Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Angel Tree Sponsors

This year has been rough—and that’s saying something. After all, life hasn’t been a bed of roses for me. I had a child who died.... I’ve been homeless at 17.... I’ve almost been shot. You wouldn’t know any of that from seeing me, but that’s the fun of life; we all have these crazy stories to tell if someone is just willing to ask us the right questions.

Anyway, in early 2020, I ran a newspaper. Getting a bit overly confident, I put it above everything—even my marriage. It got so bad that things spiraled, I made some of the worst choices of my life, and we talked about divorce. Then in May, imagine my surprise when a huge corporation bought our little paper and they only kept two of the employees. 

Losing my job was shocking, but thank God I did. In the month before I found a new job, my husband and I discovered a deeper love, and I got time with my kids that I hadn’t had in over two years. And just when things seemed better than they had been—ever—I started experiencing a strange pain in my back.

“I feel like there’s an infection in my back,” I told a PA (physician assistant) in July. “It feels like mush.”

He brushed me off. “Back pain can be a terrible thing.” And since I had a cold, he gave me a COVID-19 test (which came back negative) and referred me to a chiropractor. I visited the chiropractor for 4 months—even went back to the PA, but things got worse. Soon I could hardly walk, and would only sleep about 1 hour a night.

At the advice of a friend, I found myself in the ER at the University of Utah. They did all sorts of scans and found that a tumor had eaten all of my L3 vertebrae. But that wasn’t all! I had tumors riddling my body from my pelvis to my brain, and had small growths in my lungs and gallbladder. “Stage 4 melanoma,” the doctors said, and later gave me 2 years to live.

I had a massive surgery. They replaced my L3 with a cage and a cadaver bone that will hopefully grow in as time goes on. I underwent radiation and infusion treatments. I shaved my head just before my hair started falling out. I lost so much, but found a strange peace through the kindness of those around me.

Still, I stressed about Christmas. How could I possibly do anything? Bills have piled up since I had to stay as an inpatient at the Huntsman for over a month. But on top of that, I can’t walk for more than about 15 minutes because it’s so hard to stand for that long after my surgery. They said no “BLT” (bending, lifting, twisting). Shopping is a nightmare.

So we told the kids that Christmas would be different this year. “We’re renting a small cabin so we can play games. But each person will only get one gift.”

My ten-year-old’s eyes grew big. “But Santa will come!”

I didn’t realize she still believed.

My breath caught. “Sweetheart,” I stooped down to her level, “I’m so sorry that I’m sick. You’ve had to be so strong while I was gone. You’ve grown up much faster than you should’ve had to. And now this. There will just be one gift this year. I’m so sorry, Honey.”

Tears filled her eyes as understanding about Santa suddenly hit. And I felt terrible for shattering her childhood magic like that. But then, she reached out, her little arms encircling me, gently touching where the incisions had been on my waist and back. “Mama, don’t worry about any of that. Honestly, what I really wanted, I have.”

“What was that?”

“I just wanted you home. I wanted my mama back.” We held each other for a long time and cried. But still my heart ached. I couldn’t give my kids the Christmas they deserved.

I sat thinking about all of this, when someone knocked on the front door last Thursday. It was a sweet woman from my daughter’s school. She brought in six huge bags as my husband explained that we’d been picked to be the Angel Tree family. While I stayed in the hospital, he’d filled out the forms and here we were.

I tried to keep my emotions at bay, but when she left I cried and cried. They’d brought a bag for each child—and also a bag for me and for Mike.

I can’t explain how hard it is to be in need like this, but I just hope the donors know how much this means to us. I’m so happy my little girl will have this amazing surprise. I don’t know who bought us these gifts, but they literally saved Christmas.

Life can be so terribly hard, but the kindness and generosity of others makes even the toughest things so much better. I’m so full of gratitude for their kindness.

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