Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

I’ve been avoiding talking about this month because although I used to bring awareness to childhood cancer like it was my second religion, moving and finding my own space in the world has allowed me to distance myself from the advocate side of childhood cancer.
It is not that I do not want to be an advocate for the children fighting this horrific disease, because I am an advocate each and every day. What you have to understand is that sometimes, well actually ALL the time, advocating for the cause that KILLED your brother, is difficult. It hurts. It brings out my post traumatic stress disorder more than any other month.

The honest truth is I don’t want to spend my days focusing on the disease that killed my brother.
But I do want a cure so that no one has to go through what I’ve been through.
It’s a little bit of a give and take situation- I want to give support, but not have it take all my energy as I remember that my brother is dead.

So maybe it’s selfish? But honestly, grief is selfish. I am focusing on MY feelings about losing Cooper, how I view Cooper since he is gone, and what I have lost.

The thing is, childhood cancer still scares me. You would think after losing my brother to the disease I would be able to distance myself. But actually childhood cancer is in the back of my mind constantly. When I am with the babies I watch, the numbers of kids diagnosed each day runs through my head. When I think about my future, having children, the “what if’s” of childhood cancer come creeping up.
And I know your solution as you’re reading this- “Well Kassidy, you can’t live in fear” – You’re right, but you’ve also probably never seen a pediatric unit on Christmas morning, a child get poked with a needle larger than your hand, or watch that same child die.

Grief is hard.


September is hard- because it reminds me of the almost 4 years of absolute HELL that my family and I lived through. The funny thing is I cry more tears wishing he was still in the hospital, rather than crying tears cause he’s dead. My selfish heart wants him here, but my realistic brain knows he would not be the Cooper he was before he was sick.

So, instead of being an advocate for the children currently fighting childhood cancer, the children that are about to receive that diagnosis, or the children who are about to die from childhood cancer.
I wish to be an advocate for all of you who are not going to be affected by childhood cancer, who are not going to hear the words “Your son has Leukemia” or “Your daughter has a Glioblastoma brain tumor.”
I wish to be an advocate for all the people who will not hear those words because I want to remind you of the things that you are privileged to do with your children, siblings, mothers, and fathers each day that we who are grieving the loss of someone we love, cannot do.

You don’t have to say ‘I love you’, but you get too.
You don’t have to give your child a hug, but you get too.
You don’t have to put your phone down to listen to your babies stories, but you get too.
You don’t have to tickle your little one’s back, but you get too.
You don’t have to take them to all the sports and dance classes they want to go too, but you get too.
You don’t have to spend time taking them to the park or on vacation, but you get too.
You don’t have to kiss them goodnight even when they made you crazy that night, but you get too.
You don’t have to feel blessed by your healthy family every day, but you get too.

You see where I am going with this.
Every thing is a choice- you don’t have to do anything in this world, you GET to do every thing in this world.
Including loving your people.

Friends, Love them well because tomorrow is not promised.
As today ends Childhood Cancer Awareness Month- tomorrow marks the 2nd anniversary of the Las Vegas Mass Shooting, where my sister and I ran for our lives.
I cannot imagine what tomorrow would look like if my parents went from losing one child, to three children in the matter of seconds.
I know for a fact my brother spared our lives, I know he was there holding Julia and I as we ran.

Grief is hard.

It comes in many forms, alive or dead.
So today, tomorrow, and always- love your people well because today you GET too.
Tomorrow you might not.

Melissa

How is it that time passes so quickly?

When you’re young you never notice life passing by you, I remember the day that I realized time flies.
The day Cooper died.
Three and a half years fighting, days that seemed to never end, yet I blinked and there he was, dead, on the hospital bed.
Time flew.
But it also sat completely still- and I wish I could still be in that stillness.

Some people will not experience the death of someone they loved deeply until they are much older, to them I have so much wisdom to offer. But most of it they will never be able to apply until that moment comes.
Other people, like me, like my sisters, like my family. Have experienced what I would say, is too much death.

But I truly believe God gives his strongest soldiers the hardest battles.
And that’s my family, full of strong soldiers.

A year ago, I woke up and was avidly getting ready to go to church.
I had just moved to Naples, so I was anxious for my car to arrive later that week. I remember waking up and thinking, “Today is going to be a GREAT day!”

Then it happened.
The moment that happens every single time I receive bad news.
I know this moment, I can see it coming before it hits me- my therapist calls it my superpower.
The moment of horrific news.
The moment of the unspeakable.

