Since becoming a mom, there have been a lot of things I figured out how to do that I never expected: How to cut a mango for a toddler while holding a newborn, springs to mind. Introducing my girls to difficult subjects – illness, cancer, death – has been much more daunting.
This year, all three of my children attended 24 Hours of Booty’s opening lap. They loved the chance to stay up past their bedtime, groove to Purrcussion, and count the endless sea of bikes. The next morning, my 4 year old came back to plant herself in the kids’ zone and participate in the kids’ ride. She left the weekend with orange hair spray semi-permanently staining her scalp, innumerable 24 Foundation tattoos, a fascination with the “unlimited snacks” concept, and most importantly, a love of 24 Foundation events.
What she didn’t know was that on Friday afternoon I filled out an “In Honor Of” card for my Uncle Joe. A Tennessee-based pediatrician who had recently been diagnosed with sarcoma after seeing a doctor for lingering shoulder pain. What she witnessed there on the Loop was a celebration of hope and healing, but through her eyes, it was simply a festival of orange in the highest order.
Less than 2 months later, she accompanied me to Uncle Joe’s funeral. His battle was short and intense, and as we traveled across the Smoky Mountains to celebrate his life, she asked me a lot of questions about why I was sad, and what Heaven was like, and what cancer was. Unsure exactly how to answer, I asked her, “You know where I work? For 24 Foundation? And remember how you came to 24 Hours of Booty?” Smiling, she nodded her agreement, visions of balloons and bounce houses undoubtedly filling her head. “Well, 24 Foundation works really, really hard to help people who have cancer like Uncle Joe did. Those people are very sick, but 24 Foundation helps give them ways to feel better during their sickness.”
“Did the kids’ ride help Uncle Joe? Because I think I won!” she asked earnestly.
“Absolutely, baby,” I managed to choke out through a mist of tears.
The family-friendly fun that encompasses 24 Foundation events proved to be the perfect entry point for me to tackle a difficult subject with her. She didn’t know Uncle Joe, and no one in her close circle has faced cancer… yet. The odds, however, are stacked against her. With 1.7 million new cancer diagnoses each year, it seems inevitable that someone dear to her will be impacted by the disease. Thankfully the work of 24 Foundation and its partner beneficiaries means that more patients diagnosed will live longer, fuller lives post-diagnosis.
For some 4 year olds, their worlds have already been shattered or re-routed by cancer, but weekends like 24 Hours of Booty and 24 Indianapolis are the chance to recalibrate and find the joy in the midst of the trial, to remove the stigma, release a little of the fear, and embrace the fun… for 24 hours… and hopefully much, much longer.