“My daughter was diagnosed with cancer at four years old.
Four. Years. Old.
Bone cancer, Ewing’s Sarcoma.
She didn’t know how to ride a bike, had never stepped into a classroom, and spent most of her days in a tutu.
In the next year, she would endure more pain and suffering than most adults see in a lifetime. She would attend funerals of friends she met and loved, who were lost to the same disease she was fighting.
She would lose her beautiful head of blonde curls, nearly all of her muscle mass, and her childlike innocence.
Her tumor was located in the middle of her back, between two ribs, touching her spine.
Treatment was brutal. Seventeen rounds of chemotherapy over the course of a year. Multiple surgeries, including the removal of four ribs, part of her spinal sheath, and a spinal fusion.
Finally, she was declared in remission.
I took home a frail, pale, bald, five-year-old, covered in scars.
That was now three years ago.
If you met my daughter today, this story would likely shock you.
Though small for 8 years old, she is beautiful, healthy, muscular, outgoing, funny, a talented competitive dancer, and an honor roll student.
She is an amazing overcomer.
In many ways, she has healed.
Yet, there is some healing that will never come. Every so often the realization that she is still here, while some children are not, weighs heavy on her brave heart.
Then, a few weeks ago, on a rushed morning, I threw her shorts and a tank top and asked her to get dressed. She quietly asked me for a different shirt. Oblivious and in a hurry, I said, ‘Why? You love that one, just put it on, we gotta go…’
‘A boy at camp…told me I shouldn’t wear shirts that show my scars. He said they are scary.’
For a brief and irrational moment, I debated finding said boy and giving him some scars of his own…but quickly realized this boy likely had NO IDEA what this girl has been through. ‘I think what he meant, was that, the thought of what you must have gone through, to get those scars…is scary. Your scars are beautiful.’
She didn’t seem convinced. Tears formed in her eyes.
I sat down beside her and pulled her close. ‘You have an incredible story. You should be so proud of what you overcame.’
‘I just want to be normal,’ she sobbed. ‘I want you to think about all the little girls like you that you have met, who are fighting cancer like you did, who will have scars like you…do you want them to cover them up? Hide them?’
‘No!!,’ she exclaimed, wiping away her tears. ‘I don’t want them to be sad.’
‘Did you know that by being proud of your scars, you’re inspiring them to be proud of theirs too?’
That did it. A small smile. She reached over and grabbed the shirt, and walked out of the room. A little taller, in my eyes.
A few mornings later, I woke up with an idea. I text my best friend, who happens to be an amazingly talented photographer, and told her of my idea.
Let’s show Claire, and the world, that being beautiful isn’t about hair, makeup, or clothes. Beauty isn’t perfection.
Real beauty, is…raw. Real beauty is a little girl who experienced unthinkable physical and emotional trauma, and came out the other side…stronger, and with a deep appreciation of the fragility that is this life. A little body that was once physically battered by surgeries and chemo, and now dances gracefully. That’s beauty.
Her little body may be scarred, but it tells a story of perseverance and hope.
I wish no child, or adult, would ever feel the need to cover their scars. If they do, I hope they remember that by not covering them, they are inspiring an 8-year-old girl, to embrace her little body that beat cancer. Let’s teach our kids that imperfection, is beauty. That bravery, is beauty. That compassion, is beauty.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Claire’s mom, Michelle Russell of Puyallup, Washington. You can follow Claire’s journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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