When I was a little girl, I strived for accomplishment.
Success could mean numerous things, from learning to ride my bike without training wheels to mastering the art of making contact with the baseball and watching it sail over the fence in my backyard.
I would run around the bases as my father cheered.
Life was relatively easy. I believe we all possess the desire to achieve success. It’s a simple idea, really.
But, years later, the meaning of success has taken on an entirely different meaning.
Meet 6-year-old Sitara. Just a few short years ago, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Childhood Rhabdomyosarcoma, which originated in her lungs. The tumor was so large, it stretched across her tiny chest. The mass wreaked havoc on her delicate, 28-pound body.
Her heart, esophagus and intestines were displaced and affected her to such a point she was unable to eat. At the time, the tumor was inoperable. So Sitara was whisked away to immediately begin treatment.
She completed 43 rounds of three different types of chemo and 28 straight days of radiation. A peripherally inserted central catheter (or PICC line) was placed right away to assist in her treatment.
Her days became weeks; her weeks turned into months. Her mother had to do the impossible and explain to Sitara that soon, she would lose all of her golden locks.
“But will I still be beautiful?” Sitara would ask. As a family, Sitara, her mother and father decided to shave their heads together, as a sign of unity. And what a beautiful display it was.
Success to Sitara began to look much different from the success of other children her age.
While others were learning how to ride bikes, Sitara was in the Healing Garden of Dell Children’s Hospital, relearning how to walk.
When others were joining ballet classes and learning how to play t-ball, Sitara was bed-ridden, surrounded by white walls, fighting for her life. And fight she did.
In Sitara’s eyes, beating cancer wasn’t even a question. She would continue to fight this tumor, this “dragon,” as she appropriately called it. It would become her future accomplishment and her success.
Although she was physically weak, her spirits were high. A successful day for Sitara meant being able to eat and keep her food down. She began to enjoy the little things in life.
One of her favorite things to do while in the hospital was to lay in her bed with the therapy dogs.
She would read books with her mom, and when too tired to try to walk, she would take a ride in her little red wagon through the halls of the hospital, smiling as strangers walked by.
In her months at Dell Children’s Hospital, Sitara came to know the other children on her floor. She always made sure her new friends were comfortable and content before she made any personal requests.
Music was one of her greatest pleasures.
Oftentimes, Sitara could be heard singing along to her encouraging fight songs: “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson and “Roar” by Katy Perry. It was the sweetest sound.
Even at such a tender age, she had a way of inspiring those around her.
Visitors would come to encourage her, and would walk away feeling blessed to know her. Her precious smile was ever-present and she was determined to show cancer who was boss.
Although she has been forced to fight this battle, her zest for life has never wavered. She has unknowingly taken her story and allowed her life to be her message. She has found joy in what some of us would perceive as sorrow.
Her strength cannot be measured. She might be just 6 years old, but she encompasses a power and toughness that cannot be matched. She takes each day as it comes, and she has been grateful for the ordinary things in life.
Thankfully, Sitara is now in remission. She has a full head of gorgeous, chocolate brown hair and is more beautiful than ever before. The sparkle in her eyes is proof she is full of life.
She still has the threat of long-term effects from her treatment, but nothing has slowed her down. Remnants can be seen in the prosthetic braces that cover her feet, but she happily dances through life.
She is now able to learn new things every day in her kindergarten class. Nothing has stopped this little one, not even a monster disguised in the form of cancer.
I’m honored to say I not only know her personally, but I’m also overcome with emotion when I tell people she is my hero.
Sitara’s message is simple: Live simply. Dream big. Be grateful. Laugh often. Give love. We all are entitled to our bad days, but the next time you have one, think of Sitara.
As you curse rush hour traffic, think of her cruising the hospital hallways in her red wagon. When you’re late for work because you had a flat tire, think of her.
She would fight her battle and smile through it, knowing success was hers at the end of the day.
When you feel down on your luck, don’t forget Sitara. She was more down on her luck than any one person should be. But she persevered and prevailed. You can, too.
Oscar Wilde once said, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.” Choose to be like Sitara. Don’t “just exist.” Find something you’re passionate about and do what makes your heart happy.
Seek joy and success in the ordinary. Live each moment as if it could be your last. And remember that maybe, just maybe, life isn’t about the “happy ending.”
Maybe it truly is about the story.