We celebrated your first birthday in our first home, at Klostergatan. You’d been diagnosed a little over a month before and had already received your first chemotherapy but the tumour in your jaw was still too big. That’s what the doctors said—that the tumours would grow artificially before they started to shrink. Your hair had started falling out too.
But you were happy. You were sitting in the red-black chair that we bought from Ikea. You were eating strawberry cake with one hand, drinking water from your green cup with the other. Morfar (grandpa) was trying to help you eat but you didn’t seem to need much help. Your hands, your mouth, your whole face were covered with strawberry cake.
Among the gifts, your favourite was the colourful little car that morfar and Gunilla gave you. You could sit on it but you were too young to drive it yourself. So you asked us to push you around. And to keep pressing the horn.
We were happy, because we were hopeful. We still didn’t know how strong you were, but we were certain that you would beat the monster. We were all singing the Swedish happy birthday song to you. I had heard it before but never paid attention to the meaning of the lyrics. What a match for what we were going through. And our hope.
Ja, må han leva! (Yes, may he live)
Ja, må han leva! (Yes, may he live)
Ja, må han leva uti hundrade år! (Yes, may he live for a hundred years)
Javisst ska han leva! (Of course he will live)
Javisst ska han leva! (Of course he will live)
Javisst ska han leva uti hundrade år! (Of course he will live for a hundred years)
Hurra, hurra, hurra, hurra
We were at mamma’s place on your second birthday. The first part of the treatment was over. Chemotherapy, an operation, stem cell transplant and radiotherapy. You had overcome all of it. Mamma had already changed your name from “angel” to “fighter” in her blog. She was so right.
And we had the first test results. You were NED (no evidence of disease). You were clear. You had beaten the beast, at least for the time being.
Now it was time for consolidation therapy. Immunotherapy and high doses of Vitamin A. We had started travelling to Copenhagen since immunotherapy did not exist in Sweden. You loved Rigshospitalet. It had a big play room, lots of bicycles and big animals you could climb on. The cleaners were speaking Turkish, like baba. You understood what they said, but were too shy to respond when asked a direct question, hiding behind me. Do you remember the video where we counted till ten in Turkish? You were so cute!
We had a proper birthday party at home for we wanted to celebrate the test results as well. We had called your friends from dagis (kindergarten). This time, your cake was baked by bombom (maternal grandma). It had a lot of fruits, kiwi, banana, and of course your favourite, blueberries. Your name was written on it, alongside two red hearts. You couldn’t blow out the candles properly yet, so we offered a little bit of help. And of course we sang the happy birthday song, in Swedish and English. Nobody spoke Turkish other than the both of us, so we didn’t sing in Turkish. After all, Turkish was our secret language.
Once again, it was morfar and Gunilla who gave you the most spectacular gift. A small tricycle, with a handle to push behind. You weren’t strong enough to pedal yet, so your interest in it quickly shifted over to the Legos mamma and I gave you. Your endless love for Legos had already begun.
We were somewhat anxious, but still happy. Anxious because we were afraid that the beast could return. But we had also learned to live “one day at a time”. At that particular moment, you were clear. That’s what counted.
We were in Istanbul on your third birthday. At nene’s (paternal grandma) house. Mamma had come with us too of course. Then there was teyze and yenge (the aunts), my lovely cousins Pelin and Ceren. Sure, it was tough, but you had managed to get through immunotherapy as well and you were still clear. You hadn’t had any treatment for months. You were going to dagis like your friends, running in the park, doing whatever you wanted. You were free. For you were normal. For once.
Istanbul had missed you. Everyone was spoiling you. You were euphoric, running from one person to the next, ending up wrestling with—or better put, jumping on me. There were lots of cakes. I don’t remember who brought what. The following day, we were going to have a second birthday party at my uncle Halil and aunt Şule’s house and play with the many toys of your distant cousin Derin. Mamma and I were worried that you could have a sugar coma!
