Her daughter's favorite stuffed animal was missing--the one thing keeping her spirits up during Leukemia treatments. Would they ever find him?
- Posted on Apr 20, 2015
“Your daughter’s symptoms point to leukemia,” the pediatrician said.
The stark white walls of his office seemed to spin around me. My husband, Steven, squeezed my hand to keep me steady. Lily was only seven years old. How could this be happening?
“We have to admit her to the hospital immediately.”
Hospital. Yes. Steven and I got ourselves together to bring her there. “We need to stop at the house first,” I said. “She’ll need a change of clothes, pajamas. And we need to get Cabbie.”
If there was anything on earth that could comfort Lily now it was her constant companion, the soft plush dog she called Cabbie.
We drove home and packed a bag for Lily. I made sure Cabbie was tucked securely in her arms, and settled them both into the backseat. Then we headed for the hospital to see a pediatric oncologist.
Lily had first met Cabbie at my mom’s house when she was just a year old. Usually she was a perfect angel with Grandma. Not that day. She lay facedown on the living room couch all afternoon, crying while I was working at our family’s consulting firm. Nothing consoled her. Grandma’s gentle songs and soothing caresses weren’t helping.
My mom rummaged through her stash of stuffed animals in the closet and brought one out—a dog with soft brown fur and black eyes so deep they seemed to burst with love.
Lily took one look and went quiet. Her tears stopped. Her lips opened in a wide, gooey smile. She wrapped her arms around the little dog and fell into a peaceful sleep.
“He’s all yours, sweetheart,” Grandma told Lily when I came to pick her up. “You watch out for that pup, you hear? He’ll be there for you too.”
From that day on the two were inseparable. We called him Cabbie after Grandma’s old childhood nickname. Lily brought him with her everywhere—from play dates and day care to nap time and bedtime. Cabbie’s fur grew thin and he developed his own unique smell. Lily adored him exactly as he was.
He’ll be there for you, I thought, glancing at Lily and Cabbie in the rearview mirror. She had never needed him like she did now. For the past few weeks, Lily hadn’t been herself. One night she woke up in severe pain, shouting that her stomach hurt. Her dad and I had hoped the pediatrician could find a simple solution. Instead, at the hospital, the oncologist confirmed the pediatrician’s diagnosis. Leukemia.
“You’re sick right now, but you’ll be home soon, okay?” I promised as we settled her into her room. Lily just nodded, Cabbie tight in her arms. With me in a chair next to her, she hugged Cabbie all through her first night away from home.
Later that week Cabbie was by her side after she had surgery to install a port for her chemotherapy. He was with her when she had her first treatment. Every doctor, nurse or technician who met Lily also became acquainted with Cabbie.
Cabbie was there during the rare times I couldn’t be. “Mommy, am I going to be okay?” she asked one night as we were both getting ready for bed in the hospital.
“Yes,” I said as calmly as possible. “Everyone is praying for you. You just have to believe.”
“What about the other boys and girls here? Can we ask God and his angels to help them too?”
“Of course,” I said, amazed by Lily’s compassion, her generous heart. Where had she learned to feel this way? I spotted Cabbie, nestled underneath the blanket with her. Maybe loving Cabbie had taught her to love everyone else too.
A nurse came into Lily’s room early the next morning and wheeled her away on a gurney for more tests. Still groggy, I got up from my chair and went to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee. Back in Lily’s room, I waited for her to return.
“Do you have Cabbie?” she asked the moment she was wheeled back into the room.
“Isn’t Cabbie with you, sweetie?”
Lily’s eyes grew wide and she shook her head. I checked the hospital bed, but the cleaning staff had already put on fresh sheets. The nurse helped me look on all the counters, under the bed, in the closet. We opened every drawer, turning the room upside down in search of Cabbie. The nurse alerted the rest of the hospital staff, but Cabbie was nowhere to be found.
Lily curled up in the bed, inconsolable. For the first time since we checked into the hospital, her spirit seemed broken. I was at a loss. The one toy that gave her comfort was gone. It seemed so unfair.
“It will be okay,” I said, rubbing Lily’s back. “Remember the book we read about Corduroy, the stuffed bear who goes on a trip around the department store? He had so much fun. Maybe Cabbie wanted to take a trip like that too. Don’t forget what I said. Believe you’ll get well. Believe we’ll find Cabbie.”
Lily nodded, rested her head on the pillow and drifted off to sleep, tired from the day’s procedures. I was tired too, and deep down I doubted my own assurances. We’d looked everywhere. What more could we do? Dear God, help us find Cabbie. Help Lily get well!
I had to move around. I wandered out into the hallway. The laundry cart overflowed with white sheets. I went to work. I sorted through the tangle of linen, waiting for a glimpse of that precious brown fur. Nothing. I wasn’t surprised—I had done consulting work for a laundry facility in the past and knew how fast hospital laundry was handled. Off the beds and out the door.
Clean linens were in demand round the clock. If Cabbie had ended up in a laundry cart, he would be long gone by now. I felt hopeless.
How was I going to face Lily when she realized Cabbie was gone forever? Why did I encourage her to believe? Just then, I glanced at the logo on the laundry cart. Is that... The same laundry company I’d worked with!
I whipped out my cell phone and explained the situation to my coworker on the account. She went into a flurry of activity, drafting a Missing Pet poster with a photo of Cabbie and the story of Lily’s special bond with her friend. Then she called the laundry facility and e-mailed the poster she’d made.
A few hours later, my cell phone rang. I recognized the number.
“You’ll never believe this,” the owner of the laundry facility said. “But I think we have what you’re looking for!”
Cabbie had been washed, cleaned and dried. He was missing his nose and one of his ears was hanging by a thread. But Lily was delighted. She giggled when I told her about his wash-and-wear adventures.
“And now he’s back!” she said. “Just like Corduroy!”
It didn’t take Lily long to love the Cabbie smell right back into him. Two and a half years later, years of praying and believing, Lily celebrated her final chemo treatment with her best friend right there by her side.
Now a teenager, Lily has been cancer-free for over four years. Her time in treatment inspired her. “Some kids who have recovered from leukemia shy away from the experience,” her mom says. “Not Lily.” She plans to work as a pediatric oncology nurse when she grows up. She’s also started a fundraising campaign called Lily’s Garden, collecting over a million dollars so far for pediatric cancer research. To see how you can help, visit lilysgarden.org. “Every penny counts,” says Lily. But for her, your prayers are the most important donation of all.