My phone rang, it was my Mom and I thought I would call her after my shower, but Nicole insisted I picked up the phone- that’s the moment right there.
See, every single time I’ve received horrific news, someone has INSISTED I take the call, or I be at home, or I listen to the voicemail.
This demand to respond to whatever is going on around me, immediately alerts me that bad news is coming.
But this time I could not picture what it could be- Cooper’s dead so it’s not him? Could it be my sisters? My dad?

Then, as soon as I heard my Moms voice one name popped into my head, my Mom hadn’t even said what happened.
I saw the name ‘Melissa’ flash before my eyes.
Sure enough, my Mom was calling to tell me my sweet cousin Melissa had passed away.

In a morbid way, I knew someone had died.
It was almost as if I was wondering, who’s next?
But by the same token, I NEVER would have thought my young beautiful 18 year old cousin would leave… at the same age my young handsome brother would leave me.

But she did.
She left us and entered Heaven to be at peace, to be healed, to be hugged by her FAVORITE human, Cooper.
In all honestly, if there was one human I know Cooper would want to hang out with ALL THE TIME, it would be Melissa.
They had a special bond no one understood and now, they get to be together for the rest of eternity.

Death is hard.
Explaining death is even harder.
See, my family and I boarded planes, met in the airport, and sat around a coffee table well before we went to visit my Aunt and Uncle.
And I looked around at my sisters, my dad, my mom, and I could hear them sigh.
Unfortunately, they were not sighing because of Melissa’s death, they were sighing because they knew what my Aunt and Uncles family was about to experience NEXT.

Death, that’s the easy part.
The funeral, a breeze.
It’s what happens next that is the hardest part of death.
Going home and spending a year without the person you love in the room next to you? Torture.
Wondering every day when the loss will get easier? Difficult beyond words.
Realizing that death is permanent, that your person is gone, that this is now how your life works- with one less human.

I struggled writing what I would say to Melissa if she were still here with us. But what I realized was that Melissa did not want me to write to her, she wanted me to write to her family, and if you knew Melissa, YOU ALWAYS DO WHAT SHE ASKS! So here we go.

To My Ricciardi Family,

I love you. I am so sorry that you are experiencing the most dreadful part of life, so early on. But, I know God built you for this even on the days you don’t believe he did. Even on the days you cannot breathe because the loss has taken over your entire body. Even on the days where you cannot get out of bed because Melissa is not there and it feels like it’s not worth getting up without her…. God built you strong, courageous, and full of hope. I want you to know that the days will not get easier. The moments will not be simple. Every day new challenges will arise because one less person is physically on this earth with you. But, notice I said physically. See, Melissa & Cooper are physically gone- but like the quote says, “People die only when we forget them. If you can remember someone; they will be with you always.”
Melissa was NEVER EVER going to be someone you could forget.
She was extraordinary, powerful, successful, and loved.
She was hilarious, kind, and would overwhelm you with her infectious personality.
You cannot forget Melissa, because she is unforgettable.
She is with you, in good days and bad.
You just have to keep searching.
Some people believe that after years of someone passing they stop showing you signs that they are with you. But that’s the biggest lie I’ve ever been told.
Cooper sends me enough pennies from Heaven, I’m going to need a bigger wallet. He sends me 11:11 to tell me I’m doing just fine.
And he always whispers to me, I love you big sister.
The people we love never leave us, they just move to a place where they can spend more time protecting us.
That’s why they call them angels.

I love you my sweet family.

In Memory of the world’s one and only Melissa Ricciardi- my cousin, my friend, my sister- I love you.

I’m enough

“Things get worse before they get better”

Sometimes in life we forget that we have to go through the trials in order to face the next thing coming at us.
You can’t just say you ran a 10K without the medal to prove it.
You have to go through the muddy waters to find the joy in the clear water.

The perspective that hard times happen for a reason, that they allow our persistence to become stronger, is a hard perspective to swallow.
But as someone who’s been through the trenches it’s hard for me not to see the good in what its done for me and for the people around me.
I haven’t always been this way though. I want to bring you back to a dark moment, a moment I was in my ‘worse’ and ‘better’ was not a thought I could ever for-see happening for me.

