I believe I've mentioned here a time or two that I have two friends with kids who have cancer. One is a husband and wife that I knew in college, and their little girl, Amanda, was diagnosed with tumors on her spine back in the fall of 2012. The other is a co-worker of mine who's been on leave for about eight months or so, first because she had hyperemesis early in her pregnancy early last summer, and then just as she was set to come back to work, her two-year-old son, Roman, was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. I've been following both of their stories on CaringBridge and Facebook since they each began, and as a parent it absolutely breaks your heart to see all that they've each gone through in their cancer journey. We've been through so much with Jacob, but for all of his issues they should not be life-threatening. Facing down the mortality of your child has to be beyond agonizing and whenever I think of what each set of parents must be going through, it makes me want to crawl in a hole and hide. I'm sure they'd like to too, sometimes, but we all know as parents that you have no choice but to keep going and fighting for your child, no matter the battle. I don't know how they do it.
Early on, Amanda's prognosis didn't seem particularly terrible. Scary, yes, but never was there any indication that she couldn't beat it. She had radiation and went through it like a champ, but in the end the tumors didn't go away. Subsequent rounds of chemo have slowed their growth, but not to the point where things are getting better. She's still a happy, active little girl most of the time, but lately she's been having seizure episodes. No long term damage that they can see, but scary stuff all around. They're still trying to find the right treatment to get her better.
Roman's case started out looking pretty serious. It was a rare form of leukemia for kids, and the statistics weren't particularly positive. Still, he went through multiple rounds of chemo from August to December, the last of which pretty much destroyed his immune system completely as part of the treatment. It's the closest thing to a bone marrow transplant that they can do, and it takes a while for the body to rebuild itself after constantly being knocked down. He had one scary episode where he got very sick for a week or so as a result of the low immune system, but fortunately he was able to battle back. His treatments ended just before Christmas, and all of his tests are coming back perfectly so he's officially in remission! I'm so happy for all of them and pray that he stays healthy from here on out. The good news came just in time, since his mom had been so busy living in the hospital with him and being his main caretaker that she barely had time to prepare for baby #2, whose arrival was merely a month away!
I know them each from different walks of life, but their paths actually crossed independently of me a month or so ago. Early on I did mention to Amanda's mom that my friend's son had been diagnosed and asked if I could pass her name along in case my friend needed an experienced person to turn to. That never happened because I think everything was so busy and so overwhelming after Roman's diagnosis that she never got around to it, but in December they were both in the hospital at the same time for complications, and at that point they were introduced through a local organization that helps families through the cancer process. I was happy to hear they'd met, because they're all great people and I like the thought of them being in each others' lives for mutual support.
Over the past couple days they've each had significant happy things going on, and in the midst of all they've both been dealing with, I think it's neat to see that life does indeed go on despite their circumstances. Early Sunday morning Roman's mom became a mom of two with the arrival (a few days ahead of schedule) of her baby boy. All is well and I sincerely hope she has plenty of opportunity to enjoy her time with both of her healthy little boys!
Today is Amanda's fifth birthday. It comes on the heels of a very difficult few days with another seizure episode and some tough decisions surrounding her treatment, but they are so grateful to have this milestone birthday to celebrate, and fortunately she was feeling good for her party over the weekend. This morning her mom shared a video online of Amanda's first five years. It really puts everything in perspective--how a seemingly normal, lively little girl (just like any of our kids) can suddenly have her life turned upside down by illness. If you have a few minutes, please go watch the video and send up a prayer for her. She and her family could really use it. But for today, they're content just to celebrate rather than dwell on the sadness.
As a parent I find these parents so inspiring. Whenever I feel bad about our situation or find myself complaining about a first-world problem, I always tend to think about these two families and all that they've been through. Our situation is not easy, for sure, but it could be worse. Neither of these families is out of the woods (are you ever with cancer?), but I admire how both are able to celebrate the little moments with so much more gusto because of all that they've been through. I hope that I can keep that in mind in my own life when it seems hard to bypass the small stuff and see the bigger picture of how blessed we are. No, it doesn't change our reality, but it can help us fight another day because we know just how good it can be.