The last conversation I had with my daughter Sonny was one that I will never forget. As she sat there exhausted from the leukemia and CDiff and sepsis that was ravaging her body; we talked about how much of a fight she put up. She could only respond with a short, “I know Momma”. To which I replied, “You don’t have to fight anymore baby.” Again, “I know Momma”. I told her that her Poppa was waiting in Heaven on his tractor to take her for a ride like she used to love when she was little. I told her that Heaven was miles of sandy beaches and sunshine; much like her favorite vacations. I made a promise to her that day; a promise that I intend to make it my life’s duty to keep. I told her, “I will be ok. I will cry, but I will be ok.”
Three short days later, on March 29, 2017, she waited until it was only her father and I in her room as she took her last breath. Since that day I have struggled with grief. I have been angry. I have cried enough tears to fill a small building. However, I have also been grateful. I have been grateful to God for choosing me to be her mother. I have been grateful to have been able to experience unconditional love. I have been grateful that she no longer has to suffer and has been made whole again in Heaven. I have been grateful for friends and family. I have been grateful to be able to continue the work she started upon learning of her diagnosis.
Sonny was a fierce advocate for LLS. She believed in their mission and started helping raise funds for cancer research by participating in the Light the Night walk. She told me, “Momma, if I can just live long enough, I know they will find a treatment that will work for me!” In addition to supporting LLS, Sonny donated her hair prior to and after her diagnosis. She helped other cancer patients find resources. She shared her own get well gifts with other patients. Perhaps the most important thing she shared was her smile and positive attitude.
Since Sonny’s passing I have let myself feel sad when I need to, but I also remind myself of not only my promise to her, but how she handled life in general. To celebrate her memory and continue her legacy, we have started a Light the Night team in her memory called “Team Sonny’s Sunshine”. Our team participates in the Erie, PA walk; which is our home town. In 2017 we were not only the largest family team, but we also were the highest fundraising family team at just over $9,000. It was our success that made it possible for me to be asked to help the local chapter by being part of the Executive Planning Committee for 2018 and 2019. I have also started to become involved with the local LLS chapter in Washington, DC where I now reside.
In 2018 we continued our success as a team in both size and fundraising. We were even able to secure several corporate sponsorships; one of which was the second largest under the main sponsor. We are hoping to keep the momentum into 2019 and beyond. Participating in the walk allows me to share Sonny’s story and be an advocate for all those impacted by cancer. Our team’s T-shirts incorporate a piece of Sonny in them as well. Our logo is her tattoo of her favorite flower; the sunflower and a compass which signifies her love of travel and having direction.
The T-shirts have multiple purposes. One is of course to be able to identify our team the day of the walk. Another is to honor others impacted by cancer by incorporating their names on the back of the shirt. We sell them to the general public and donate all the proceeds to LLS. We have also asked people to wear them when the travel and share pictures on social media with #sheiseverywhere and #teamsonnyssunshine so that Sonny can continue to see the world. She has been to Peru, Iceland, Vietnam, Cancun, Sweden, and Antigua so far. I am often asked about it when I wear mine and it gives me a chance to share some of Sonny’s sunshine while bringing awareness to cancer.
Once I realized that people were interested in hearing about Sonny I decided to create a website (www.teamsonnyssunshine.com) to share her story and ways to help cancer patients with a wider audience. I use the site to share stories, research updates, and how to become a bone marrow donor or how to donate blood products. We use the site and other social media pages during the month of July (Sonny’s birth month) to do a “30 Days of Sonny”. The purpose is to share Sonny’s life and beautiful personality with the world while raising awareness for blood cancers.
We also use the site to sell the T-shirts; as well as packets of sunflower seeds with her image on them. We encourage others to #spreadsunshine by planting sunflowers everywhere. It is my hope that it will develop into a 501(c)3 with the mission of supporting LLS, helping other cancer patients, and to one day be able to offer scholarships to young women like Sonny who want to pursue a career as an oncology nurse. We have already provided donations to patients, gifts to children undergoing cancer treatment and directed families to other resources that can provide assistance.
Losing a loved one to cancer is never easy. Losing a child to cancer is even worse. As a parent you never expect to outlive your child. The feeling of being helpless and not being able to take your child’s pain away is something that I will never get over. However, when I think of Sonny and how she handled life with a smile no matter what, I cannot allow myself to stay sad. When I think of the promise I made to her and the impact her life has had on so many others, it makes me want to be a better person in every area of my life. She was the single most amazing human I have ever met. Her strength and grace continue to inspire me daily. I want to share that with the world.