(A letter to my newborn granddaughter)
Good morning, Rayna Analiese. Welcome to the world!
You are a teeny 8 pound 8 ounce bundle of beauty and joy who arrived yesterday afternoon at 1:32 PM CDT--100 years (almost to the very day) after one of your great grandmothers was born.
Grandpa--who is normally not a big lover of babies--went gaga over you. "So cute! So cute!" is about all he could say as he snuggled you in his tall arms--afraid all the while that he might drop this football-size bundle of love.
You have lots of people who love you, and lots more who are going to love you--not to mention all the people who love you who haven't had a chance to meet you in person yet. You have aunts and uncles and great aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfathers and great grandmothers to boot--and don't forget your great-great grandmother who will squeeze you tight. You are going to have to get used to the large family feasts filled with all sorts of nasty food when you come home from time to time to parade your cute little bonnets around the many houses you will have to visit. Mom and Dad are certainly going to have fun on those trips.
But I wouldn't be me if I didn't think for a moment about what your new life means, so forgive me for a moment while I ponder the meaning you bring into our lives, especially for Grandma Sandra and Grandpa Len.
Everyone prays that their child is going to be happy and healthy, do well in school and hopefully survive the world. You are blessed with two loving parents, both of whom have been athletic in their lives, and a dad who is a committed endurance athlete (can't wait to see the little carriage behind the bike as you go riding with your dad). You will be surrounded with love, and protected from all sorts of things that lurk in the world. You will find out that childish behavior is not limited to young infants and children. (All the children don't just live in your hometown. There are some who are much older and live in far away cities, like a place called Washington DC.) And you have a grandmother sitting next to me right now who has already been plotting that trip to Disney World long before you arrived. Just you and us--no parents allowed (if they will let us).
It didn't escape me when I first saw you what you mean in a special way to your grandmother and grandfather. Your beautiful presence brought us back to the basic reality that what we do every day for others--trying to make their lives a little bit better, a little more meaningful, a little more comfortable--is what will now do for you. Yes, my dear little girl, it is all about you, in the very best sense of those words.
Grandma and Grandpa are doctors who care for people through the spectrum of their lives. We know there are many things that can happen to our health, but fortunately much does not. And what hopefully will be so different for you--now that you are safely and wonderfully with us--is that what we have learned through science and research about what we should be doing for our children will influence what your parents do for you. We know that if they care for you and love you, provide you good food to eat (with an occasional snack), keep you outside playing and running and jumping, you will then learn healthy habits that will stay with you for a lifetime.
Grandpa is frequently asked what the future world of those serious illnesses we call cancer will look like. Now, that is a pretty heavy topic and certainly not one that you are concerned with as you go about your business during your first day on this wonderful earth. And I pray it is something you will not have to think about for many years to come, if ever. But I do know that if things change as much over the next decades of your life as they have in mine you are in for some truly stunning discoveries and events which I believe will substantially reduce the burden and risk of these terrible diseases called cancer during your lifetime.
When I am asked when all of these great things will happen I always say I don't really know. I suspect that some will happen during my children's lifetimes, but I always say that I have no doubt they will occur in my children's children's lifetime. Until now, those words have been words. Today they are very real because I am now talking about you. You are--to me--the face of our future.
We will have tests that find cancer before we can see it. We will have techniques to tell which cancers are truly going to hurt people, and then we will have the means to offer a treatment that will rid our body of the bad cells even before they can find a place to roost and grow where they don't belong.
That's all pretty amazing stuff. That paragraph above hides tons and tons of research and scientific pursuit that is going on right now. And I am fully confident that if you happen to read this when you are in your 60's you will fully understand what I was trying to tell you. We will understand cancer, and we will make it a truly chronic if not curable disease.
When I was a young boy--not many years older than you are right now--I had someone very, very close to me develop a very serious and life threatening disease called hypertension. That person died from hypertension at a too young age. The reason he died is because there were no medicines to treat his blood pressure, his kidneys failed and there were no machines or transplants to help him rid his body of his toxic waste. Today, his treatment would have been routine, the chances are he would not have developed the kidney damage if he took his medicines as directed, and I would have had a father for many years into my life.
I could tell the same story about diabetes, pneumonia, heart disease and many other illnesses. By the time you are 60, I suspect we will tell the same story about cancer. We have millions of ordinary folks working hard as volunteers and donors to support thousands of researchers who are going to make that happen. We have nurses and doctors and millions of other people working hard every day to bring care and comfort to those who have cancer, trying to help them live and trying to help them have dignity and comfort in their final days.
For you, my dear Rayna, we do this each and every day, millions of people around the world, so when you grow old you will not even be aware of how serious a problem cancer was for so many people on this earth the day you were born.
Grandpa works for a wonderful organization called the American Cancer Society. We try hard to do all those things I wrote about above for people in the United States and even around the world.
One of the things we do a lot is sing Happy Birthday. We want to help more people have more birthdays and better birthdays. For us, Happy Birthday is a victory song.
So next year (can't wait already) when we celebrate your first birthday, we will sing the song loud, with vigor, and probably a few of us off key (Grandma has a beautiful voice that more than makes up for Grandpa's not-so-beautiful voice). We will feel gratitude, blessing and happiness in your presence. We will shower you with love and presents, call you precious, beg you to smile and make those goo-goo eyes at us.
And we will pray that you hear Happy Birthday for many, many years to come. With God's will and lot's of hard work, we can make that happen for you and so many others.
With all my love, hugs and kisses,