skim mocha, I made my way to the children's book area. Barnes & Noble was hopping; I tightly embraced both cups o’ joe to prevent any spillage as I dodged tiny heads bouncing up-and-down all around me. I wish I had the energy and vibrancy of a caffeine needed.

I am a sucker for children’s books, which is why I frequent the library and steer clear of book stores. Yesterday - President's Day - with my banker-husband away from his office, I made an exception. Brightly colored books adorned each shelf and a table devoted to springtime was all-but-blooming in the center of the room.
Of course, I found Aiden ogling over a book about bulldozers - complete with sound. Chris was kneeling next to him, whispering something in his ear. I had not yet been noticed by my eagle-eyed todd so I drew in the moment, revering in the simple sweetness of a father with his son.

 Then I felt the slight brush of two itty-bitty bodies rushing past me; gigging to one another, unaware of the daydreaming adult brandishing hot java overhead. I did a quick spin but caught myself - and the coffees - despite my accident prone nature. Smirking and chuckling to myself I felt inclined to do a happy dance, but thought better of it...remembering, again, the coffees.
Beeeeep, Beeeeep, Beeeeep...crrrrruuuun-ccccchhhhh, crrrrruuuun-ccccchhhhh...

 "Mommy, look at the bull-boze-er!" Aiden's eyes were wide with excitement, obviously proud of his bookstore find. Chris reached for his coffee, which I readily relinquished; no longer wanting the responsibility.

 "Wow, I see and hear it! Very cool, my little man."

 Chris and I were slowly inching Aiden towards the children's exit. Framed with more books and images of story-time favorites, we took our positions. Aiden though was no longer in tow. He was holding a thin Now You Can Read book with both hands. Aiden was not smiling and did not attempt to open the cover.

 "Mom-my, MOM-MY! It is Paranorman. This book it too scary. Daddy, DO NOT open it. Toooo scary." Aiden opened the cover peeked inside, quickly shutting it again. "DO NOT open it."
Chris and I exchanged a knowing glance. About three weeks ago, during our family movie night Aiden saw a preview of the aforementioned, Paranorman. Since then, he has brought up the never-seen flick at regular intervals. Usually this occurs in the car while stuck in traffic.
"Mommy (very matter-of-factly), tell me about Paranorman."
"Well, honey, I don't know about it since we never saw the movie."
"Plllleeeeeeeeeeeeeease, Mommy. Pleeeeeeeease!"
This banter uaually goes on for five minutes or so (or until I am successfully able to turn on Toddler Radio). Then pleeeeeeease, pleeeeeeeease is replaced by "I've got to shake, shake, shake my sillies out..." It's really a tossup.

I could tell that Aiden was very interested in the book; he even wanted to hold it while we walked to the front of the store. "We will need to leave this at the book store for the older kids, okay?" Aiden nodded but continued on his way. I envisioned a quick grab-and-toss was in our future, but enjoyed a few more moments of serenity. After all, life-sized children's lit characters and tempting gifts-with-purchase were behind us.

Sipping my cap, I continued forth. Then I saw it, but was too slow to react. Aiden was in front of the Lego table - a good distance from the children's area might I add - and he was commanding an

"Paranorman is too scary! TOOOO scarrrry. Do not open it!" He then walked up to a very small little boy, who couldn't have been more than a year old, put his hand on the child's shoulder and - in a much softer voice - whispered, "Paranorman is too scary for you."

The little boy's mother laughed and commented on Aiden's articulateness. I, too, found myself chuckling and my heart melted a bit at his sincere concern for fellow-child. Chris had been up at the register purchasing my "little" bounty of spring-time books. He met us at the Lego table just as we were leaving, the Paranorman book far away so the "little boy, Aiden's junior, would not get scared."
As we walked to the parking lot, hand-in-hand-in-hand, I shared Aiden's Paranorman admonition with Chris. "Looks like we are doing something right; our little man here is quite the protector and not scared to show it!"
That night there was no more talk about the "scary movie." Having warned another child of the "scariness" put Aiden in the driver's-seat. He was more interested in his new books celebrating warm weather, flowers and sunshine.
As I peacefully sipped my hot caffeine-free mint refresh tea - no longer fearing for the safety of little ankle-biters tempting my lack of balance - I thought about the simplicity and joy of a day spent with those I love.
Tiny moments really do matter.

