Swimming for Beginners

Written by Katie Kelly in honor of her brother Joe

K and J

Everyone knows the situation when a parent introduces his/her child to a friend who hasn’t seen the child in years. The friend says, “Oh you’ve gotten so big!” and the child simply smiles and nods in response, lost for words to reply. My mother has a lot of friends, meaning a lot of smiles and nods to virtual strangers were portrayed on my part. I carry this frequently recurring experience to remember a very important lesson my mother taught me: you can only make a first impression once. So I now find myself in this situation again–talking to virtual strangers, mothers and fathers and adults alike, trying to make a good first impression. This time, however, I will not just smile and nod and be polite. This time, I am going to tell you a story about a boy who loved math, pie, and football.

Joe was an anomaly. No matter who he was with or how old he was, he was different from all who surrounded him. Joe had a calm demeanor in all situations, despite the chaos spinning around him. He was a cornerstone to rely upon in a storm, a firm hand to hold in times of need. Joe’s deep blue eyes held wisdom from years and years beyond his physical existence. Everyone could find a companion in this lumbering, soft giant. Joe possessed such sincere and profound kindness, one often questioned how old this kid actually was. Despite all of the beautiful things that created his character, Joe was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2010. Was it fair? Of course not. Was he, of all people in the world, supposed to be punished with the burden of illness? Absolutely not. But, opinions do not change fact, and my family did not have the power to change our reality. Not once did Joe cry out “Why me!”No. He took this crushing blow in his lumbering stride and continued on. His strength never wavered, his deep blue eyes never filled with tears. As death eventually parted the two of us, I have memorialized my brother. In death we are granted this privilege, to glorify our loved ones in only a positive light, but this brilliance does not always cast sunshine onto the lives of the living. Often dark clouds and spontaneous rainstorms are cast upon us, and it is with the guidance of others and faith in ourselves that we swim through the floods of rain to reach land, to reach solid ground to plant our feet upon.

The only pearl of wisdom I offer parents about enduring this great, immense mass of water is that everyone swims differently. The power of the current may be relentless, but as long as you kick your legs and move your arms, you are making progress. It is not the job of a lifeguard to instruct those in the water how to swim and deal with the onslaught of waves that come their way, it is the job of the lifeguard to throw in a life preserver or provide assistance when someone is struggling to keep their head above water. I may prefer the butterfly, you may like to backstroke, another may enjoy the dog paddle, but we are all swimming with the same goal–to reach land. In times of sickness, death, and trying, it is the role of parents to be the lifeguard. Watch over your swimmers in the water and provide assistance when necessary, but you can’t carry them to shore yourself, then they will never learn how to survive the rough waters on their own. Provide your children whatever resources, tools, or outlets necessary for them to cope with the grievances they are facing.

So, here I am–a life preserver, or, for those who are just getting their toes wet, those little inflatable wings you slip on new swimmer’s’ arms. I am a vessel, an option, a tool to anyone who needs help staying above water, or just wants someone to chat with as they float along. Let your kids decide how they want to swim, who they choose to swim with, and once in a while, throw them a life preserver or two.

Braver. Stronger. Smarter.

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” ~ A.A. Milne

quoron-image

In honor of National Winnie the Pooh Day, patient Quoron Walker reflects on his inspiring journey and shares what the famous A.A. Milne quote now means to him as a cancer survivor.

Many times, strength is something you don’t realize you have until it’s put to the test.  I didn’t realize how strong, brave, or smart I was until I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer) at 19 years old.

I was in the prime of my life: studying Communications at the University of Hartford and was a budding singer/songwriter.  When I was diagnosed it felt as though someone had snatched me from my existence.  At the same time the world around me kept going, and seemed to be moving fast.

One of the toughest changes to accept was that many of those who I thought would be by my side as I fought cancer vanished.  There were times when my spirit was very low and I was extremely lonely.  I still had my mom, brother, uncle, grandmother, and my good friend Krystal to support me, so I never was truly alone.

I remember at one point my entire body was covered in blisters after a horrible reaction a chemo drug.  The pain was excruciating and it looked even worse.  One of the scariest moments during my year long treatment was the limb salvage surgery I had to remove and replace my my left femur where the cancer originated.

I didn’t know what to expect, but I made it.  I continued chemotherapy while doing intensive physical therapy.  Looking back, I don’t know how I did it.

The main thing that kept me going was my faith.  God had been by my side through it all, and still is.  I always saw myself on the other side of cancer being healed and continuing my life where I left off.

Many people I’ve come in contact with after I was diagnosed have said I was strong but I thought I was just doing what I had to do in order to live.  I didn’t realize I was different until I sat back and thought about others who had lost their battles with cancer.

I learned that true bravery isn’t acting like everything’s okay and that nothing upsets you; it’s facing adversity in spite of your fears.  True strength is getting up everyday knowing that there is something bigger than yourself that controls everything.  And being smart is knowing all of this while being honest with yourself.  It’s knowing that some days will be great, some may be horrible, but you make that day the best you can by making the best decisions you can in that moment.

After beating cancer twice, having several surgeries, and being on what felt like a roller coaster ride that knocked the wind out of me – I’m healed. I look like myself again and have accomplished so much in spite of my illness.  I graduated with honors, found a job in my major, and continue to sing and perform. I learned about myself and I know Quoron.  Now, whatever may come my way, I know I can handle it.

Photo Courtesy – Norman Oates/Norman Oates Photography