Gratitude is a habit that presently eludes many Americans, and it is no wonder in the midst of this worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Gratitude is not an easy attitude to practice in 2020, even more so if you have a child battling cancer. As parents care for their critically-ill child, they face more restrictions and additional health worries beyond their child’s cancer when Covid-19 is added to the equation.
As a cancer survivor and pediatric oncology nurse at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, Kim Bira falls under two of these categories and she offers an empathetic and fairly rare perspective. Born and raised in Omaha to a loving family, she was ushered into the world of cancer at 9 years old when doctors uncovered an osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, around her knee.
“I lived a happy, suburban, American apple pie childhood by most people’s standards,” Bira recounts. “Then when I started 4th grade, I felt as though a weighty painful brick was strapped permanently to my knees.”
For 2 years thereafter, walking through life with this weighty brick strapped to her knees would be her greatest hurdle, and gratitude her greatest challenge. For starters, if you suddenly and rapidly lost most of your hair, had one or more painful bricks strapped to your knees, and had to make regular extended visits to the hospital for therapy that wiped you out and made you throw up, would you be at all grateful?
Despite the immense challenges of resilience and evasiveness of gratitude, this difficult period and formative trial by fire ignited Kim’s career vocation as a kid in ways for which she is forever grateful and that she never considered prior to diagnosis. “Gratitude can often be felt most intensely in retrospect” Bira contends. “Every day that I look into an elementary school kid’s eyes and see that they feel trapped, I remember why I’m now a [pediatric] oncology nurse,” she states.
“Cancer created many burdens,” says Bira, “but it also matured and liberated me in ways that I would not have experienced without that news I received [at 9 years old].” What naturally trapped Kim when she was their age now provides her compassion, purpose and perspective.
Hesitant to submit that other kids glean the same things from experiencing cancer young, she concedes that many survivors and their family members come away from cancer treatments with renewed appreciation for the potential of each day and the possibilities it brings.
At a time when it is particularly difficult for many to take hold of hope and find gratitude each day, Kim’s example and the stories of her pediatric cancer patients and families reminds us all never to take our days for granted and to appreciate the good in those who fill them. Concurrently, we are reminded to recognize the dreams we hold and the love we are called to give and receive from others at every turn.
If you ever feel called to give such love or support to pediatric cancer patients and their families, please contact Here to Serve at any time and know of our gratitude for you. Meanwhile, we wish you a safe and blessed Thanksgiving, one that will allow you to reflect on what we can be grateful for even in the midst of a pandemic. Happy Thanksgiving!
By Frank Kane