We got this… my go-to saying for the past 18 months now has another meaning. I’ve said it hundreds of times as my now 10 year old goes through the process of kicking cancer’s butt. October 16, 2018 was a day that changed my life. My son, who was just getting into the groove of third grade, was diagnosed with leukemia. It was something I had heard about happening to other families and I had always said to myself that if that ever happened to me, I don’t know how I’d survive. Well, here we are 18 months later, surviving. 

It was a tough first year with a really tough first few months. I distinctly remember not wanting to get out of bed that first day. I wanted to put my head under the covers and not come out. If I closed my eyes would it go away? I didn’t want to face reality. Reality was that leukemia was now a part of our everyday life, and it would be there for a while. I think what really got me was that I didn’t have any say that this was happening. No choice. It just simply was decided and I had no control over it. 

Fast forward, I did get out of bed, I did face reality because I had to. My son needed me and my job as his mama was, and of course still is, to be there for him, through thick and thin. He’s my number one. 

In every dire circumstance exists the chance to learn and grow.

I did not have much hope back when he was diagnosed. I wasn’t experiencing anything positive. I didn’t know what was ahead and that was terrifying. I remember many times saying to my therapist, “I just want to get through this and be on the other side.” What I didn’t realize when I was saying it was that I was IN it and I was getting through it. There wasn’t a door to go through to lead me to the other side. Sure, there’s the day he gets to ring the Chemo Bell to signify the end of chemo, which is amazing, but it doesn’t mean for me that I’m done with this. I will always worry. I will always carry a level of anxiety.

 In the first few months of my unfortunate new normal, I started reading about Radical Acceptance. According to Karyn Hall, Ph.D.

Radical acceptance is about accepting life on life’s terms and not resisting what you cannot change. It’s difficult to accept what you don’t want to be true. And it’s more difficult to not accept. It’s exhausting to fight reality, and it doesn’t work. Life’s full of experiences, some that you enjoy and others you dislike. When you push away or attempt to avoid feelings of sadness and pain, you also diminish your ability to feel joy. Avoidance of emotions often leads to depression and anxiety.

The current state of the world is challenging us to practice acceptance. Remember, radical acceptance doesn’t mean you agree – it simply means you accept reality. However, if our thoughts are taken over by what is, we can’t focus on the things that we do have control over – our reactions to challenging circumstances, such as the pandemic. 

The past 18 months have taught me that I can fight (with the support & love of so many family members & friends). If I can endure this, something I thought would be impossible, I can handle anything. I remind myself of this almost daily. What I went through back then has helped me to manage today’s isolation, uncertainty and anxiety-provoking crisis.  Dare I say, it even prepared me? It gave me the ability to practice acceptance and have hope. As I often say to my son, “It is what it is. This is happening, we don’t have a say in it and sometimes it sucks. But we’ll get through it.”  We might not have a say in what’s going on in the world today but we do have a choice in how we react. We can choose to have hope and have a positive outlook. This too will be ok. We got this.

Author: Ilana Sherman, Director of Education