When I first started visiting her at home, I didn't really know what to expect. I had never been around an eight year old with cancer before, so I was worried that it might be sad or scary. I was nervous. But walking into the Cayco home was like walking into a beam of sunlight. Being around Chenee and her family is like seeing the physical embodiment of joy walking around in human form. She has a mom and dad, an older brother and a spunky little grandma they call Momma Lola. Her parents work night and day to keep their family afloat and take care of their little girl. I worked with Chenee four days a week until the end of school with the hopes that she would be able to start back with her classmates in August. In the time that I taught Chenee, we sometimes worked at home, sometimes in the hospital and never once did I see her with less than a mega watt smile on her face. Even though I knew in my heart she was sick, I knew she was hurting and I knew she was tired, she and her whole family always seemed happy. They tell me that they know there is a higher plan for Chenee and they have faith and peace in that plan. In short, they are amazing.
As a bonus to my visits, they always treat me like royalty. I have never stepped foot in their home or hospital room without being treated to a home cooked meal plus had left overs to take home to my boys. I have been introduced to a variety of Filipino foods and Chenee is a crack shot baker. They are incredibly gracious and humble and are so grateful for the help I give their child that it makes me want to cry every time I think about it. Frankly, I'm not that great of a teacher :) Sometimes we just talk. I have most definitely given her some questionable math instruction over the past couple of years and we are currently starting a science fair project that is already walking a very fine line between genius and disaster.
Chenee did start back to school at the beginning of fourth grade and I never thought I would be so happy to be out of a job. Unfortunately, she needed me again a few months into the school year. That is pretty much how our time together has gone since 3rd grade, she goes to school when she is able and when she isn't, she gets me. She is now a 5th grader and I got the call earlier this month that it was time for me to head back to the Cayco household. It had been a couple of months since I had seen Chenee in person and when Momma Lola opened the door she exclaimed, "Oh my goodness Melissa, you have gotten so big!" What a welcome, right? I had to laugh when Chenee explained that she was pretty sure she meant that I had gotten taller, although I know for a fact I have been this exact height since the 7th grade. Nothing like having your Filipino grandma call you out for weight gain! Nonetheless, they keep stuffing my fat face with delicious food and I just can't say no.
So, our work continues and even though it sounds cliche, I know that I am learning as much as Chenee, and not just about 5th grade math. I am learning what grace under pressure looks like. I am learning about finding joy even though you are facing terrifying odds and I am learning about peace that passes understanding every single afternoon that I sit at her kitchen table. Chenee can't get better without a bone marrow transplant and right now, a match has not been found. I have never heard her parents bemoan this fact, they are just resolute in their belief that they only need one person and that person is out there for Chenee. This week during our last visit before Thanksgiving, I asked what they were going to do for the holiday. This family is always having a party and I love it. Chenee thought for a minute and said that they were going to have a special celebration this Thanksgiving because two years ago on Thanksgiving they were in the hospital hearing that their only daughter was being diagnosed with leukemia. She gave me one of her giant smiles and said, "This Thanksgiving we are celebrating two good years."
So this year, I am thankful for two good years with Chenee and praying for her to have ninety more.
I am including a link to a piece from the local news about Chenee's search for a bone marrow match and encourage you to get on the bone marrow registry. Share this with anyone you can so we can get the word out about this little girl's fight. All she needs is one person.