I didn’t really know what a friend was until my son, Liam, was diagnosed with leukemia in May of 2018. When we first got the devastating news, I wondered why people weren’t coming to see us. In a moment of absolute upheaval, we desperately needed something (or someone) familiar to pull us back to earth. We had just moved to a new city and I was very new at being a stay-at-home-parent. I kept telling myself, “Most of my friends are teachers. They will come see us in the summer.” They never did.
When I crumbled on the floor and couldn’t breathe. Nurses surrounded me even through the one fighting was on the hospital bed. Where were you?
On the many days of having to bring our toddler to eight-hour chemo appointments trying to pretend that this was normal, when all I wanted was to focus on my very sick and scared 5-year-old. Where were you?
On the many days when I didn’t have the energy to shower, let alone make dinner, while trying to keep the toddler away from her brother’s chemo-tainted vomit on the floor. Where were you?
On the long days where we were medically confined to our house, despite the beautiful weather outside. Where were you?
On the nights when all I needed was someone to sit and cry with me. Where were you?
When there was a secondary cancer scare just months into treatment. Where were you?
Days went by, weeks went by, months went by, and now years. When all we needed was a text saying you were on our team rooting for us. Where were you?
All of our fundraisers, walks, events, and awareness campaigns... when all we needed was you by our side. Where were you?
But you were there.
When we needed someone to vent to and listen to our fears. You were there.
When he needed a friend to come sit and play a game of Uno. You were there.
When he needed people to send videos telling him jokes. You were there.
When we needed to feel the love and feel like someone had our back. You were there.
When we were overwhelmed with another year of medical expenses. You were there.
When we needed to know that someone was thinking of and praying for Liam. You were there.
When we got home from a long appointment just to discover someone was bringing dinner for us. You were there.
You were there all along. We were just looking at the wrong people.
There’s a saying in the pediatric cancer world: “Friends become strangers and strangers become friends.” Although we have a few family members and friends who have been unconditionally supportive, we were not prepared for the amount of relationships that would be lost.
It has taken the entire year and nine months to work through this and we are still not completely healed. But the strangers… We now have friends who are more like family, who started off as strangers. We were not prepared for the lost relationships, but we had no idea what the strangers would do for us. Preschool families, hockey families, friends of friends, family of friends, numerous organizations, you name it. There has always been someone there waiting to fill the void.
The healing will take a lifetime to work through, but the love that has been shown helped us realize the true definition of friendship.
Written by Kristy Westrom
Kristy is a former teacher and mom to two children, Liam and Isla. Liam was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in May 2018. Kristy and her husband, Stan, live in Chaska, Minnesota. They look forward to intense treatments slowing down for Liam so they can resume family activities, like going up to the cabin. Read more about Liam’s story here. For more from Kristy, read her pieces The Beginning - Liam's Diagnosis Day, Please, Don't Stay Little and Looking for the Finish Line.