Imagine spending hours in labor, following an extremely high risk pregnancy which included being hospitalized for 2 weeks. Envision pushing, but having to lie on your side after every 10 seconds of agony, because both you and your baby’s heartbeats were failing. Once your sweet baby is born, try to comprehend seeing the look on your husband’s face when he watches your daughter emerge without a single cry- not breathing, but unresponsive for 4 whole minutes.
Needless to say, when Scarlette was born,we knew something was wrong immediately. Her left arm was enormous, which answered the question of why my labor and delivery was so difficult. However, no one knew why or what to do about it.
It was pretty apparent after just a few days that Scarlette was born with a tumor and after 5 months of tests and surgeries, it was removed and we heard the words no parent ever wants to hear from a doctor: It was cancer.
During her first year of life, Scarlette went through countless sessions of chemo and surgeries- more than most adults will ever experience in a lifetime. When it came down to choosing between saving her life or letting cancer take it, our family decided on a surgery that would amputate her arm, shoulder, and all the skin surrounding the left side of her body. Even though it would change the life of Scarlette forever, it was never really a choice- we would fight for her no matter what.
Despite everything, Scarlette is now considered cancer free!
We still have some surgeries to go, for cosmetic and medical purposes, but we’ve made it over the biggest hurdle we’ve ever faced as a family.
Time and time again, people would tell us they don’t know how we do it. “We are so strong and we have so much faith.” But in all honesty, we were scared out of our minds and we were taking each day at a time. As we fought the monster, we learned so many things I never dreamed I would know. From the hospital we called our second home, to the fact we could probably be oncology nurses from all the education we received, we grew together, and thanks to love and support, we made it through. Here are just a few things I learned alongside my daughter’s fight with cancer:
1. You reevaluate your priorities.
Prior to our baby girl coming into this world, we were very much like everyone else. We worked, we tried to make as much money as we could, and we made sure our bills were paid. Our stresses were about rent, paychecks, and hours on the job. Now, I’m not saying you don’t worry about these things when you’re a cancer parent, if anything it’s amplified. But that is not your MAIN concern. Your poor disease-ridden child is your main priority. Work, money, bills, all come last.
I had to quit my job when Scarlette was born, and my husband took a lot of time off work so we could be in the hospital together and he could be there for every surgery and chemo round. Bills started to go unpaid and we started to fall behind financially. But we never gave up hope in being able to make it through, because the most important thing was being there when your baby needed you, when your spouse needed help, and when your family needed a break. We were so lucky that when we hit rock bottom and ran out of money, we had some amazing people stand by our side, which brings me to:
2. You find out who truly cares about you and your family.
We have had perfect strangers come along side us and help us with prayers, comfort, financial support, and absolute love. People we have never met have stood by our sides and asked how were doing in the toughest times. Unfortunately, a lot of people you thought were your closest friends, end up fading out of your life without saying a word. But we learned to let these people go. We stopped expecting a friendship that they could no longer give. Whether it was fear of the unknown, not knowing what to say, feeling like it’s too depressing to talk about, or whatever other excuse was given, we have heard and felt it all.
But another thing we felt was LOVE from people who we least expected to be there. We made life-long friends that have helped us get through the hardest journey we’ve ever been through. Our new friends don’t understand exactly what were going through, but they are there all the same and love to be a shoulder to lean on. We also made friends who understand our struggles, parents who we saw every day and night in the hospital halls, and they made us realize:
3. No one gets it like a cancer parent.
I love and adore my best friends and how they are unwavering in their support of our family. But an important thing a cancer parent needs, is another cancer parent to vent to. Our friends in the hospital have a place in my heart that no one can compare to. You are able to fully understand the hurt in their heart, the sleepless nights and bags under their eyes, the frustration in every obstacle. You cry with them, you suffer with them; you love their children like they are your own. You live together in the glass walls, eat gross food together in the cafeteria, and walk the halls in the middle of the night because you don’t know what the next day will bring. You share favorite nurses, worst chemo days, and always text the other asking when they will be admitted next. It’s a bond like you’ve never felt before, and something you never wanted in the first place.
I love to tell my cancer mom friends, “I wish I never met you.” Because that would mean neither of us were in this situation. But we are, and were there for each other. Whether it’s to celebrate little victories, or complain about crazy things, like the way we all hate emergency rooms, they are there every step of the way. You know the treatment plan for their kids, they know yours. They know the feeling when you step into the hospital room and you see the same pain in your kids eyes and theirs. They know how you have to push to get your opinions heard, because you are your baby’s biggest advocate. Which brings me to…