Aiden "creating spring" right in our kitchen

The finished product!  Wishful thinking on this chilly day

Mommy's version of "wishful spring thinking"

Family movie night

Another family movie night where Aiden donned
his cape and boots to save Wilbur in Charlotte's Web 2

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love Note

Even in a young marriage, as time passes, the expression of love begins to change. Sometimes, I find myself saying “I love you” before starting the day or ending the night. I feel in love but I have forgotten how to really say it. Love is not supposed to be easy and cannot grow while set on autopilot.

We all suffer difficulties, endure struggles and are tested – sometimes more often than we like. Embracing the strength that is offered to us, as we triumph over each obstacle, will make us stronger, our relationships stronger. We all will continue to learn and love as we grow.

Below is my gift to Chris this Valentine's Day. We, together, want to share this message with all of you.

* * *

Dear Chris,

I remember the Monday before you asked me to marry you. It was a late October night; a slight chill gently kissed the darkness as we sat on the stoop. We were talking – really talking – and listening. I could tell you had something on your mind. Your eyes were twinkling so very quickly in the moonlight – begging to cry out – but your mouth never gave in, never offered up your secret.

You have no idea how much I love you.” The words escaped your lips so suddenly that I could feel my breath hitch. I slowly drank in the cool air, letting it temper the blush I felt blanketing my body. We had said those three little words before...but this was different.

Only a couple days later, you got down on one knee and asked me to be your wife. I said yes and at that very moment I could see love – and relief – in your eyes. Your secret was finally out.

* * *

I could feel my father's arm linked with my own – holding me up, offering security – but it was as if all moisture had left my mouth. I tried to swallow away my nervousness but nothing seemed to calm my jitters. As I contemplated a run to the water fountain I was ushered forth; heavy, honey-colored doors slowly began to open. Suddenly we were walking – dad and me – and I could see you off in the distance.

Photo courtesy of Kate Triano Photography

Butterflies were still dancing the tango in my stomach when I felt my father kiss my cheek, but, as you took my hand in yours, I again felt safe.

Our vows were traditional; though we had spoken of writing our own, we were young and caught up in the hoopla of wedding planning and preparation. I have no doubt that we meant the words heard so many times before – to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health... – but if I had to do it again now, knowing us like I do, I would write the words and truths spilling from my heart.

Photo courtesy of Kate Triano Photography

You are still my best friend. My love.

Superhero father to our son.

I never would have imagined six years ago that our journey together would take us to the places we have been. To the pain and devastation we have felt. I never thought that 'in sickness and in health' would apply to the well-being of our son. To the mental, physical, emotional prowess we needed to survive as a couple, as parents, as individuals. I never thought that we would find ourselves questioning our union, our place in each others lives.

So much has seemingly changed since we said 'I do.' Yes, I never would have imaged this life for us, but it is ours. Together, we know the love of – and for – a child. We have experienced the purest of joy in the good times and gained raw perspective in the bad. We are strong, even when we feel weak. We are wise, even when we question. We are partners in this journey of ours.

Our love has undoubtedly changed, but I can honestly say I love you more today than ever before. We are still growing together, learning together, forgiving together. The knowingness that 'life is not easy' reminds us to persist. After all, we are a family of survivors. Believers of miracles and celebrators of life.

I love you.

* * *

I knew when when I woke this morning – so very early – what I wanted to write. The gift I wanted to give to you on our seventh Valentines Day as a married couple. From the onset of Aiden's diagnosis and through much of his recovery, we were focused on one thing: the health of our son. We knowingly put our relationship in the back seat. We all but buckled it in; figured it would be easy enough to bring forth when the time was right.

Our son is healthy and thriving; but – not that long ago – our relationship was tired and drawn. It would have been easy to walk away; to not face the anger and frustration we felt when Aiden got sick. We envied our friends with their healthy kids and seemingly healthy marriages. Yes, everyone has their troubles but our hearts were worn and we felt isolated in our pain. We wanted our life-before-cancer back.

What I now realize, though, is that in our devastation we gained a very rare awareness. This knowledge in and of itself is powerful, beautiful and unique to us, together. Now that we have been able to step back, realize that troubles are relative and that we are not alone in our struggles or joys; life has so much more meaning. I have no doubts in us and in our love.

* * *

This morning when I hugged you in the hallway, three times, and exclaimed – in the loudest whisper I could muster – that I loved you, did you see the twinkling in my eyes? Could you tell I had something on my mind? I could feel the words escaping my mouth so very quickly. My eyes, my heart they had a secret to share. Looks like my secret – this very love note – is a secret no longer.

Happy Valentine's Day, my love.

Always yours,

Photo courtesy of Kristen Gardner Photography

Photo courtesy of Kristen Gardner Photography