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Our Little Cheerleader

One of Isabella’s favorite days of her life.
 
We LOVE the Carolina Panthers and excited to see them play in the first pre-season game tonight. Make-A-Wish Central & Western North Carolina and The Carolina Panthers Top Cats made her an honorary Top Cat for the day in November of 2011. She was low on energy but she muscled up the strength for the day. The crowd was so amazing to her and everyone on the Panthers organization laid out the red carpet for the Santos family. Her picture still hangs in the Top Cat locker room to this day.
As a previous Wish Family, we understand the importance of a child’s wish and how a wish experience can be a game-changer for a child with cancer.  The Make-A-Wish Foundation grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.  Over the past 10 years, ISF has donated over $143,000 to Make-A-Wish, granting over 24 wishes in the state of North Carolina.
Donate today to take action for pediatric cancer in Isabella’s honor.

Running To Zero

Isabella’s Dream Team week one is complete.  With our first group run behind us, one number gave us the inspiration needed behind every step, every bead of sweat and every sore muscle.  1843.  The number of missed kisses.  The number of missed goodnights.  The number of days since Isabella passed.    This season our team will run with an updated number on their arms every Saturday.  To remind us why we are running.  We run until that number is zero for parents of children fighting cancer.  It’s not to late to join.

Read the #Runningtozero blog below… written by Isabella’s Mommy around this time last year.  And why she started counting days.

 

#Runningtozero

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 5.28.01 PMI tossed and turned in bed. I knew my mind was racing. I had this feeling a lot back in the day and I know how to fix it. I had to write. I knew that if I did my mind would settle and I could sleep. But the “new” Erin convinced myself that my anxiety was due to the Dream Team 6 mile run at 6:30 am the next day. It was just nerves that I would oversleep or worse, not be able to do the run.

My mind and body tossed from 10:30 pm – 1:30 am.

I woke at 4:30 am and I knew it wasn’t running nerves. The day before while shopping I received a call from a new friend. Her Granddaughter just received results from recent scans and the neuroblastoma was aggressive, although I not sure aggressive accurately describes it. The neuroblastoma had become deadly. Palliative care options were given due to the rapid progression of the disease.

I tried to remain calm with the news because at this point in my life, I know that Doctors are really just guessing. You learn this when you too, have been given this option several times – yet your own daughter proves them wrong and makes a comeback. These Doctors are not God and you learn this the hard way. I gave the best advice I could give.

Tell the parents to read their daughter. If she wants to fight – then fight. If she is done, they will know and then the fight will be over.

We read Isabella each time we got devastating news. Doctors said she was done but her light showed “Green” so we fought. Sometimes it seemed “Yellow”, so we would cautiously continue. But when it turned “Red” for the first and only time – we stopped. She died quickly.

But I found myself Friday night at Nordstroms, crying. Sad and Angry.

It feels like we just made our decision. It was just yesterday right? I found myself at 4:30 am counting days.

1494Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 5.40.54 PM

There is no way.

I began to freak out that another mother might soon be counting.

1 is the hardest number. But oddly 1494 still feels hard. When you see that number it may seem like a lifetime ago. But for me, it feels so recent. It’s 1494 missed kisses, missed goodnights, and missed smiles. I’m sure that number can be a hard motivator for some to take action. But to me, that number is as motivating as ever. Especially during these hot summer months when every number we see kills our motivation.

99 degrees, 100% humidity, 13.1 miles, 6:30 am, $500 fundraising goals. You may begin to wonder why you are doing this to yourself?

1494. That number motivates me because it’s an awful number. And next Saturday that number will be 1501. My number will continue to grow this season and I know that everything I’m doing, every time I ask for a donation, and every mile I run in this heat is so that someone like me will not have to write that number on their arm.

I will run and continue to ask until that number is zero.

#runningtozero

Isabella’s Mommy

Her legacy…

June marks a significant date as it is the month that Isabella lost her fight to neuroblastoma. This year will be 5 years since we lost her to this horrible disease on June 28th, 2012. The Santos family has been through their ups and downs in dealing with losing a daughter, sister, granddaughter, great-granddaughter, niece and cousin. But as you have most likely noticed, they have persevered… and they lead the push to fight for kids with cancer in Isabella’s honor. This month we will be sharing both the happy and raw times as we celebrate Isabella’s spirt and the legacy she left behind.

