I’ll never forget Donna. She was a beautiful little girl full of light, and she changed my life. I started reading her story when I was in the midst of a severe depression. I was a horrible balled-up mess. To top it off, I was feeling sorry for myself and had my priorities all fouled up. I knew this, and I tried daily to make it all better. I prayed, meditated, cried, beat myself up, chided, and shamed myself, but I just couldn’t shake the poor me-s.
I started reading Donna’s story. Day after day I confronted one of my greatest fears: childhood cancer. When I was a little girl my best friend had leukemia and I watched her lose her beautiful auburn curls, her balance, her bodily integrity, I missed her when she was out sick for spinal taps, radiation, and chemo, and I cried with her when she raged against the unfairness of what was happening to her. After fighting for nearly 16 years, she succumbed, as much to the treatments as to the disease. There was nothing left of her to save and she died, just 21. The thought of that getting my children puts a knot of pain in my stomach.
I kept reading Donna’s story. A few days into it, I even hoped that I’d totally misunderstood how the story would end, but I hadn’t. Even though I knew what was coming I fell a little more in love with her every day. Her story isn’t just a sad commentary of a child whose light burned too quickly, it’s a story full of hope. You see, even on the worst days we cannot know the outcome and we have to make a choice between light and dark. We can choose the dark, to give up and wait for the inevitable; or we can choose light and hope, that there is more, that miracles can happen, and that lives can change for the better.
Donna’s story was hard to read, but I did it, and it changed my life. It was the first step and much-needed slap in the face that helped me get my priorities straight and get my life back on track. I’d tried reasoning with myself about all the ways I could have it worse, of all the people who suffered or didn’t have even what I had, but that was all too abstract or remote, I guess. Donna’s story was tangible in a way I will never understand.
I will never understand how I came to love someone I never met, or how I think of her often, and though I wish her story had ended differently, I remain ever grateful that in some mystical way through the power of the interwebs I came to know her. I thanked her mother every day for sharing her with us, and I say again, “Thank you Mary Tyler Mom for sharing her with us.” If you haven’t read her story, read it. If you are afraid to read her story, read it anyway. She has changed so many lives, I’m sure she has something to say to you.
If you can spare it, consider donating to childhood cancer research. I’ll leave it to you to decide what to do with your money. If you need an idea, here is a St. Baldrick’s event held in Donna’s name.