After dinner on a school night, the mother and her daughter sit on their living room floor, giggling. They can't stop. It's just a silly story from school that Edlyn Parker, leukemia survivor, tells her mother, Deborah Cook, breast cancer survivor, but it means so much: That Edlyn is well enough to do normal kid stuff and bring home stories about it. That her mother is alive to hear.
They bob their heads toward one another, leaning in, their hair touching. Hats are no longer necessary.
Edlyn, now 12, has hair again -- luxurious, down-to-the-shoulders hair that she arranges carefully each day in a curly ponytail. That wasn't the case nine months ago, when both were dealing with the ravages of chemotherapy and were featured in an article in The Washington Post.
Today, mother and daughter are celebrating. Accompanied by dozens of friends and neighbors, the two will walk in the National Race for the Cure in downtown Washington. Deborah's son, Graham, now 14, will join the 5K run.
The event, sponsored by the Susan J. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, is expected to draw 50,000 participants -- cancer survivors and celebrities alike -- to promote breast cancer research and education.
The days of going through cancer together are behind them now. Edlyn's leukemia -- diagnosed in November 1997, when her mother was recovering from her second mastectomy -- is in remission. Deborah's breast cancer hasn't spread. They still have their medicines to take -- Edlyn will be on chemotherapy pills for another year -- but bottles of medicine no longer sprawl across the countertops. Throw-up buckets no longer clutter the car.
Edlyn is back in school -- sixth grade at Farmwell Station Middle School in Loudoun County -- and Deborah, 44, a former emergency room nurse, has a new job organizing a breast cancer survivors' network at Inova Fairfax Hospital.
The two have forged new ties.
"We've always been close," Edlyn said this week, adjusting her new, mod wire-rim glasses. "We're closer than before. We can relate more."
Mother and daughter are on their way to the magical five-year mark. If they make it there -- and doctors say there's a good chance they will -- Edlyn will be considered cured and Deborah will have a better long-term chance of survival. Each year of being cancer-free gives them confidence.
"You have an anniversary now, and it's something to celebrate, and it's a marker for your family and friends to say, `Hey, it's been a year,' " Deborah said. "It brings security and reassurance to your children and to your spouse, and it gives you hope. And boy, hope is a powerful thing."
It can mean planning, again.
There's summer vacation -- a visit with family members in North Carolina, followed by another excursion to see relatives in Florida. Edlyn, who couldn't ride on the school bus for a year because catching other people's germs could have landed her in the hospital, can't wait to go snorkeling.
Thinking about the long-term is an option again. Edlyn feels a special attachment to animals -- all animals but especially sick ones -- and she wants to become a veterinarian. Either that or a teacher.
Edlyn puts the finishing touches on her drawings -- illustrations for a story she wrote for school. She has thought her drawings through and practiced endlessly, and now she knows just how she likes to sketch a flower or a rainbow.
"I'm very intensely interested in everything that happens every day," she said, "very interested. Because you never know what to expect."
After the children have gone to bed, Deborah and her husband, David K. Cook, 50, sit on the big couch in the family room, the walls newly painted in a cheery yellow. His knee touches hers, he rests a hand on her arm. They talk about coming through the cancer.
"After the worst was over, I think we all kind of realized what we'd been through," David says. "It had an impact we didn't assess when it was all at its height. . . . If it doesn't tear you apart, it's got to bring you closer. We've been through a battle together."
They talk about being really and truly afraid and having no choice but to find out how they felt about their mortality. They came out, intact and enriched, on the other side.
"We were [both] crying about the same things, and we knew we weren't alone," Deborah says. "That was key."
CAPTION: Deborah Cook and daughter Edlyn Parker, 12, wrestle on the floor of their Ashburn home. Both were sick with cancer in 1997; both now call themselves survivors.
CAPTION: Deborah Cook and daughter Edlyn Parker, 12, of Ashburn, are celebrating their gains against cancer. They plan to join today's Race for the Cure in downtown Washington, accompanied by dozens of friends and neighbors.
CAPTION: National Race for the Cure
The 10th annual National Race for the Cure 5K road race begins at 8:30 a.m. today in downtown Washington. Streets affected by the race will be closed from 7:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. Last year, more than 36,500 people participated. (This graphic was not available)