No one ever said life is fair, my father repeatedly reminded me every time I moaned about the fairness of household chores, the demand for excellence on my schoolwork, or having to spend my own hard earned baby sitting money to buy my first pair of leather Converse shoes. After all, didn’t he know how many hours I had to watch the neighbors’ three children at $1.00 an hour to buy those coveted shoes?

At thirteen, life really did not seem fair.

Decades later, my adult life continues to remind me of this deeply rooted childhood lesson. In that apparent “unfairness,” though, I had developed a resilient, bulldozer mentality – one that has served me well. With his matter-of-fact observation about life, my father had relayed expectations that I would do what I needed to overcome obstacles – no matter the magnitude of the roadblocks.

More importantly, my early, pre-adolescent understanding that life is never fair, and that it actually contains disappointment and even heartache, has instilled in me a great desire to celebrate the goodness that does exist – even in the midst of unfairness. When I take time to appreciate the wonder of each day, life doesn’t seem so unfair after all. That philosophy, however, isn’t always easy.

In 2014, my oldest child, Elizabeth, endured a 10-hour, awake craniotomy to remove a benign tumor in her left temporal lobe. Since then, frequent MRIs have monitored the small remnant of the tumor the surgeon had to leave behind. At the end of 2019, though, the neurologist gently, yet firmly, informed us the MRI revealed a new, aggressive tumor that seemed to come out of nowhere. Within a month, my 27-year-old shifted from planning her wedding to fighting for her life.

Diagnosed with stage four brain cancer during the holidays, the past five months have thrown massive hurdles in front of Elizabeth, and as her mother, I have had to reach deep inside me to remember my father’s lesson – life IS not fair, but how I encourage my daughter to take on the opponent of cancer is making a difference. I see it in her drive – in her smile – in her desire to make sure others remember to not let life slip by unnoticed.

At the time of her diagnosis, our pastor delivered a sermon entitled “Make Room for Joy.” As I began to use my bulldozer, get-out-of-my-way personality to help Elizabeth navigate the twists and turns of living with stage four brain cancer, this sermon gave me a lifeline.

This sermon asked me to make room for joy- to be grateful – to delight in the moment. Since then, the sermon’s message has become my rally cry. Even in the midst of watching my child bravely battle cancer, I have much to celebrate. I have had to shove fear aside to make room for joy.

Publicly, I use the hashtag #MakeRoomForJoy to celebrate all of the good that has emerged from my child’s experiences with cancer. Yes, in fact an overabundance of good has emerged. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people have shown up to offer support; skilled and patient hands of the healthcare professionals at the James Cancer Center in Columbus, Ohio, sustain her life; and the strength and resiliency I see my daughter so graciously draw on every day inspires me.

Never once has Elizabeth uttered the words, “This isn’t fair.” Never once. And, she could have. No one would have blamed her. That’s not Elizabeth, though. She, too, knows that she wasn’t promised a trouble-free life. She would rather celebrate the joyful moments than dwell on things she cannot control.

And so there it is. Even in the midst of the ugliness of cancer, I have so much to celebrate. Because of that, I will always #MakeRoomForJoy. My dad was right. No one ever said life was fair, but how I lean into that apparent unfairness makes all the difference.

10 thoughts on “#MakeRoomForJoy

  1. I hope this was as cathartic to write as it was to read. I feel fortunate to read the story and to know your choice to #makeroomforjoy. You are remarkable. It is no wonder you have such a remarkable daughter.


    • Ruth, the writing process has always been a way to process experiences, but this particular essay was important because it gave me an avenue to express my gratitude for so many things – even amidst the ups and downs of helping my child fight cancer.


  2. So many emotions fill me as I read and reread your words. I understand the refrain “life is not fair” from a father. I’ve heard it too. My heart aches for the struggle with brain cancer, but yet you are able to find the joy. What a blessing of strength you are to your daughter but to everyone who surrounds you. So much joy and strength in that picture!


    • Elsie, the true joy in all of this is having mothered this remarkable woman (and her amazing brother…. a future blog post will reflect on what an incredible brother he has been to Elizabeth). Every chance I get, I will continue to encourage us to look for joy – it’s always there – even when we have to squint and look hard.


  3. I love your hashtag. I’ve been working on finding the JOY in the every day for quite a few years now. And the more I look, the more I find. Although, finding it in the midst of your daughter’s cancer journey has got to be tough. I can’t even imagine. Hugs to you and your daughter. Here’s to finding JOY wherever it shows up!


  4. Wow. And to think I was grumpy because I’m chilled and it’s rainy out right now. Perspective really shifts my thinking … and attitude! You and your daughter have endured so much, yet you remain steadfast in your faith and find the joy. We were never promised an easy life, but leaning in and trusting our God will help you through every high and low. Prayers for you all. And thank you for sharing your personal journey. I needed to hear it today.


  5. “…the strength and resiliency I see my daughter so graciously draw on every day inspires me.” That is a joy seed, indeed. Thank you for sharing such such a tender story with larger application for all of us during current trying times.


  6. I first read this the week you posted. I had no words at that time. I am not one to write through the tough stuff. I am one to retreat. I am in awe of your ability to process in the midst of your daughter’s journey. Your outlook is beautiful and has stayed with me since I first read this post. Thank you for the gift of your openness.


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