I can’t tell you the exact moment, the exact day, but I can tell you that when Shannon told me she and Ben were going to fly to Mexico for her first Christmas with cancer in December of 2009, I was shocked and upset. It was one of those moments, as her mom, that I did not hide how I felt. I told her to please reconsider, to go just one week later, to let us go with them-- I offered many alternative suggestions. But anyone that knows Shannon knows that once that little girl had her mind made up it was as good as done. She did offer to let us go with them but the more I thought about it and got the idea of what she was going for, I backed off. I did wonder how I was going to get through Christmas without her. She was really such a big part of our little family and the only other female beside me.
So Shannon and Ben were booked on a flight to leave BWI on Sunday December 20th. To fly, Shannon had to make several different accommodations for herself. She had to bring medicine that had to be refrigerated. She had to make special arrangements with the airline to transport the medicine. Shannon had to fly with a compression sleep and glove and this would be her first time testing it out. I worried about many things. If she swelled what would they do for her in Mexico? Also, if she got sick with any side effects what would they be able to do for her in Mexico? How would they be able to fly her back to the states if she had swelling due to the ancillary lymph node dissection?
I don’t know if Shannon gave much thought to any of that. She was not the worrier that I was, thankfully!
The first thing Shannon and Ben had to overcome was a huge snow storm. The storm began on Saturday night and continued on into Sunday the day they left. They got out of BWI right before they shut down the airport. Breathe Susan breathe! OK – on their way. I prayed hard that she had no reactions to the compression in the plane.
Once Shannon and Ben arrived we could not call due to roaming charges and I wanted to let her find her way and get settled but she did email me to let me know they had arrived and she described the little room off the lobby where she could email and also Skype with me and her dad.
Shannon also let us know that she did not swell badly and by the time we spoke the swelling was going down. So far so good right?
During this week Shannon and Ben did many fun things. They spent time on the beach-- for Shannon this meant totally covered. They took an excursion to see ruins. They swam with dolphins and we have a picture of Shannon kissing one with her compression sleeve on. They had romantic dinners under the moonlight and tried different dishes.
When Christmas day came I had arranged to do things differently to try to make up for her absence. Sean’s Dad, his brother Mark, Christopher, Sean and me all went to Carroll’s Creek for brunch. It was all very nice. Afterward, Christopher, Sean and me watched Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. That night Christopher’s kids were flying in from Florida for their Christmas break weekly stay with their dad. So we had something to be excited about. But for me the highlight of that day was when we got on Skype with Shannon. I craved her female presence in our family gatherings. I did not love one of my children more than the other. But I had one very sick child in Mexico and she was my only daughter and I desperately craved her presence. After we used Skype and I laughed at her antics and funny stories I felt relaxed and ready to enjoy the rest of my family evening. Everything just felt right with the world.
Shannon probably had some type of internal bucket list or something like that. Because she was constantly reaching beyond what was expected of her. Doing for others in extraordinary ways and treating herself and her husband to an unusual but fun way to spend Christmas when you have recently been given a prognosis of 3-5 years to live. Looking back now I see so many things that she did that were daring and areas where she absolutely pushed herself beyond her physical limit.
Shannon was living her life to the fullest and enjoying each moment as if it could be her last. Her motto when she talked to me was always-- she was hoping for healing but if it was not to be so then she accepted that she might die. She was mature beyond her years and made me very proud by the example that she set.