Her legacy…

Santos Family

“I look at what she has accomplished in the last 5 years since I last saw her and it makes me so proud.  It makes me think that we really must have done something right.  All these years that we beat ourselves up on where we made a mistake or wrong turn that ultimately ended her life.  But, maybe all those decisions were the right ones because they brought us to this place we are now, to a place where her legacy is outliving her actual life.  It brings me to a place where somehow her death is making the world a better place for someone else.

This thought is something that helps me sleep at night because I know this is only the beginning.  All of those pieces of her may be slipping through my fingers in my own life, but it’s building something bigger than me.  She experienced all that pain, so that this wonderful thing could happen.  And maybe now I have to experience all the pain to keep allowing it to grow.  It’s the least I could do for her and I should feel honored to do it.

Not a day goes by where I don’t miss her.  I still can’t honestly say I wish this never happened to us even seeing all the good it has done.  But maybe that day is coming where I will understand it… I’m getting there.  I just wish she were here to witness it all alongside me.”  Isabella’s Mommy

While Isabella didn’t win her fight against neuroblastoma, you can honor her and help families and kids in the fight against theirs. For our 10 year anniversary and with a goal of $1,000,000 we are looking for 100 people to become part of ISF as a Sustaining Monthly Donor.

BECOME A SUSTAINING MONTHLY DONOR

MAKE A SINGLE DONATION

And we both knew it was over…

June marks a significant date as it is the month that Isabella lost her fight to neuroblastoma. This year will be 5 years since we lost her to this horrible disease on June 28th, 2012. The Santos family has been through their ups and downs in dealing with losing a daughter, sister, granddaughter, great-granddaughter, niece and cousin. But as you have most likely noticed, they have persevered… and they lead the push to fight for kids with cancer in Isabella’s honor. This month we will be sharing both the happy and raw times as we celebrate Isabella’s spirt and the legacy she left behind.

And we both knew it was over…

Isabella, 2005-2012

“Moments go by and I forget that it has happened. I think that she is just out with someone. It all happened so quickly but the hours felt like an eternity. Tuesday night I got her up out of bed and put her in a warm bath with me. I knew the water would feel good to her and cleaning her would help her sleep. As she laid on top of me we tried to talk about things but when she would speak, the words didn’t make much sense and she was having trouble getting words out. I think that for the first time it made her nervous. She could hear herself and she knew it wasn’t right. Stuart helped her out of the bath and she was too weak to use the restroom or have her teeth brushed. We were supporting her completely. She curled up in bed and tried to watch “cats and dogs” with daddy but she was so exhausted.

I was still giving her oral meds and pills every couple of hours so we were controlling pain, vomiting and anxiety pretty well. I remember giving her meds at 4 am that she took but when I woke at 6am, she could no longer take the meds. Stuart and I knew that morning that we had turned another corner and I started pushing all meds through her port from then on. When hospice arrived that morning, they confirmed that we had hours. Just the day before we were given a couple of days up to a week, and like that – we lost time.

We began to allow people to stop in for a few minutes each and give her kisses and goodbyes. Each one was harder and harder. I just sat there and held her hand as the hours progressed. Her heartbeat was still going strong but her breathing had changed. The time between breaths was getting longer and longer as the day continued. I was able to curl up with her at moments through the day and we would nap together. It felt normal as I curled around her body and allowed myself to relax. We just laid together all day. Each time I had to get out of bed to get her iv meds together, I was scared. I knew that every moment was crucial. I remember falling asleep from midnight to 1:30 in the morning. As soon as I woke, I started to cry because I was so pissed with myself for missing that 90 minutes. She looked so different in just 90 minutes. Family took shifts with me as I tried to stay awake as best I could. Stuart caught a cat nap while my mom and I laid on each side of her. My brother sat in the chair next to us as we talked about anything to keep us awake. I would talk but watch her stomach rise. My conversation would come to a halt at times because I was waiting for a breath. I kept putting my hand over her heart to feel the pounding of it to keep me sane. By this time, her eyes were no longer closing. It made it hard to sit in front of her because they were no longer her eyes. I knew that she was gone but her body was trying to live. It was ripping my heart out that my daughter’s once beautiful face had become so painful to look at.

I was able to sleep from 6-7:30 in the morning while stuart and my sister kept watch. I knew when I woke and looked at her that it was it was time to close off our bedroom to family and have Stuart and I lay next to her. Her body temperature was dropping and her color was changing. I kept rubbing her hands, thinking that if my hands rubbed them enough, they would turn pink again… But they never did. I wish I could of sat behind her and just held her but I couldn’t. I had to sit facing her. I wanted her to know that I wasn’t afraid. I was going to experience every minute of this moment with her no matter how hard it was.