Cooper had been sick with not only one cancer, but two for around three months. At this point it was December, Cooper’s birthday is in December and it would be the last birthday we got with him on this earth. Soon after celebrations ended he returned to the hospital, his fever wasn’t gone so that meant back to the hospital they went. Throughout the month of December I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of fear, it was like I knew what was coming but didn’t want to trust what God was preparing me for. Instead, I chose fear. And I’ll admit that every time, I choose it. I make the decision to believe the liar instead of the truth.

I remember so many nights attempting to watch Netflix trying to numb my feelings just like an alcoholic in a bar. I laid there under my covers, Netflix on, and prayed it wouldn’t happen. What wouldn’t happen you ask? The tears. I prayed the tears would not come, I prayed for a night where I just went to sleep, Netflix numbing my reality. That rarely came true. Most nights I cried silently under those sheets scared of the unknown, but the ironic thing was, I knew what was about to happen, God had already prepared me in advanced. But I was ignoring him.

In December, amidst a deep cry under my sheets I stopped. I felt something come over me, it told me to sit up, like a teacher lecturing you in class. I then heard Jesus speak over me that he would not be healing Cooper on earth. I froze. What? No, that’s definitely not the Lord speaking to me. He would FOR SURE be telling me Cooper would be healed.
Well, he was, he was just preparing me for the next part of the story.

See, God gives us what we need.
He knew my heart could not handle Coopers last breath on this earth.
So he prepared his daughter by telling her.
But I still had a hard time with Coopers last breath because for four months I lived in denial with the words the Lord spoke over me.
I denied his words in hopes that my worldly acts could cure Cooper and save him, when I was already given the truth.
The truth was, Cooper would die.
But he would be healed.

If you follow me on Instagram I shared a couple days ago about how I have been working through some deep shame and guilt in therapy lately. A lot of the guilt I carry is from Coopers death, feeling I did not do enough, I was not enough for him, that I could have done more. Throughout our work together my therapist and I have discovered a deep truth in the midst of all the guilt I was feeling.

I COULD NOT HAVE SAVED COOPERS LIFE.

I know, you’re probably like, “WELL DUH KASSIDY!”
But it’s not that simple when you’re a sibling of a child with cancer and you KNOW the answer to all current family problems is to SAVE YOUR BROTHERS LIFE.
No like really. If there was family friction, I would think, “If only I could cure Coopers cancer, then this wouldn’t be happening.” If I was at home lonely, “If I find the cure for cancer, loneliness ends!”
{If only naive little Kassidy knew, cancer and loneliness are only distant cousins, loneliness is so much bigger than that disease.}
But going back to what my therapist and I discovered, I could not have saved Coopers life.
In a perfect world of 2015, I would have been Coopers bone marrow transplant donor, I would have went through the transplant process and I would have been a minor part of Coopers journey to becoming cancer free.
But 2015 was not a perfect year, and even if I had been the perfect match for Cooper, I STILL WOULD NOT HAVE SAVED HIS LIFE.
Wanna know why? Because before I would have even gotten the chance to sit in a transplant room, Cooper would not achieve remission from both cancers, he would instead lay in bed for 50 days with a fever. While he laid there, an infection brewed in his system. An infection so bad that it could not be cured. Cooper had the perfect trifecta of problems that would ultimately lead to him dying, WITH OR WITHOUT MY BONE MARROW.

Do you know that I have carried the guilt of not being Coopers match for his bone marrow transplant from the day I heard the news? Do you know that when I tell myself ‘I am not enough’ it comes from a place of not being enough to save my brothers life. Yet, BIOLOGICALLY I WOULD HAVE NEVER BEEN ENOUGH TO SAVE HIS LIFE! GOD DID NOT INTEND FOR ME TO BE THE GIRL WHO SAVED HER BROTHERS LIFE! HE JUST DIDN’T! He had other plans for me all along.
Yet I’ve sat here, for four years, telling myself, “Kassidy you will never be enough, because you weren’t enough to save a life.”

When I realized that God’s plan was never for me to be the girl who saved her brothers life, it was like a giant boulder was removed from my shoulders. This whole time I had given myself an expectation that I was the one who needed to save his life.
ME.
KASSIDY LYNNE OWEN.
With zero medical knowledge, no doctorate.
AND NO BIOLOGICAL MAGIC TO SAVE HIS LIFE.
I could have never saved Coopers life.

Yet, I lived with the expectation everyday that I NEEDED to do that.
And when I didn’t do that, I changed that self talk to telling myself that I never did enough to even try to save his life.
So Cooper dying, yeah, that was my fault.

