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Call Me Hope
Name: Valerie Hope Johnson
Date Admitted: February, 13, 2010
Date of Birth: December 1, 1995
Diagnosis: Stage 4 Lung Cancer
I stared at the charts and bills and the staggering cost that they implied. I set them down
on the kitchen table and rubbed my temples. Dr. Williams, Valerie’s Cancer specialist had
allowed me to take home copies of Valerie’s charts for the night while she stayed at the hospital
with her father. I was grateful for the night’s rest in a bed of my own. He had said this was one
the farthest along cases of cancer he had seen and that he had seen. It turned out that cold that
she just couldn’t shake turned out to be...Cancer. Val had less than a quarter chance of survival. I
closed my eyes and tried to image what we would end up doing next. How we pay for all of
Valerie’s hospital bills? We had insurance. But it only covered a certain amount. And then there
was the deductible to cover…. Why did this have to happen to us?
As a mother, you want to take upon yourself all of your child's pain. Sometimes it’s not
“Mommy,” said a voice. I flinched and looked around me.
“Oh, Rachel. It’s you.” I said sounding rather relieved “You know it’s late. What are
doing up?” I asked.
“Mommy,” she started again “Is Val going to be O.K?” She asked as she was climbing
onto my lap as I sat down in a kitchen chair.
We hadn’t told them she had cancer yet. We couldn’t hide it forever. Luke, my 10-year
old, had found her lying on the floor in her room, passed out. He had yelled for us to come. We
didn’t know what to do. We called an ambulance to take her to the hospital, they couldn’t figure
what was wrong with her for three days. “I don’t know, Honey… I don’t know.” That was the
best answer I had. That was the best answer any of us had. Nobody knew whether she would live
Somehow, I fell asleep just like that. When I woke up, I was still holding Rachel. I
looked around bleary eyed. I turned my head and saw Luke standing there.
“Luke, what time is it?” I asked looking around the room for a clock.
“8:40” said Luke. Just then Rachel woke up and stretched out. “Mom, What's wrong with
Val? Is she going to be OK?” Luke asked with obvious concern in his eyes. “Mom, Is Val going
to be OK?” He asked once again.
How do you tell your children ages 10 and 6 that their older sister has cancer and that
they might end up losing her? “Val…. is ….” I struggled to find the right words. I started again
“Val is very sick…”
“With what?” L uke asked. Even though Luke was only ten years old he was extremely
curious and very inquisitive.
“With…. with...Cancer.” There I said it. My children stared at me. Stunned. Then all of a
sudden, a torrent of concerns poured out of their mouths at the same time. “Woah, whoa, whoa.”
I said “One at a time. Rachel, what do you want to say?”
Tears welled up in her eyes. “Mommy, Is Valerie going to die?” She asked with all
seriousness she could muster in her small timid voice. It made sense why she thought this way
too. She only knew one other person who had cancer. Dan’s Mom had breast cancer when
Rachel was just 6 years old. She was too young to understand why her Grandma was going bald
and was sick all the time. Eventually Dan’s mom died. All that Rachel had to associate with
cancer was the fact that sometimes it lead to death.
“I don't know, Honey.” I said. “Nobody knows at this point, hope is all that we have,
hope that she’ll be Okay.” That was the 1st time that I realized that Val dying was a possibility.
After that I pushed it out of my head, she couldn’t die. She just couldn’t. I wouldn’t let her.
I answered as many of questions about Val and her cancer as possible and as honestly as
was possible, without shocking them too much. Some of the treatments that she would go
through were brutal to say the least.
After dropping them off at school I drove to the Cancer Treatment Center in Tulsa, New
Mexico. It was about a 30-minute drive from where we lived. Since had so little sleep last night I
dozed off a few times and missed being involved multiple car wrecks. But, somehow I managed
to make it there in one piece.
When I got there, I went straight up to Valerie’s floor to see if they had made any
progress in her case. I walked to her room. “Val, How are you feeling.?” I said this in a soft tone
of voice as not to wake her if she was asleep.