This time, no gift could match the Legos. The first place went to the Lego fire station teyze got you, the one that you were obsessed about for so long. We were going to build the whole station in the middle of the living room so that you could extinguish imaginary fires. Your happy birthday song was sung in English. I remember trying the Swedish version too, and failing miserably. I don’t remember whether we sang it in Turkish as well.
We were very happy. There was no beast. You were laughing. And as long as you were laughing, we were laughing.
Soon after we went back to Sweden, the beast came back.
We were back to mamma’s house on your fourth birthday. You had taken part in a trial in Copenhagen after the cancer relapsed. It was a very hard treatment. With lots of new chemotherapy drugs. But you had once again defeated the beast when the trial was over. Or so we thought. It wouldn’t take long for us to realize that the beast wasn’t beaten. It struck back again. The first test results weren’t promising. We were waiting for the results of the biopsy to decide on a treatment.
Still, we were trying to keep our morale up. You weren’t aware of anything. You continued to smile and laugh. You spoke in two languages. And you knew how to blow out the candles. You had a big green cake. Everybody knew by now that green was your colour. You blew out the candles, then picked up a candle as if you were going to eat it. The mischievous smile on your face revealed that you were fooling us but we still panicked and took the candle away.
Deciding on a gift was no longer an issue. We were all going to get Legos. The only thing we had to do was to coordinate beforehand so that we didn’t get duplicates. I got you a Star Wars Lego. A spacecraft. I still remember how excited you were when ripping the gift wrap. As always, mamma had taken beautiful pictures of your beautiful face. Pictures that did justice to your excitement and happiness.
But we were sad. We were trying to look happy, at least for a day, but it was obvious that we were faking it. We didn’t know what the future held in store. And we were scared.
On your fifth birthday, we were in a hospital room in Barcelona. You had a fever, so they put you in isolation. There was no chance of celebrating. We couldn’t even leave the room. Not that you were in the mood for a celebration. You were tired, lying in your bed. With your iPad and a few odd pieces of Lego.
All of a sudden, the door was open and all the nurses working at Sant Joan de Deu children’s oncology unit walked in, with a birthday cake and balloons of various shapes and colours in their hands. They weren’t particularly fluent in English—some didn’t speak it at all—but they sang “happy birthday” for you and showered you with gifts. You were startled. And you smiled fort he first time in days. So did we of course. Then we opened the gifts. There were so many of them.
When the isolation was lifted, we threw a small party in the Airbnb house we had in Hospitalet. Just the family. I had found the biggest Lego Store in Barcelona and got you the big red Ninjago robot that you’d wanted for some time. We started building it together but it was very complicated. It was mamma who put it together after I left you for a few days. You took it to the hospital as well. You couldn’t play with it that much, for there were so many little pieces coming apart, but you still kept it with you all the time.
We didn’t have much hope when we went to Barcelona. We were simply chasing a miracle. We’d wanted to take you to New York for this treatment one and a half years earlier, and we had even collected a significant amount of money to do so, thanks to thousands of people who blended their golden hearts with yours, to forge one big green heart. Eventually the money wasn’t enough, but the treatment became available in Barcelona. You challenged the beast one more time and got through the first cycle of the excruciating immunotherapy.
But that wasn’t enough.
I wasn’t there on your sixth birthday. I don’t know whether you were there yourself. Mamma took some green “princess cake” to the stone on which your name was carved.
I came a few months later. I’d discovered that you’d sung the happy birthday song to yourself on your fifth birthday, when we were in Barcelona, and that I’d recorded it on my iPhone. I didn’t remember. Found it by chance. So I put the phone on the ground, on the exact spot where you were supposed to be, and played your song to you.
I was supposed to be with you on your seventh birthday. We were going to meet with mamma, bombom, morfar, Gunilla, and maybe some of your friends. But this time I am in isolation because of a stupid virus. I can’t travel. Instead, I am sitting on the terrace where you played with Sixto the dog, sipping my coffee whose smell you always hated, and writing a letter to you that you will never read.
Yes, after you were gone, I left Lund, our home. I came to Barcelona which you thought—for some reason—looked like Lund. I am here for now. Far away from you. Without you.
I am here for now.