By: Humans of Calvert County, Sarah Merranko & Anita Santoyo

It started when she was in high school and she was having headaches, but they didn’t do an MRI…they didn’t think she needed that. She was sending her application to college and I prayed over that application and asked God to send her where she needed to be. He sent her to JMU, which was the school she wanted to go to anyway, but He sent her to JMU and less than a month she would call me every day…”I don’t feel good.”…”I have a headache.”….” I’m throwing up.” She kept calling me about it. Well, she finally went to the physician on campus and he saw something and he sent her to have an MRI. He saw something in her eyes but didn’t know what it was. I’m going to backtrack for a minute….that physician had just gotten the job at JMU three days before she went to see him. That physician was my brother. He’s a doctor and he took the position at JMU…and the ONLY reason she went to see the doctor on campus was that it was him.

God was orchestrating it.

So, she ended up going in for an MRI and we ended up at UVA and the thing about UVA is that there’s a doctor there, a neurosurgeon who is of the best in the world. His father wrote the books for neurology and neurosurgery. he was there for three weeks. He was never there. So, he was there to do the surgery and to be there for two weeks after surgery. So, we came home and then went to Children’s. We didn’t think it was cancer at that point. At that point, we were told it wasn’t cancer from an oncologist at UVA. So, we went to Children’s and that’s when we found out she had cancer. They recommended going to MD Anderson in Huston or going to Boston, Massachusetts. Well, Boston took her. I sent them all of her information and they took her. She did proton beam radiation. She did that for two months. Every day she’d go have the proton beam radiation. Three weeks after she started the radiation, she came out of radiation and she sat there looking at me really strange and I thought what’s wrong?? She said, “Mom, I don’t have double vision anymore…I can see.”

So the tumor had shrunk. Going to Boston had helped the tumor to shrink. I believe it gave her one and a half to two years extra. So, we came home and she went back to school for her to try her freshman year over again. She went back to James Madison University, but unfortunately in March, they found that the tumor had been growing. She couldn’t go back to school at that point. So, we did a trial in Pittsburgh…which didn’t work out at all and then we ended up in Children’s for her final treatment. Through all of it, …she was ALWAYS smiling…ALWAYS there for people…she would have done anything for anybody. Even during it all, I have notes from her friends in college who would say how she was still willing to help them. So, I’m very blessed for two things; she was a Christian and knew Christ…and that I got to say goodbye to her. I got to hold her hand. I got to be there. I got to tell her I love her. She told me she loved me. I mean, I feel that I’m blessed that way.

I went to the beach a lot. I was at the beach every day for hours. I would just walk on the beach. I don’t know at what point, but God started giving me~well, I started finding heart-shaped shells on the beach. So, then I started making them into necklaces. It’s one of the things that I do that I think helps me heal. I send them to caregivers or to parents who have a child who is struggling or to the child who is struggling. That’s one thing that helps me a lot….the hearts…to be able to give them to people.

…but it’s an everyday struggle.

She was my best friend. We did stuff together. She called me every day. We talked all the time. So, it’s hard that that person is gone. I don’t know where I would be without my faith. I would be dead….because there is nothing like losing a child. It doesn’t matter how old. I made her a promise before she died. I promised her that I would live life. That was one thing she was really worried about; that I would not …well, she knew me pretty well…but that I wouldn’t crawl in a hole. That I would do things.

I’ve always kept that promise.

It’s not easy. I mean I get excited and want to do the parties and stuff, but then that day comes and I’m like, “Nope. I don’t want to do it. I’m done. I just don’t want to do it.” The thing is to work through it. That’s what I try to do. Even when it’s hard…just to get through it. then I end up having a good time. It’s just things like that you just have to push through. Like when I went away for the first time and went to go visit my sister….it took all I had not to turn back home. I have to fight that urge to just want to be back home. It’s a struggle. Every day it’s a struggle. It’s because of the grace of God. I don’t know how I get up.

I try to do things my daughter would have done; she was all about people and all about kids. I give back by spending time with others’ kids ….it helps me heal. Some people think that since I’m traveling or smiling in a picture that I’m fine, but that’s not how grief works. The person who wrote that book about the seven stages of grieving wishes they never wrote it because they wrote in a way that it seems like you go through those stages and then you’re done, but that’s not the way it works. The seven stages are all. the. time. I like it when people talk about her…when others have lost someone, I try to ask them about that person…

I will tell you, though,…I don’t feel that I am still….God says to be still and know that I am God, but if I’m still, I have to think about things. I’m busy and I stay busy. The goal this year is to be still…even knowing that the grief is going to come and it’s going to be hard, but if I can walk through it with God…I’ll be better on the other side. It’s a scary thought to be still with your grief.

When my daughter was in Boston, my Bible Study and church would send her little things in the mail…just little things and it made her day. I had the chance to do that for someone else recently, a 17-year-old girl who’s prognosis isn’t good. One of the gifts was a little nerf gun and it brought her so much joy to have a fun time with her siblings…and that has really helped me. It’s healing to give. Just to know you made a difference…at least for her mom, her brothers, and her…for the time she has. It’s amazing.

So many people are rushing around this season….they have to get this~or that….but what they’re missing out on is their child, their husband, or just themselves. That downtime to just be in the moment with each other. It’s so important to be with each other. The stuff is not what it’s about. It all means nothing. It’s about the people. It’s about each other.

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/EditorEditor-in-Chief

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...