Heather Hindin: My Darling Girl

Harper, a pediatric leukemia thriver, quickly puts a smile on every face she meets. Even at a young age, she’s passionate about helping others because of what she went through. Her mother, Heather Hindin, wrote an open letter to Harper in honor of Mother’s Day, detailing the emotions of motherhood, a childhood cancer diagnosis and the inspiration she draws from Harper every day.

My darling girl,

From the moment I discovered I was going to be a mom, my emotions vacillated between excitement and worry. Yet, when you were first placed on my chest, I experienced an explosion of love that words couldn’t possibly describe. Each day thereafter, I found myself feeling certain that I couldn’t possibly love you more. And yet? Every day, my love for you only deepened, my heart practically bursting with overwhelming affection and joy.

October 14, 2021 is a day I will never forget. Following weeks of exhaustion, headaches, and generally feeling unwell, the pediatricians we saw were unconcerned. But I’m your mom; I know you. Something was wrong. Reaching out to our medical team at Duke Children’s was the best decision because they know you, too. Within days, we had an answer. Hearing the words, “Your daughter has leukemia” was the most terrifying moment of my life. It felt very much like being knocked under by a wave while standing in the ocean: the absence of all sound, the inability to draw in a breath, not knowing which way was up and which was down. All sense of equilibrium was destroyed; my legs were swept out from beneath me.

In that small, suspended sliver of time, you turned to me with questions that no child should ever have to ask. “Mama, am I going to die?” “Mama, am I going to lose my hair?” “Mama, what did I do to deserve this?” Those words live rent-free in my mind, a haunting reminder of the reality we faced together.

It is said that it’s a mother’s job to be strong, to steady the ship during the storm. Somehow, I dug deep to find the strength to be that anchor for you. In those early, chaotic days filled with anxiety and adrenaline, I learned to compartmentalize, to advocate, to soothe, and to love more fiercely than ever before. The daunting prediction of over two years of treatment loomed over us, yet you persevered, step by step.

Harper, when you were diagnosed, I initially felt I had failed you. Perhaps I had done something wrong—fed you the wrong thing, exposed you to something dangerous when you were little, or I simply wasn’t vigilant enough and was derelict in my duties as your protector. But I soon realized my real duty was not to fix the unfixable, but to walk this path alongside you—to support you, to cheer you on, to comfort you, just as I had since your first breath.

I learned to give injections, clean your PICC line, monitor your insulin, to accompany you to countless procedures, to trust and challenge doctors, and to comfort friends we made along the way who wouldn’t survive the journey, all the while wishing there was some way I could take your place. But most importantly, I watched you metamorphosize. You evolved from a scared and withdrawn child into someone who carefully contemplated life and who you wanted to be in the face of this challenge.

You extended your kindness and compassion to others, offering smiles and encouragement, diving headfirst into new friendships, knowing, realistically, that time with many of these friends would be limited. I found hope when I watched you embrace every moment of joy—like the overwhelming happiness of being greeted by our sweet pup Jimmy Page at the front door— after hours or days away from the house at the hospital. Your questions and concerns about the needs of others during their own battles showed your selflessness and propensity for altruism. You have the purest heart I know.

Though I never wished for you to face such hardships, you recently said that perhaps the universe knew you had what it takes to turn this experience into something deeply and profoundly impactful. You've not only changed our world but you're also helping to change the broader world with your enormous capacity for love and empathy and your advocacy for cancer research funding and awareness.

Your journey has humbled me, brought me to my knees, and shown me the essence of faith and unconditional love. Your grace, strength, and humility through it all have revealed the true depth of your spirit. It’s said that the bond between a mother and child is unbreakable, fortified by the sound of my heartbeat that only you have ever heard from within. It’s true.

Harper, as I scoured through the wreckage of those initial terrifying days looking for those delicate filaments of hope and faith, I never could have imagined how many people would have a chance to know your heart as a result of this journey. While I wanted to shield you from every pain, including the guilt and confusion that weighed on you, know that you’ve always been—and always will be—a shining light of pure goodness. Being your mother is the greatest joy of my life. You are my heart, my inspiration, my brave girl.

Peace out, cancer!

With all my love,

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