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A Mother's Perspective: The Good China

By Catherine Greenslade, mother of St. Jude patient Emily Miller

Before my grandmother died, she gave me her “good” china, which included place settings for 12, complete with finger bowls, demitasse cups and serving pieces. I wasn’t sure when to use a finger bowl, but I was thrilled to finally have “good” china to use on special occasions. I kept the china carefully guarded in a cabinet, only bringing it out for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

That all changed on April 15, 2003. For some, that day belongs to the IRS, but for us, it was the day our 20-year-old daughter was diagnosed with bone cancer.

Emily was away at college, playing NCAA soccer and maintaining a grade point average that kept her on the Dean’s List. For several months, she’d complained that her leg was sore, and she wasn’t doing well in the running drills demanded by soccer. She played a rough sport, which causes aches and pains. The school’s athletic trainers felt she was exaggerating the pain, but when she called home crying, it was time for a visit to our orthopedic surgeon.

Our doctor ordered an X-ray. The results showed something on her left femur, which our doctor felt should be seen by a specialist. This new doctor felt a biopsy was needed quickly. An hour passed before the doctor emerged from the operating room. His face confirmed our worst fears. As my husband and I clung to each other, we were told that Emily probably had bone cancer, osteosarcoma, and needed to be admitted to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, as soon as possible.  We were aware of the wonderful things happening at St. Jude, but we had never imagined that one of our children would need their services. We were devastated.

Three long days passed as we waited for her acceptance into an osteosarcoma research study. Emily has a childhood cancer of which only four in a million people are diagnosed each year. She met all the requirements and was accepted as a patient.

Emily decided early in her treatment that cancer “had picked the wrong body to mess with,” and she wasn’t just going to survive cancer, she was going to beat it. Her attitude was amazing. Through it all, 12 rounds of grueling chemotherapy, an extensive surgery to save her leg, nausea, vomiting, hair loss, transfusions, pain, various complications and learning how to walk again, Emily remained positive and focused.

She gave up college, playing soccer, and most of her independence when she began her 11 months of treatment. She gave up these things without looking back. To her, those things were just that—things. Like my china. Soccer, college, independence, and even china can be replaced, but life cannot be replaced. My daughter’s life should be what I so carefully guard, not the china.

Through Emily’s example, I have learned that facing adversity with courage is more valuable than having a place setting for 12. Believing in the power of love and prayers is more important than knowing when to use a demitasse cup or a finger bowl. I’ve learned not to wait for a special occasion to use the “good” china. My china is now “everyday,” because every day is another day to spend with the people I love.


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