Friends, It’s funny how we blame so much of our trauma on what happened to us without ever taking a moment to turn the mirror around and look straight into it.
In this situation, I created a lot of my own trauma.
I was the one who gave myself the expectation to save his life.
I was the one telling myself I was not enough because I did not save his life.
It was me, every single day.
Stepping back that day in therapy I realized something, this particular trauma, this feeling of guilt, was my own doing.
But that’s okay because I forgive myself.

I forgive myself for setting unrealistic expectations. I forgive myself for choosing to not believe the words God spoke to me, and trusting what path he had laid out for Cooper. I forgive myself for every single time I told myself, ‘it is your fault Cooper died, you did not do enough.” And I forgive myself for the constant self hate.

It’s a hard decision to forgive yourself when you realize you’ve been your own enemy the whole time.

I was never enough to save Coopers life.
But I was not created to save Coopers life.
That was not the job God intended for me.
So I am going to stop telling myself I am not enough, because I am more than enough in my own space. In the space God created for Kassidy. In the space he knew I would thrive in.

And you are more than enough in your space.
You deserve all the space.
So today, I challenge you to free yourself of the guilt you carry and begin to tell yourself your enough.
You deserve the space.

Grief

Merriam-Webster’s definition of grief

  1. a: Deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement
    b: A cause of such suffering

As someone who has experienced a lot of death in her short 24 years of life, I often come across a specific conversation with people my age. A young adult finds out about the loss of my brother or about my blog and they immediately start apologizing. They say things like, “I have no idea what that must of been like” or “I can’t even imagine.”
It is not common for most 24 year olds to have never experienced a death, but they have all experienced grief.
So no, they can’t imagine losing their brother to cancer.
Just like I can’t imagine losing my brother to a car accident, it didn’t happen that way so I cannot relate to that type of trauma.

But we ALL can relate to grief.
“A cause of such suffering.”

Friend, I can bet you’ve suffered.
I can almost guarantee some of you who are reading this right now are suffering.
If you are suffering, you are also grieving.

Do not limit YOUR grief because mine involves death.
Grief is not defined by death.
Yes, I have grieved the dead, I still do.
But I also grieve lost opportunities, my anxiety, lost relationships, bad days, and even moving across the country.

Grief is a cause of such suffering.
If it has caused you to suffer, you are grieving it.


“Grief is not something you complete, but rather, you endure.”
Did you know that endure means suffer patiently?
Grief is when you suffer, PATIENTLY. Meaning, you don’t grieve for one day and then the time has passed and you are healed.
You grieve patiently, you grieve over time.
And often times, you are grieving MANY things patiently. Not just one loss, but multiple.

At one point in my life I was grieving the death of my brother & my cousin, the death of many who attended Route 91, my own experience at Route 91, the ending of relationships, and moving across the country. I was grieving many things, patiently.

I believe we are always in a state of grief.
We are always grieving something or someone.
And it looks different for every one; some may be depressed, while others suffer silently in their hearts.

We do not just grieve when someone dies.
In life, our grief is constant.
We are all suffering, patiently.

And that is okay, that is normal, that is allowed.
You are allowed to grieve whatever you are going through in your life.
You are also allowed to grieve in whatever way YOU see fit.
Grief is often associated with crying and long bouts of sadness.
But do you know that I grieve Cooper with a smile when I hear the song “Humble and Kind” by Tim McGraw? Do you know that I grieve my anxiety joyfully when it is not present, haunting me?

You do not have to grieve in sadness all the time.
You can grieve in joy.
You can grieve in smiles.
You can grieve in tears.
You can grieve in screams.
You can grieve in laughter.

I cannot imagine living the rest of my life associating grief with sadness. I’ve lost too many things, hurt too many times, to let myself sit in sadness 24/7 over the people and things I’ve lost.

I must choose to grieve in sadness when needed and ALSO grieve in joy.
I must acknowledge what I’ve lost and also acknowledge what I’ve gained.
I lost two humans I love beyond words, but I gained two angels who protect me every day.
I lost opportunities I thought would lead to success, but I gained a life of purpose I wouldn’t have if those opportunites had gone the way I wanted them too.

It’s all perspective.
It’s all about what lens we choose to view the world through.
It’s all about what lens we choose to view our grief through.

Don’t be afraid to suffer, patiently.
A vulnerable heart is a healing heart.