“ Call me Hope.” A voice returned. I walked into the room rather hesitantly. Val was
there sitting up on her bed. With an IV stuck in her arm. “Hi, Mom.” Val said. She added “Dads
down in the cafeteria getting some breakfast.”
“Hey, V-” She cut me off there.
“I said call me Hope.” She said she was staring at me from across the room, as if this was
what she had always been called.
“Why the sudden interest in your middle name?” I asked with curiosity in my voice.
“I don’t know. It just seemed right.” She said. “Hi, Dr. Williams.” She added I turned
around to see Dr. Williams standing behind me.
“Well, Hello Valer-” She cut him off right there.
“Hope. Call me Hope.” She corrected.
“Well then, Hope. I have to ask your Mom a few questions that you might be able to help
out with.” He directed his eyes towards me and began. He asked both of us various questions
concerning her weight, quality of breathing, chest pains, and whether we smoked or not. “Of
course, not, We never would. Its bad for our lungs. Isn’t it?”
“It is. We’re just looking for a cause to Val- er, Hopes lung cancer.” Dr. Williams said,
quivkly shifting “Where is Hope’s room located in your home?” He added. “She might have got
the lung cancer a pocket of Radon, a poisonous, odorless, colorless gas , in her room. It’s more
common in basements.”
“Her room is in the basement.”
“Well then, I would get you home checked.”
“I will.” I said.
He asked us a few more questions and then he went on his way. Just then her father,
Daniel, walked in. “Hey, Jenny you got here. I was just getting food at the cafeteria. Did I miss
anything?” He asked.
Daniel was a social worker. He had Brown eyes, with black hair and leaned to the thinner
side of normal. He was often forgetful but made up for it with his positive attitude, putting
everyone around him at ease, and most of all looking for the positive side of everything. I needed
that right now.
“My name is now hope.” Hope said.
“Um, ‘kay.” Daniel said.
We talked for a while, then Dr. Williams came back in to talk to me and Dan. We went
directly out of Hopes room in the hall. Dr. Williams had a sullen look on his face. “Our team
feels that the only treatment for hope would be Chemo. Her tumors are simply too small and in
inoperable places to be surgically removed. The other doctors and I looked at all the possibilities.
This is simply the only way.”
I slowly looked at Daniel. “Do want to put her through this?”
“Let’s ask her. I mean it’s pretty much the only thing we can do.”
“Ok.” I said. Together we walked slowly back into the room. “Hope…” I said carefully.
“They have a possible treatment for you. But I know you won’t like it at all. You will feel
weaker, sicker, and most of all you will feel like this is all worth nothing for all the pain you are
going though. Are you willing to go through this? It is a big commitment.” I hesitantly waited for
a response. Hope looked thoughtful for a moment. Then said a remarkable thing. Two words.
“I will.” then she added. “Anything to survive.”
That comment “Anything to survive.” broke my heart. My sweet, loveable, beautiful Val
now Hope. She meant so much to me. She was mature beyond her years. No teenager should
have to think about survival.
I started to cry. I couldn’t do it. I felt like I wasn’t strong enough. And the thing was I
didn’t even really have to be strong. I just had to take Hope to and from appointments. I didn’t
have to go thru any of the therapy’s or the treatments. I couldn’t imagine what Hope felt about
“You are so brave.” I whispered.
“I try to be.” She replied.
We spent the rest of the day filling out paperwork and reasoning with our insurance to try
to get the treatment that Hope needed. I called a sitter too, to watch the kids while we stayed at
the hospital sorting out things.
As I was driving home that night I looked at myself in the rearview mirror. My blue eyes
were red and puffy. My white-is blondish hair was a total mess, a nose that I had always hated
was swollen red and my soft pink lips were chapped. Hope looked more like Dan but she had
more of my traits. I was stubborn just like my daughter. I was hopeful like my daughter. Then I
thought that maybe. Just maybe she could beat this. I was suddenly jarred out of my thoughts
when the traffic light changed to green.
When I got home paid the babysitter. I was about to shut the door when the sitter, Taylor
Smith, said something. “Mrs. Johnson, Well I heard about your daughter and I just want to let
you know that all of my family and friends will all be praying for her to get well. You let her
know that.” with that she disappeared.
