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Support: Sheila Quirke Educates and Shares Her Experience with Childhood Cancer

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Support—I cannot begin to imagine losing one of my children to cancer. I could not be one of the 10,400 mothers who find out they have a child with cancer each year. And I certainly couldn't blog about it. I am continually amazed by the women we feature in this column, who have the strength to look outward from within their trials, to re-live some of their suffering online so that others may learn from it. They power a truly powerful aspect of the blogosphere. Sheila Quirke is one such amazing woman, someone who has risen from the depths of grief over the loss of her daughter to cancer enough to tell her daughter's story, which she does at MaryTylerMom.

It is a heart-rending story, detailing the struggles of 20-month-old Donna from diagnosis to death 31 months later. My heart goes out to this mother who I have never met. I put myself in her shoes. I imagine holding my son, as she held her daughter, for hours on end, with that diagnosis, that sentence-with-an-almost-certain-big-black-period-at-the-end, hanging over me. She has begun writing a post for each month of Donna's 31-month fight, extending over the 31-day period beginning August 31, and ending September 30th, to correspond with National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

But it is not just a sad story. As Sheila says "[While] this is a sad story, to be sure, is also one of hope and joy. By following Donna's cancer story, you will learn about pediatric cancer, but you will also learn about resilience and the grace and grit of an amazing little girl. You will learn that the most ordinary of people can do extraordinary things. You will come to understand, if you haven't already, that cancer sucks. Lordy, cancer sucks."

Nor is it a story that is over yet. Sheila's part continues, as she pursues a new line of work after having been a clinical social worker. Understandably not able to deal with others' problems while dealing with her own heavy load, she "uses this here internet thingamabob to connect with other working parents. It's fun and so much cheaper than therapy."

Maybe I'm not so different from Sheila after all. I haven't lost a child, but I've had my own soul-crushing, knee-bending trials. While I was dealing with infertility, for example, I told anyone who would listen about how we'd learned to find a good doctor, how we'd determined what tests to ask for, about my many diagnoses and procedures. In doing so, I not only worked things out for me, but educated them in the process, since so many people still know so little about infertility. That is, in the end, why I imagine Sheila shares her story: to educate, to process, to progress.

May we encourage her in that progress, by reading her posts and commenting on her blog. May we have a sense of what it's like to deal with childhood cancer, so that should a friend or family member, or (heaven forbid) we ourselves, have to take on that burden, we can ease suffering. May we at the least not take for granted every day we have with our children.

How do you help ease someone's suffering? How do you offer a helping and supporting hand?

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