The date: Sept. 24, 2009, exactly four months after her second birthday.
The report: Rare brain tumor … malignant.
The prognosis: Bleak.
And thus began Susanna Belle Mitchell’s cancer journey. We call her Belle, like the princess.
On one hand, she is indeed a princess. On the other, she is a rock star. There are few places Belle goes where she isn’t known, and she achieved the one-name-only status before age 3.
She captivates you almost immediately by her smile, spirit and sassiness. Her sweet giggles and silly nature draw you the rest of the way in.
And for a time her chemo-induced bald head escalated her ability to mesmerize people.
Belle draws a crowd easily, and her friend list is long. If you’ve met Belle, then you are on that list. Even her “frienemy” Sara Beth is her BFF.
Belle loves people unconditionally like … well, like Jesus. He definitely shines through her, and she is a beam of light for His glory.
I can’t imagine life without Belle. I might just be her biggest fan. (I guess I have to compete with her parents and siblings and about 30 other close friends and family members, but I’d sure give them a run for their money.)
Learning from Belle
As we approached the five-year mark of Belle’s cancer journey (Sept. 24, 2014), I reflected on five life lessons I’ve learned from Belle.
1. Mommy is impy and other Belle-invented sayings.
Be silly whenever you can and laugh a lot — A LOT. Live life to its fullest and find the joy in everything, even chemo and radiation. Love people and find the good in them. Nurture and protect your relationships.
Belle’s go-to stuffed animal, which travels everywhere with her, is a light-green rabbit — the main character in a series of children’s books by Mo Willems. Belle received Knuffle Bunny as a gift not long after arriving at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis in 2009, and he has been by her side through the entire cancer journey.
We all need our own version of Knuffle Bunny — people who will love us no matter what and stick with us through the ups and downs. People who lift us up, make us more secure and give great hugs.
Make sure Mommy and Aunt Jen Jen are nearby to carry it for you. And keep Daddy close at hand to scare away the monsters.
Share your burdens with others and allow them the blessing of helping you carry the weight and protecting you from what you cannot see coming.
4. Purple Gatorade is the best. Enough said.
Do your research, make an informed decision and commit to the path. Don’t look back and don’t second guess. #WinFromWithin
5. “This girl is on fire.”
Belle loves to sing and dance to many of today’s popular songs.
She practices over and over for her performances and doesn’t settle for a mediocre show. She will start over from the beginning multiple times to get it just right.
She also performs in costume and personally designs individual tickets for everyone attending the show. This girl doesn’t slack.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23).
A phrase made popular in the past decade — Live. Laugh. Love. — has become a bit trite, but it describes Belle to a tee.
She truly lives life, laughs consistently and loves purely and unconditionally.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).
—Jennifer Davis Rash, aka Aunt Jen Jen
(To donate to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in honor of Belle, click here.)