Memories in a Suitcase

This piece was written by Joelle Oliver, mother to Patrick, who was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in November 2018. Originally from Minnesota, the Oliver family had moved to Indonesia before Patrick's cancer diagnosis made it necessary for them to return to the United States for treatment.

As I glance at the suitcase in the corner each time I enter the room, a flood of memories runs through my body. The mixed emotions go through so fast, it feels as though a lightning strike has occurred and leaves me wondering if anyone else felt it.

The memories in a suitcase starts with a joyful feeling. As my best friend and I shop late into the night on Black Friday, I have purchased the suitcase in anticipation to carry luggage on any upcoming airplane adventures. Little did I know how many adventures that suitcase and I would have.

The suitcase accompanied me on a solo trip to Las Vegas with my best friend as well as weekend road trips to the lakes and everything in between.

Patrick with his Beads of Courage, which he adds to every time he goes through a procedure or reaches a treatment milestone.

This suitcase became a duo case for our first trip to Indonesia to determine if this was the right path for our family. We rolled that suitcase through multiple airports and countries. This happy memory will also fit inside the suitcase.

On our worldly adventure to Indonesia, this suitcase held almost half of the belongings we would take with us on this journey. The scared and exciting emotions are packed right in with all the past memories. The suitcase had some quiet time in the closet of our apartment, but little did we know it would have some unexpected adventures.

With so many emotions already inside the suitcase, who would have known more could be piled in. Our trip to Singapore to determine what was causing our sons eye swelling was just the start.

All these memories occurred before the biggest unexpected news of our lives occurred: It is cancer. It is malignant.

Patrick with his parents, sisters and brother

So, we packed the suitcase again with an overwhelming feeling of dread. Dread, along with raw grief, filled this suitcase. The PET scan in Singapore showed localized cancer. The treatment plan was set for 6 months. We had to decide if this suitcase was going back to Indonesia or the USA.

With joy, happy, scared, excited, dread, and grief already plumping up the suitcase, we knew there would be more. The USA was where this suitcase would accompany a sorrowful family. The family that just started the adventure of their lives, only to be pulled back with such force.

Is this the end of the memories within the suitcase? Or is it far from it? This suitcase is now used to travel back and forth to the hospital for chemotherapy treatment. This suitcase will separate the family for 5 1/2 weeks to two different cities while radiation penetrates the cancerous area.

These are the memories and emotions that hit me like a lightning strike whenever I see the suitcase. These memories will continue to grow with each new obstacle that tries to stand in our way. When the lightning strike ends, I see the suitcase for what it is. It is the memory of fighting for our family and being together outweighing the grief.

Written by Joelle Oliver 
Joelle is a stay at home mom to Wesley, Christina, Patrick and Lucy. Patrick was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in November 2018. This diagnosis came when Joelle and family were living in Indonesia and made the difficult decision to move back to the United States to seek treatment. Currently, Joelle and her husband Joe reside in Chaska, Minnesota. Their family looks forward to spending time at the lake and traveling this summer.