In February of 2016 I would stand on the beach of Kauai,  with my son Jonathan, and watch a magnificent storm roll in. The grey clouds appeared over the ocean out of nowhere, chased us down on the beach and poured on us as we ran through the chickens and sand to get to our vehicles. We laughed at Mother Nature that day as we tried to outrun the storm.

Later at the food trucks, a Islander making blue turtle jewelry would look at my frail, bald boy and speak these prophetic words over us. “The sky and water are never more blue, than after the storm blows
through and you two look like you are in a storm”   There would be a double meaning on this day,  I would spend the next few years chasing the blue after this great storm. I couldn’t see how this violent storm could make anything a clear “blue”?

You see I was not on a vacation; I was on a goodbye.  Jonathan had been diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of OsteoSarcoma in June of 2014. For several months My son Jonathan had fought the good fight, but now he was terminal.

The Cancer Journey is not for the faint of heart – It will challenge your abilities every day. The trauma responses of Fight, Flight, Freeze will be activated every moment.  My journey as a mom of a ill and now deceased child has been one of challenging waves I did not think at times I could survive. It is even more horrific for the person with the diagnosis. It is a daily exercise of perseverance and surrender.  The
entire family faces emotional fluctuations. At times it can feel unbearable with all the highs and lows, acceptance and denial, peaks and valleys in every moment. Every treatment brings a different reaction, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Gone were the days I could give my dear child a Tylenol, or popsicle and kiss away the fever or pain.  I would learn more about cancer, and chemo side effects than had ever I wanted. There was the agony of checking into the hospital for days at a time. I hurt for my son, this was not supposed to be his life, my life, our life. Jonathan did not like being away from his dear family. I grieved the for the toll it was taking on him.

I would spend hours traveling, commuting from Olympia to Spokane. Driving on snow covered roads, weeping, only to pull it together to support my family.  Courage would rise up within me when I thought I had none. “Even when I couldn’t see it, God was working”. It is out of pain and suffering that we can come to a greater sense direction, and purpose.

Jonathan was a man with a wife and two very small little boys. He had put himself through business college as a barista at Starbucks. We loved a good cup of coffee, it was our thing! He was also an avid golfer. More importantly, he was a kindhearted soul with a deep faith in Jesus, and he cared deeply for his family and community.

It was on one such morning, I stopped to get our traditional coffee drink before heading to the hospital to sit by Jonathan. I left my little grandsons in the care of the other grandparents, so Becky, his wife, could get some relief. He would speak of the conversations he and Becky were having about “Living a life that matters”, “living change and giving hope”. Jonathan had a dream to remodel the oncology hall, bring color and life into other patients’ and families lives, and that’s where Cancer Can’t was born.

This would be my reluctant path, to support a legacy for my son, without my son. Not a price I wanted to pay, but nevertheless strength would rise within me, and we would continue to move in this direction.
We began organizing and praying there could be meaning in supporting others.

Cancer Can’t continues to be a viable nonprofit,  supporting cancer patients in various ways. In the past few years, the Spokane Convention Center has been the venue for a beautiful gala to honor this legacy.
Valuable auction items are procured every year to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, to continue important programs.

Twenty oncology rooms were redesigned with art, sleeper chairs for families, with fridges and microwaves for each bedside. A transportation system was established with the Catholic Community Charities to help patients run errands or get drive through food for patients.  A Grant program is available to support families who WILL struggle financially. The Christmas Gifts program delivers gifts so memories can be continued to be made. The Charitable Pharmacy supports hundreds of HIV, Diabetics and Cancer patients in need of medications delayed by insurance approvals or other reasons.

This simple quote impacts me to this da , “We don’t win or lose to cancer because we live or die, WE beat cancer, by HOW we live, WHY we live and WHO we live for” NO ONE FIGHTS ALONE!!

It has been almost 7 years since my son graduated to his forever home in heaven. The death of a child redefines every aspect of your life, being a wife, a mom,  my marriage of 30 years did not survive the hit. These losses where so great that it affected my confidence as a counselor. Breathing at times became painful. That was when I moved to Salem, Oregon ,where my daughter and family live and I would start over, redefine my “NEW BLUE” and find the purpose for my pain.

True to God’s Nature, life will always spring forth. Love will find a way out of the storms, and I am blessed to recently  be remarried. I continue to focus on completing a book “Into the Blue”, a journey of surviving and even thriving amid a grief storm.

I am committed to programs that bring families together and have positive outcomes.  I will begin working with Kickin Cancer and the legislature to bring “Jonathan’s Bill for the Charitable Pharmacy to Oregon.” A bill that will support the health and wellbeing of individuals, save the state thousands upon thousands of dollars, decrease aquifer pollution and so much more.

I have learned that life has storms some more violent than others. When it blows through it can clear a path for something else. My sons last words to me were, “live your minutes with meaning and purpose mom” these last words spoken to me from Jonathan have forced me to continue to move forward with an understanding that sorrow and joy can co-exist.

If you are facing a storm today, I pray you hold tight to the truth that it will pass, persevere in the minutes, and find that thing that gives purpose to your pain. “live a life that matters”, “No One Fight alone”, “Do the thing” “live your minutes” “Look UP”!

by DeDe Marie Smith