What I really wish I had said out loud to all of you on Saturday night and what I have felt in my heart since Austin’s first diagnosis with cancer, five years ago yesterday:

On July 30, 2007, our near-perfect world was flipped on its head with the discovery of five tumors on the kidneys of our ten-month-old Austin. There are so many analogies we’ve used to describe our long and complicated journey with pediatric cancer; the first was that we felt as if we’d been plunged into a foreign land, complete with its own language and customs, its own definitions of “normal” and “okay,” its own hierarchy of authority. A world that we never intended to visit and a world from which we had no clear way out.  We’ve also used the battle analogy, a common one for cancer patients, best described here in Fighting Words.

But my favorite and the one most fitting to my life is the marathon analogy. Mark and I, and Braedan and Austin, were forced to run a marathon for which we had not trained. In fact, we had no intention of running anything at all until the very moment we found ourselves standing at the starting line. And this was no ordinary marathon; this one followed no accepted and enforced rules. The course was changed on us numerous times — we’d come around a corner, usually after a particularly grueling hill, and we’d expect to see a finish line or at least a halfway mark, but nooooo, it had all been moved. Some evil race organizer had switched the mile markers and moved the finish line, over and over again. We never knew when to conserve energy or when to kick it in high gear. We never knew how much more we’d have to take and how horrible it would be.

Every time I’ve run a marathon, I’ve put my name on my shirt. This is a very strategic and effective move: I want people to cheer for me. No, more than that, I need people to cheer for me. When my legs get tired and I wonder how on earth I’ll be able to run one more step, let alone nine more miles, I need to hear some stranger on the sidelines call out my name, “Go Krissy! You can do it, Krissy!” And I do. That one cheer makes me pick up my pace, I hold my head higher and I keep on keeping on.

I put Austin’s cancer on my shirt. Every day, on the Carepage and then the blog, I wore it emblazoned across my chest, for all the world to see: this is what’s happening, this is what we fear, this is what we need, this is what we hope. I did it not because I wanted you all to cheer for us, but because I needed you to.  I needed you to know what we were going through each step of the way so you could go along with us. And go along, you did. You cheered wildly when things were good, you pushed us along when things were rough. You held us up when we thought we’d fall over, you helped us choose our way when the course pointed in two completely different but equally terrifying directions. You even offered to run parts for us. You said, “Here, rest, just for a moment, just for a mile. Let me hold this burden for you.” The rules don’t allow that sort of thing, in running or in cancer, so instead you ran along beside us. And when we couldn’t possibly fathom taking one more step, you told us we could, and we did. You told us we were strong and that made us strong. You told us we would make it and look, . . . we made it. We crossed the finish line, with arms held high in victory. This race is finally, finally over. There may be another race in our future, but we hope to be better prepared for that one. And no matter what, we know you’ll be there cheering yet again.

We made it. And you were there every step of the way. And for that, we thank you.