Unwrapping the Gift - Laura Brown

A perspective by former patient Laura Hackelton Brown

Unwrapping the Gift - Perspective

As we enter the season of giving, one former St. Jude patient explains her attitude of gratitude.

It was the spring of 1984, and even though I was 8 years old, I vividly remember the sights and smells of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital: the nausea-inducing chemotherapy, the radiation sessions, the metallic smell of drugs in the Medicine Room.

I had high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and the doctors at St. Jude said they couldn’t make any promises about the outcome.

I recall brushing the long hair of my Barbie™ and crying because I missed my hair.

“Mom, why can’t I just be normal?” I asked.

“Baby, God created you for a special reason,” my mom replied. “There are other children here who are worse off than you are.”

There I was, nearly bald and throwing up all day because of the chemotherapy, and my mom was finding the good in everything.

About that time, a family friend sent me a basket of gifts. I got to open one present every day.

“Each day is like one of those gifts,” my mom explained. “It’s a neatly wrapped little box with a beautiful little bow. When you open it up, it’s yours, and it’s up to you how you’re going to receive it.”

Gradually, my health improved, and I returned to St. Jude for annual checkups. Doctors cautioned that the treatments I had received might affect my ability to have children. Yet my husband and I were able to have three healthy boys. They are our three little miracles.

Today my life is extremely busy. While my husband flies Black Hawk helicopters in Iraq, I spend my days teaching special education and my afternoons running our sons to their activities. My candle burns at both ends, and my elasticity is about stretched until it’s gone, but I have much to be happy about. My life is great, and I couldn’t be more blessed.

I returned to St. Jude recently to participate in the St. Jude LIFE study for long-term cancer survivors. Talking with Dr. Tim Folse, I learned that my chronic fatigue and memory problems are due to the chemotherapy and radiation I received during treatment. Because of St. Jude LIFE, I better understand the effects of my treatment, and I’ve gotten ideas on how I can cope with my medical challenges. But I’m also helping future survivors. I hope that by participating in the St. Jude LIFE research that I’ll help at least one child not have to deal with those same issues.

Every year on April 13, I find the nearest ice cream shop and have my own private celebration. You see, on that day in 1984, a doctor walked into the Medicine Room at St. Jude and said, “Laura, we have good news. You are in remission.”

My mom and I rejoiced when we received that gift, celebrating the milestone with an ice cream sundae. My mother is no longer with me, but every year I make sure to observe that anniversary. It reminds me that every day is a gift. It’s up to us to decide how to receive it and what we are going to do with it.

Promise magazine, Autumn 2011

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