I think Stuart thought she would go in a couple of hours. But I knew by looking at her that it was time. Her breaths became scary.. Each one made me think it was her last. I could see the end of her line resting on the skin above her heart so I just watched it move so slightly up and down to assure me a part of her was still here. Stuart told me that I’m putting too much pressure on myself by not looking away. But I couldn’t. Her face changed. I don’t know how to describe it but it did. I knew that the next breath would be her last.. And it was. I sat there in silence.. Just holding her hand. I pushed away the end of her port and placed my hand on her chest. There was nothing. 9:50am. So many times in her life my hand was feeling her heartbeat and it wasn’t there. I just said, “Stuart.”. And we both knew it was over. I kissed her sweet face, her sweet hands and tears of pain were falling from our eyes.. Feeling like knives cutting our faces. We locked our door and knew that we owed Isabella the privacy she deserved as we got her together. I took off her port, her patches and her bandaids, freeing her from it all. Stuart carried her to the bathroom and laid her against him in the bathtub as I washed her body. We laid her down and dressed her in her favorite silk pony pjs and carried her back to our bed. We spread out her favorite blanket and put her head on her silky pillow as we wrapped her up nice and warm. I kept trying to close her eyes because I felt like it would scare Grant but they still wouldn’t close. Her color was changing quickly so I had to put some pink on her lips and cheeks just so grant wouldn’t notice her coloring. We brushed her hair and folded her hands on her chest. We let our family come in one by one and see her as we sat back, knowing we had truly done all at we could do.

My mom picked up grant from camp and brought him home. We took him in to see her and he sat on my lap next to her and cried. He had lots of questions like how we knew she was dead, if she was just going to stay in our bed with us now that she wasn’t alive. So many innocent questions. Questions you never want to give the answers to. Sophia came in and crawled right up in bed with her. “Bye Belle” she said as she gave her a kiss and a hug and then off she went. The funeral home came quickly which was best. Of course the A/C unit on the second floor of our house went out over the last 24 hours of Isabella’s life so by this time in the process, our bedroom was 78 degrees and climbing. Someone told me that they were here to get her and I just kept thinking, please don’t be creepy looking. Please don’t have bad teeth or some cheap suit on with a stain on it. Why was I thinking this? Stuart carried her downstairs and I swore I wouldn’t watch as they took her. But there I was, following behind in my pajamas watching every move. They placed her on a gurney and I kissed her head and told her I loved her. I had to turn away as they put her blanket over her face. I saw the bag underneath and I knew they were going to zip it over her. I had to turn away. When I looked back, she was in the back of a minivan driving away and I wanted to scream. I knew the cremation would be in 24 hours and I couldn’t handle knowing that she was going to be somewhere without me next to her in a building with strangers. But what could I do? Or that in 24 hours it will be like her body never existed.

I wish I could tell you what happened the rest of the day but I can’t. And I’m sure you are all wondering why I am sharing such intimate details. It is because I am still blown away that it happened. You know children die from cancer. But to see it is unlike anything you have ever imagined. All the notes of “thinking of you, praying for you..” or my least favorite, “RIP Isabella”.. they all seemed like things I would have said to someone but they feel so weird to hear because the don’t feel equal to the situation If everyone had to witness what Stuart and I witnessed, there would be a cure for cancer. Instead of those comments, it feels better to hear, “I ran around my house screaming and punching walls today..”, or “I thought of Isabella and gave blood today or decided to volunteer”, or “I hit up my wealthy great uncle and he gave a million dollars to neuroblastoma research.”. Those feel more appropriate after what I saw. Because however you picture a child’s life ending can’t compare to what it is really like. I’m haunted by the images of her in my mind. I can’t walk in my bedroom, in my bathroom, I can’t close my eyes without seeing her eyes. I know in time the good memories will replace these but I don’t know when that will start. How can we live in a society that allows this to happen? People are living lives and not looking behind this curtain because if they saw what I saw, they would do everything they could to prevent it from happening. People say God needed another angel. If God can make giraffes and waffles and walmarts, then why doesn’t he just MAKE another angel? Don’t take mine. I know I’m in these stages of grief.. Denial, anger, frustration, sadness. I experience a new stage every hour. We had to bolt out of town for a couple of days because I’m literally tripping over her everywhere I go. Her flip flops, her placemats, her toothbrush, her book bag.. It’s punching me in the face at every turn. I need to clear a daily path when I get home so that I can at least function.”  -Isabella’s Mommy, June 28, 2012

We can accomplish so much more if we fight cancer together.  Learn more about donating to the Isabella Santos Foundation.