Celebrating Life

Where most have funerals, we have celebrations.
After awhile, attending funerals with tiny caskets gets depressing.
When you’re surrounded by childhood cancer you begin to lose count of how many funerals you’ve been to for a CHILD.
I personally have been to more funerals for someone under the age of 18 than I have adults. It’s sickening.

I remember the first celebration I felt completely connected to, my close friend Leah won her fight with cancer and was sent up to heaven.
Her mom put on the most beautiful celebration of life, filled with all the things our Leah loved.
I remember sitting at the church thinking, I’m so happy Cooper has 95% chance of living and I will NEVER have to sit in the front row of a church as the “family” of the person who passed away.
Oh how naive I was.
Years later, I would find myself in the same church in the front row.
How ironic it is that most of the time, our worst fears become reality.

Shortly after Cooper passed my parents decided we would wait a couple weeks to celebrate him. Cooper was very popular, EVERY ONE loved him. We knew it would not be a small affair and wanted to make sure we were ready for the overwhelming amount of people that would attend the ceremony.
Eventually the day came, the guests arrived, and as I stared at myself in my bathroom mirror it dawned on me… here I was curling my hair, putting on water-proof mascara, to celebrate the fact my brother died.
Let that sink in, to CELEBRATE the fact my brother had DIED.
Nothing about this process is normal.

We got in the car eyes full of tears, us five, all wearing Coopers jerseys.
Cooper loved sports and collected sports jersey’s so we encouraged all out guests to wear sports gear as we were wearing his jersey’s.
We pulled out of the drive way and I remember saying aloud, “Were going to celebrate.”

Although none of my direct family was able to speak at the ceremony, I was honored to have been asked by my parents to write a letter on behalf of us five.
It is still the most beautiful piece I’ve ever written, it is also the first time I ever sat down to write.
Cooper is the reason I write, he is the person who showed me a talent I never knew I had, he is the reason I write.

Although I do not remember much of the day we celebrated Cooper’s life, I do remember the moment Nate, a childhood pastor of ours, got up and read my letter. It was slightly surreal as he read my words and tears ran down every face in the audience. The moment that service ended, was the moment our new lives began, without Cooper.

Below is a portion of my first piece of writing, dedicated to Cooper and his celebration of life:

“18 years with my Cooper was not enough.
But like David who trusted that God would provide what he needed to beat Goliath, I will trust God, because he promises me I will see my Cooper again.
Paul says, “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever”
1 Thessalonians 4:17
God used David, an average kid, to rescue his people.
God used my Cooper, to rescue his people too, by showing them that they are redeemed.
God used Cooper to bring together Gods people under one name, Jesus.
I am forever proud of Cooper for the Jesus love he showed every single day of his life.
I am proud to be his sister, to have been able to know him since the day he entered this world has been nothing short of spectacular.
Bubba, I miss you more than any words can explain, more than any tears can express. I miss you yelling at me for singing in the car, I miss you begging me to buy you McDonalds or asking me to pick you up snacks from Target. I miss driving you to your friend’s house; I miss watching you play basketball.
I miss you. That will never change.
Neither will my love for you; my love for you is continuous, Bubba.
Cooper has changed the world and continues too.
My prayer is that you take Coopers legacy and go make a difference in the world, be kind, have grace, and be brave. Be brave to stick up for your beliefs while helping those around you. Cooper left a mighty legacy and it is my mission to continue to live it on, because Cooper would of wanted it that way.
So tomorrow be a David, be a Cooper, in your schools, work places, and homes.
And change the world. “Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” Luke 22:43

I love you Bubba, Forever Together”

If one thing has come from Cooper’s death it is that my purpose is to live a full life. I am meant to do astounding things, I meant for more, and I have to live my life as such.
If you learn one thing from my writing, I hope it is that life is short.
You are not promised tomorrow. Please don’t waste your days doing things you hate, live a life that you LOVE, with people that you love.
Go out and change the world.
Because let me tell you, even if you only help one person, you’ve changed the world.

I often wonder if Cooper knew what kind of an impact he was making on this world.
I like to believe that in his final days he was sharing with friends and family how to continue his legacy.
I don’t think he directly told me I would be the one to share bits and pieces of his story, I think he is continually nudging me to go out and do the impossible. To share the hard things.
To be vulnerable when it’s uncomfortable for every one else.
To be the one that changes the world by sharing not only his story, but sharing MY story.

Friends, THIS is just the beginning…