“She is simple. She is our Elena” (x). A grown-up, 5-year-old girl who loved hearts, dresses, and the color pink. Her life was colored by her experiences with DIPG, a rare form of brain cancer.
Notes Left Behind is a collection of journal entries written by Elena’s parents, Brooke and Keith Desserich. What began as a preservation of memories to share with Elena’s sister Gracie quickly became more meaningful to both the Desseriches and all those who cared about Elena.
The Desseriches chronicle their letters by the date and the number of days since diagnosis, the day Elena was given an estimate of 135 days to live. Brooke and Keith take turns writing entries that coalesce to provide a more holistic, parental view of caring for a child with cancer and her sibling.
While Elena wrote many notes to her loved ones, “this book too is a note from Elena, messages from a little girl who taught our family so much about life” (xiv). Elena’s sweet, sincere personality shines through the eyes of her parents, who share with us her experiences in losing her voice, gaining weight from steroids, and wanting nothing more than to be normal once more.
In the face of cancer, questions emerge about the daunting uncertainties and the forgotten nuances. Keith grapples with these question marks and calls out our band-aids, noting that “cures don’t come on toy shelves and they don’t have tags” (64). He reminds us that these material objects are powerful yet insufficient when lives are still at stake. It’s refreshing to remember that at the root of each childhood cancer is a need for a cure.
Inspired by their personal experiences with the incurable, the Desseriches started the organization The Cure Starts Now. With an emphasis on finding a cure for brain cancer, this organization believes that a cure for all cancers can be found in this elusive disease. Elena has touched the lives of those around her and more.
She has left behind more than notes.