Friday, November 9, 2012

Grateful For Go-Go Juice and Mustard

When you meet a little girl like Caroline Carter, you can’t possibly imagine the words blood transfusion or chemotherapy or surgery being remotely used to describe the regular activities of her life. Instead you’d think: there must be some mistake because this kid is so alive, so bubbly!

I had the pleasure of being introduced to 6-year-old Caroline before a talk I gave years ago, and I personally asked her permission to share her photo and story with the audience that day. At first she seemed shy about the notion of being in the limelight, but then, grinning ear-to-ear, she consented. An hour or so later, as an image of her beaming in her princess tiara filled the large projection screen at the blood center recognition banquet, Caroline beamed as well, even stood on her chair so the entire audience could acknowledge her strength and beauty and, well, bubbliness.

I had learned the details of her medical challenges from her mother, Karen, a sharp and well-spoken business woman who was determined to give her little girl as much happiness, joy, and normalcy as she could for as long as possible. At 4½ years old, Caroline had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and given a 30 percent chance of survival. When the chemo, radiation, surgeries, stem cell transplant, and experimental antibody treatments took their toll on Caroline’s body, blood transfusions became a regular part of her regimen as well. In true childlike form, Caroline renamed the blood components to suit her youthful perspective. Red blood cells were “go-go juice,” for their ability to give her considerably more energy after being transfused. Platelets were “mustard,” and I believe their color pretty much explains that nickname.

Many of us often refer to blood transfusions as the “gift of life,” but to Caroline, go-go juice and mustard offered the gift of play: the chance to ride her bike, kick a soccer ball, or climb the rock wall. Go-go juice and mustard allowed Caroline to be normal – as normal as a kid could be between hospitalizations and invasive medical treatments. And allowing her daughter to lead a normal life, Karen would later tell me, was one of her greatest goals, no matter the ultimate outcome of Caroline’s struggle with cancer.

For three and a half years, go-go juice and mustard helped a bubbly little girl forget, at times, that she was a patient, and allowed her to simply focus on being a kid. A kid who loved to play.

This Thanksgiving, Nov. 22, would’ve been Caroline’s 13th birthday. My own daughter, who is nearing the age of 13 herself, typically makes a “gratitude tree” each year for Thanksgiving, and then we each write down things we’re grateful for on its paper leaves. This year, I’m going to write “go-go juice and mustard” because, as a mom, I am grateful for the gift of play that these two blood components offered a beautiful and bubbly little girl who once touched my heart.

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Download a PDF of the first 4 chapters of Lauren's memoir, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances, free.  Click here and go to the link below the "Buy the Book" button.  Zuzu's Petals is also available on Kindle and Nook.  Hardcover signed and inscribed copies are available at Happy reading!