“Ok.” I whispered. Then I shut the door and leaned up against it. We knew Taylor but not
her friends. It was amazing to think that people who didn’t even know Hope but knew Taylor
were praying for Hope.
Sure enough her room had a pocket of radon in it. Something that had seemed so little
that we didn't even know about had affected something so colossally huge. Needless to say but
we had it treated.
Three months later, during a break in between chemo sessions, I looked at my daughter,
Hope looked so sickly and pale. Her long blonde hair had been replaced by a pale bald scalp, her
strong runners body ,by weak shell of her former self. But her eyes. Her warm beautiful green
eyes, were still there brighter than ever.
There had been many changes in her physical body. But, I had to remind myself that her
spirit was still there. Shining brighter than ever before. She was still as curios, smart, brave, and
most of all hopeful. She was all of the nurses favorite.
Later that day Dr. Williams talked to us. He said Hope was recovering faster than they
expected and that we should expect her to be out of the hospital sometime between her birthday
and Christmas. We were thrilled!!
December rolled around it looked like she would be released on the 22nd
That year we celebrated her birthday in the hospital. All of us went down to the hospital
cafeteria. We laughed and we danced. Overall, we had a wonderful time.
The next day I went back to the hospital. Some of the nurses were well, crying. They all
told me how sorry they were for my loose and said that Hope was their favorite patient. I had no
idea what in the world they were talking about. Until I saw Dr. Williams. He and my husband
were standing in Hope’s room talking quietly. While an aid was changing the linen on her bed.
“What happened?” They both turned around. Neither answered “Well…” I asked expectantly.
“Where’s Hope?” I asked again. I waited for an answer.
Dr. Williams spoke first. “I’m sorry. I am so sorry.”
Daniel spoke after that. “Honey,” He struggled to find the right words. “Hope’s...Well
she…. died.” He said it rather plainly, flatly, sadly. I stood there stunned. “You were already on
your way here. I was going to meet you outside and tell you. But you beat me here.” He added.
I felt tears welling up in my eyes, a sob coming up in my throat. A question popped into
my mind. One simple word. Why? Why did she have to die? Out of all the people with cancer,
out of all of the sick children, why her? She was so perfect. Her Doctor’s told us she was
recovering. She was going home in three days for Christmas. She seemed to be so healthy last
night. Dr. Williams tried to explain why she had died. Saying this disease is complicated and that
they couldn’t be sure she was going to recover, and that she was approaching a healthier life and
her tumors were shrinking. But, I didn’t listen. What was the point? She died, so what was the
On her birthday, a year later I visited her grave. I talked. Just talked. About the work I
had been doing as a Grief Counselor, about Dan’s Promotion in work, about Luke and Rachel’s
grades, and about how the community we lived in helped us after her death and most of all how
we had just finished paying of her hospital bills. I just talked for two and a half hours. Somehow
that made it right I guess. Being able to talk to her made it seem as if she wasn't dead. I missed
her. So much more than I knew was possible.
When I got up from the cold frozen ground I read her grave stone It read:
Valerie Hope Johnson
The Angel among all of us.
Making our lives hopeful day by day.
December 18, 1995 - December 19, 2010
The reason we had chosen that heading was actually quite simple. It was true. Every little
bit. She was an angel. She had made our lives more hopeful every single day.
Then I looked up and saw a Hope. Not the broken Hope from the hospital. But, strong
with hair and a strong and healthy body. She was like she was before the cancer. Perfect. She had
a certain light glowing of her.
Then Hope spoke. I will NEVER forget it. “I’ll see you again whether in this life or the
next.” I just stared at her. I didn’t know what to say. I just blurted out the very first thing that
came to my mind. Three very simple very plain words.
“I love you.”
She gave me an understand look and then said the same thing to me “I love you.” She just
turned around and disappeared.
To this day I still don’t know if I actually say anything or if I just wanted to see
something really bad that I made something up in my mind. But, because of Hope’s life and
Hope’s death I now have a new faith, a sort of hope, a hope in life after death