October 2, 2009 Tonight, as we crossed the Shelby Street Bridge, I looked behind me and in front of me to see thousands of illuminated red balloons, marching along at a determined pace, sweeping along with them the occasional bobbing white balloon for blood cancer survivors and too many gold balloons marking the loss of a loved one. Among these red balloons carried by those who love and support someone currently fighting blood cancer or someone who has survived and beaten it, somewhere around the middle of the pack, was a white balloon attached to a red wagon carrying a pale, but determined six-year-old propped up on pillows and wrapped in a pink High School Musical blanket. That child was my daughter and I was prouder of her in that moment than I have ever been before.
When I left the house at 5:30 pm to make my way to LP Field and meet up with Team Tanner, she was in my bed having managed to choke down a slice of bread and some applesauce. It was the first food she had eaten since the night before and she looked weak and sick, but was firm on the fact that she and John would meet me at the walk a little later. On my way downtown, John called to say she had thrown up 3 or 4 times and that they would not be coming. My heart sank… she wanted this so badly, had worked so hard to raise this money. While we were still on the phone, John says, “Wait, she’s up and says she’s coming!” We talked about keeping her home, but decided to let her make the call and she and John said they would be on their way shortly.
Tanner arrived, packed comfortably in her wagon, with a tired smile on her face, but happy. She said she felt better and joked and posed for pictures with the team. She never got out of the wagon except to go the bathroom and, even then, I carried her the few steps to and from the port-a-potty, but she never complained, and even perked up enough to, hilariously, eat a barbecue sandwich while being pulled through downtown Nashville by her Dad. She made it on sheer grit, a childlike desire for fun, and a maturity I had never seen her show on this level.
The walk was a beautiful event. The weather was perfect, downtown Nashville sparkled and there was an impressive turnout. I thought I would be a weepy mess, but I only cried once, when we found the luminary that Keith Harper created for her, lit along the side of the road with many others. It said, “Tanner Page, My Hero.” Indeed.
Other than that, it was a mostly joyous event that was too uplifting to make me cry. Even those who were walking in memorial of a loved seemed to be celebrating a life lived well, if not ended well.
Our team was wonderful and perfect, a great mix of our friends, some co-workers, some former co-workers, some church members, and some just old friends. I am glad to have shared this magical night with them… it was special for all of us, I think. Thanks to Robin, Kim, Beth, Glenn, Paula, Rebecca K and Rebecca L, Anna Lynn, Abbey, Amy, Keith, Leslie, Pat, Bobby, Lauren and Larry for walking with us. And, many thanks to everyone who donated; we raised more than $7,500. Larry wins the prize for having travelled the furthest; he hails from New Jersey and had flown in the night before from Maine, just to walk with us. Rebecca K wins the trooper award for walking nearly two miles and standing on her feet for an hour beforehand while 9 months pregnant (I am not worthy…). We are blessed many times over to have such wonderful friends who are carrying us through like the red balloons carried the whites.
We carried adorable signs that Robin made, with pictures of Tanner and slogans like “We love Tanner,” and “Team Tanner Rocks.” I think Tanner realized, for the first time, that she is not alone. That there are lots of people with cancer, that there are tons of people who love her, and that she is never alone in this journey, although she probably feels like it sometimes.
On the way home, I looked into the rearview mirror to see my little girl, asleep with the chain of glow bracelets Anna Lynn had brought her looped over her ears and dangling down, ridiculously. She had joked only minutes before that they looked like earrings, then asked if she could have her nighttime meds when we got home because she was starting to feel sick again. She looked beautiful and strong, even though she was pale and physically weak, and I marveled at her determination.
This is my daughter. And she is fighting cancer tooth and nail.