My gift to her…

June marks a significant date as it is the month that Isabella lost her fight to neuroblastoma. This year will be 5 years since we lost her to this horrible disease on June 28th, 2012. The Santos family has been through their ups and downs in dealing with losing a daughter, sister, granddaughter, great-granddaughter, niece and cousin. But as you have most likely noticed, they have persevered… and they lead the push to fight for kids with cancer in Isabella’s honor. This month we will be sharing both the happy and raw times as we celebrate Isabella’s spirt and the legacy she left behind. 

My gift to her…

Speech given by Grant Santos (Isabella’s Brother) at the 2nd annual Coffee for a Cure Events.

Isabella and Grant

“Hi, my name is Grant Santos and I am Isabella’s little brother.  Isabella was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma just 6 days after my 1stbirthday so I never really knew her without cancer.  My Mom and Dad tell me stories all the time about my life with her.  We did everything together and I brought so much comfort to her when no one else could.  I would come and visit her in the hospital and crawl right up in bed with her as we would watch movies and laugh while we ate dinner together in her bed.  I would walk around the hospital with her as Mom wheeled her IV pole up and down the hallways.  She would show me around and introduce me to everyone.   She was so proud of me.  We took so many trips together.  We loved going to Disney World and running from ride to ride as we got to meet every Disney Character you could imagine.  We had special days at with the Panthers and got to meet people like Steve Smith, Tony Stewart and more.  Our whole family moved to New York City for a couple of months with Isabella got cancer in her brain.  We stayed in an apartment that overlooked the city.  I would play trains all day long while I waited on Isabella to finish treatment, then she would come home and Mom would take us to the park and play for hours.  People would always look at Isabella in a weird way because she had a big scar on her bald head but I never even noticed it on her.  To me she was always beautiful.  For the years during Isabella’s treatment, I became her best friend.  She would always ask me to hold her hand when she would get her line put in her chest.  It was hard for me to watch, but I knew that she needed me and I would help her be strong.  Near the end of her life, she didn’t want to be around very many people.  But, I was always allowed to be around her.   She would let me crawl in bed with her and watch movies and rub her back.  She would ask about my day and I would tell her all the things I did and she would tell me about her day at home or in the hospital.  We would wrestle with Daddy and laugh and sing at night together before we crawled in bed each night.

Isabella and Grant

These are all stories that my Mom and Dad tell me.  But I don’t really remember them.  I’m thankful for pictures and videos that tell me this story too, and I hope one day these memories become more real to me.  I remember her red hair, and how she said my name “Graaaant” when she would call for me.  I remember she like Taylor Swift and Ariel and American Girl dolls.  I remember the day she died.  I was at a summer camp and my Grandma came to pick me up.  I remember coming into Mom and Dad’s room and she was asleep in their bed and I told her goodbye and that I loved her.  I remember going to Calvary for her funeral and that my cousins were there and Miss Chrissy read a poem.  But I don’t remember much more than that.

It’s crazy to think that we were best friends, but I can’t remember it.  But that is what pediatric cancer does.  It steals people from you.  It steals sons and daughters, it steals brothers and sisters, it steals best friends.  It also steals the possibility of creating memories.  Cancer stole my sister, my best friend and a lifetime of memories that we were supposed to make together.  We were supposed to be in high school together and be at each other’s college graduations and weddings.  We were supposed to be aunts and uncles to each others kids and our kids were going to be cousins who would go to the beach together.  We were supposed to be able to call each other and complain about Mom and Dad and have secrets between us that we would never tell them.  But none of that will happen.

Now, the only way I can be the best brother I can be is to bring her flowers to her site and talk to her in my mind.  But the other thing I can do is help to find a cure for the disease that took her from me.  My gift to her is to prevent someone else losing their best friend too.  She should still be here with me today, riding the bus to school, laughing, playing and fighting – the way that brothers and sisters were meant to be.  But she’s not.

I hope that you will give today in honor of my best friend and sister Isabella.  Together we can make a difference and stop this awful disease from taking one more kid from a family.  I know she is looking down on us and is hopefully proud of the brother that I’m still trying and will always be to be to her.  I miss her so much.”  -Isabella’s Brother, Grant

We can accomplish so much more if we fight cancer together.  Learn more about donating to the Isabella Santos Foundation.