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Happy Hashkima Day, Emmaline! [continued] Unable to stop perseverating about my own cluelessness, I interrupted the silence of our room, “Wendy, have you ever heard of Hashkima Day?” As I asked the question, I looked up and was surprised to see tears streaming down my wife’s face. “Brian,” she said flashing a smile from under her tears, “They are singing ‘Happy Last Chemo Day.’” Over the next couple of days, Wendy and the nursing staff had quite a laugh over my mistake.  She loved telling the story to anyone who had not already heard it, and the nurses and oncologists all found it very amusing.  In a place where smiles were rare, but certainly needed on occasion, the power of the story was that it always made someone grin, even if just for a moment. Emmaline’s surgery the following week went incredibly well, and we continued with monthly hospitalizations for her chemotherapy for a total of 22 months.   The words the nurses sang that day were so precious.   They represented everything we were trying to accomplish.   A simple song reflected the end of another child’s treatment as we stood at the beginning of ours.  It gave us hope that completing our journey could be achieved. 

Brian Hultman ‘86 and family (with grandmother Nanta) in August 2011. Emmaline (right) shaved her head as part of a Relay for Life fundraiser.

gazing at the floor, head in my hands. My thoughts were interrupted when I heard a massive group of nurses gathering just outside our door as they prepared to walk into the next room.  

While you are fighting together with someone who is in treatment for cancer, those words are all you ever want to hear. They become your solitary goal.  Not just for the obvious reason that they represent the end of treatment but, more importantly, because reaching that day and that moment would mean that at least our daughter had an opportunity that too many of the kids we got to know during that time never had. 

Suddenly, the hospital’s low drum of incessant background noise was pierced by the simplest of cheerful songs. Through the wall, you could just make out their words as the nurses began singing, “Happy Hashkima Day to you,” to the melody of the traditional birthday song. Hashkima Day?  What in the world was that?  My best guess was that it was some kind of religious holiday that I had never heard of before.  

Being “off-treatment” would have its own unique challenges and stresses but we were desperate to just have the chance to have those kinds of problems. Many of Emmaline’s fellow patients never got to that point because of recurrences or treatments which were ineffective against their cancers.

“A simple song reflected the end of another child’s treatment as we stood at the beginning of ours.”

I confess. Spending several months in Salt Lake City was a cultural eye opener for me.   I was exposed to things during that summer that I had simply never been exposed to before while growing up in Pittsburgh.  For example, earlier in the month there had been a Native American dancing celebration on the roof of the hospital for a Native American child who had passed away.  Utah had just celebrated Pioneer Day, a holiday that commemorates the Mormon pioneers’ discovery of the Salt Lake Valley.  I had also met several families of Polynesian descent who had children in the hospital.

Finally, the day had come for Emmaline’s last dose of chemotherapy on March 2, 2004. We returned from our MRI to a hospital room that had been decorated with balloons, streamers, and a cake.  All of our favorite nurses from the nearly two years of treatment were crammed into the small room ready to celebrate.  The banner on the wall read, “Happy Hashkima Day, Emmaline!”   The chorus began when we entered.  I’ve never heard a sweeter song nor cried happier tears.

Hashkima Day. What could that possibly be?  

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Sewickley Speaking Winter 2012  

Sewickley Speaking is the alumni magazine for Sewickley Academy - a premier Pittsburgh private school enrolling students in pre-k through gr...