In August 2005, my daughter Joli was just 2 years old. On August 17th, we found out Joli had cancer and had to have emergency surgery to remove her eye. Even though her surgery was surprisingly quick, the road to recovery would be long and difficult.
Just a few days after we came home from the hospital, I was driving around town getting prescription medication, bandages, gauze, and some other supplies for Joli post-surgery. My sister, Grace, was with me and we decided to go and grab some takeout from the local Thai restaurant.
We called ahead and Grace ran inside to get the food.
I remember that feeling of awesomeness — in all the hustle and bustle of our now cancer-lives, I hadn’t paid any attention to how I was feeling. I was in pure survivor mode.
But, this was my treat. I was looking forward to my full plate of pad thai with the crunchy peanuts sprinkled over the top; the delicious spring rolls that I would dip in the sweet-and-sour chili sauce; and the Thai ice coffee that was my extra indulgence.
Grace walked towards the car with the large brown paper bag in one hand and my ice coffee in the other. Hurry up, I remember thinking. That’s my food! I could feel my saliva building up in my mouth.
As soon as Grace opened the door, she placed the food in the small space between our seats. YES! That smells so… so …. so…
The watery saliva in my mouth that was preparing for the sweet, spicy, and tangy noodles became acidic and unbearable.
I felt my body sweat. My stomach turned. My heart began to race.
Liza, it’s the stress. You’ve been keeping this all in, said Grace. It’s true. I had been. I had been the rock that my family needed.
No. I’m pregnant, I told her. I know I am.
Sure enough, in the midst of my first born’s chemotherapy. Her enucleation. Her prosthetic fittings. And, her exams under anesthesia. I was pregnant.
At first, I couldn’t believe this was happening. Wasn’t it enough that my daughter’s body was going through unbearable torture? Now, my own body was going to be distracted?
Throughout the months, as Joli’s head became more shiny and bald, my belly became more round and pronounced. As Joli threw up from chemotherapy, I threw up from morning sickness. Many times, we were both snuggled in her hospital bed.
My pregnancy brought me closer to Joli. But, it also kept me at a distance. When she needed her diaper changed, I had to suit up in a paper covering and double plastic gloves just to make sure none of the chemotherapy drugs passed from my skin to my growing baby. Eventually, my belly grew so big that I could no longer snuggle my sick child in the bed. The hospital pulled out a rolling cot for me.
Each month, when we returned for chemotherapy, the nurses on staff would comment about the baby and how big my belly was growing.
They watched me fight for one life and grow another.
Joli finished chemotherapy in late February.
On April 22, 2006 — Earth Day — that growing baby decided to make her appearance.
Quickly, on that morning, Jada was born.
To this day, Jada holds a very special place in my heart. She was a gift in my darkest hours. She was a life force. Whenever I felt angry at the world during those months of treatment and surgeries, I felt Jada kick. It was like she was telling me to “Get a grip, Mom. Seriously.”
Outside of the womb, Jada still says that to me.
Jada is exactly who she was meant to be.
Her laugh lights up a room. Her smile brightens the darkest corners. Her brilliance shines beyond walls. She is feisty, sassy, and assertive.
Jada is the best of all of those difficult months.
I want to believe that all of the things we had to go through during 2005-2006 was to prepare me to be a strong mom, and to prepare Jada to be a strong human. She fights for what she believes in. She sees the good in all the bad. She is unafraid of speaking her mind.
Jada is my sunshine.
She is warmth, she is heat, she is light.
Happy birthday, Jada. Thank you for all the ways in which you were meant to be.