Nigeria. That child kept me on my toes. I was the oldest of five and didn’t want kids. If I did have a child, I wanted a girl so I could comb her hair. My child was a girly-girl and always wanted her hair done. Makeup, nails, everything. She was an only child. Extremely spoiled, but extremely humble. Nigeria could see the good in anyone. We called her the ‘What If’ child. She would always say, ‘well mama, what if’ to make you look at it another way. I don’t know where she got that from. She was dark like I am and teased about it. I taught her no matter what goes on, someone is going to talk. I am glad I taught her that early because it prepared her for the harder things later. She had cancer, heart surgery, and a piece of her skull was taken out, but nothing changed her.
Maybe Nigeria’s Story will help others see the ‘what if’
She was 11 when we found out about the cancer. She had just started cheering. I thought her legs hurt because she wasn’t used to the stretches. We went to the flea market and she could barely walk. One leg was visibly bigger but the first doctors couldn’t figure out why. We went to Dr. Nimit and he was was the best. She had a tumor where her knee was supposed to be and it went up to her femur. When the doctor told Nigeria she had cancer, she asked if she was going to die. It was Monday, May 26, 2014. We cried when we got the news but that was it because the doctors appointments began immediately. As long as I stayed strong and didn’t cry, she was good. But my strength came from her. It was hard, but the people at Women’s and Children’s made it easier. We went into the hospital every Monday hoping to get out by Friday or Saturday for at least a day or two at home.
Nigeria had an 8-hour surgery to put a rod in her leg and a knee replacement. She wasn’t worried about any of that. She was concerned about the scar and wearing pants for the rest of her life. The chemo took a toll on her body and she needed a new heart. She couldn’t get a new heart because she wasn’t in remission. We found out she had heart problems when she went to Washington D.C. with the group Sunshine Kids. She had a nurse with her but she couldn’t enjoy the trip because she got winded very quickly. We went to the doctor as soon as she got home. They flew her that day to UAB because her heart was full of blood clots and about to stroke. The medicine didn’t work and she got put on the LVAD heart pump. She had to carry it around in a bag so we put it in a Hello Kitty lunch bag and cute purses. If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t know.
All of that time in hospitals in life or death situations is hard on families but caring people make it better. One guy grew up in hospitals because his dad was sick. He puts bags together filled with things to help kids have a little fun in the hospital. Beth Abston at Women’s and Children’s makes sure those kids go without nothing and have a chance to be a kid in the hospital. Nigeria was part of the Special Spectators event that gives VIP treatment at The Senior Bowl to severely ill kids. Those two days wore my child out. We went to the hotel with the players and the players played pool and games with the kids. We ate lunch with them. The kids had a VIP section at the game. They went on the field during the half time and had pictures made with players. The took such good care of us and we paid nothing. Nigeria felt so special that weekend. You would never know that she was going through chemo and lost her hair. Losing her hair almost took her out.
Nigeria also got a shopping spree through Make-A-Wish. We had to call it short because she got so excited it made her sick. But she had a great day because shopping is what she loved to do. They included my stepdaughter and had gift cards for her so they shopped together. Those things make a difference. They gave her hope and made her happy. In the hospital, she got dressed up with makeup on just to go to the window.
Nigeria stopped going to school in the fifth grade. She did homeschooling but wanted to be around more than me and the nurses. She went back in her 8th-grade year at the Magnet School. That child loved school. She had to take a nurse to school and could only go for half a day. She had two weeks of school before she passed away. I am thankful she got to do that and the kids at were good to her.
Nigeria had a stroke. Blood clots were always an issue. Her brain started to swell and collapse. She was about to turn 15. We let her transition out and watched her motor skills go. The day she died, Nigeria and her dad were fussing over the recliner because they both loved that ugly, beat-up recliner. They didn’t want to sit on the other beautiful furniture. She was getting ready to sit down and he ran and slid in the chair sideways. She sat on his lap. One of the last things we got to hear was her laughter. It is nice to remember that.
Nigeria changed me. Before, I would get frustrated and angry with attitude over every small thing. I didn’t always see the good in people or give them a second chance. Now I see the ‘what if,’ listen, and try to help. I pray for everyone. Nigeria taught me you can’t judge people because you don’t know what they are going through. I was Nigeria’s round the clock care. After she died, I couldn’t stay in the house. I got a job at Bass Pro Shop as an elf working part-time at Christmas. Bass Pro Shop gave me opportunities and moved me up. God also uses me to speak with others about cancer who feel like their life is over
It feels so good to talk about Nigeria. I don’t want her to be forgotten. Maybe her story will help others see the ‘what if’.”