“I sit here writing this story confined in our house like most of you, reading, quarantined from the outside world in hopes of fighting off a virus that has made its way around the globe. Just weeks ago, we were enjoying the simple things: eating out with friends, going to the grocery store without lines, practicing with our youth sports teams.
The echoes of this virus were heard, but only something that ‘impacted China and a small part of Italy.’ It was foreign, not impacting me or my family, so I did what most people do when something doesn’t affect them directly: I tuned it out.
And yet, here I am. Here we all are. The normalcy that existed just weeks ago was ripped from our hands in a matter of days, not even giving us a chance to stock up on toilet paper. (Insert the eye roll emoji here. I mean can we stop with the hoarding of toilet paper already?)
All joking aside, the simplicity of life is now gone, leaving us only to crave the days where we can gather at restaurants, weddings, and funerals. Heck, I’ll even take church meetings again. Maybe.
This world we all are experiencing gives people a little bit of an insight into the world that was my family’s normality for not just a couple weeks, but rather an entire year. A world that confined us not to the comfort of our own home but rather, cold cinderblock hospital walls as we fought to survive another deadly illness that ravaged through my baby boy’s body. Brain cancer.
As we currently watch the news and hear of the increasing mortality rates worldwide, some eclipsing 3% for those diagnosed with the Coronavirus, I would’ve given anything to hear those numbers. The mortality rate of my son’s brain cancer was 40%.
My son, Hayes Kyle Tate, was a triplet. He was a brother to five other siblings. Our family was blessed with triplets in March 2015. As you could imagine, life was chaotic trying to juggle the daily activities and schoolwork of the older siblings, while finding enough arms to feed and care for three babies.
Despite the months of sleepless nights, this became our new norm and life was bliss. These babies brought us so much joy and happiness. We would take turns with each of the babies, often rotating them like we were some sort of human conveyer belt. My wife and I felt like Oprah, giving away babies to each of our older kids to care for: ‘You get a baby and you get a baby and you get a baby.’ Our new life was unlike anything I had planned for, but it was magical.
But just like we have all experienced with this recent health crisis that is taking over the world, that magic dissipated in just one day; January 7th, 2016. It will forever be known as the day that changed me forever. A day my world, my normalcy, would no longer exist.
I stared at a black and white image with a mass that took up a third of my son’s brain while the Doctor uttered the words, ‘I’m so sorry to tell you this, but your son has a brain tumor.’ There is nothing in life that prepares a parent to hear those words. That image is scarred into my brain as I tried to refocus on my wife with my little boy in her arms. The realization that our son would soon face months of surgeries and chemotherapy raced through my mind. Images of my 9-month-old baby losing his baby hair to cancer, before even having his first haircut, fully took over my mind.
Hayes would soon lose his hair, but not before we entered our first doctor’s appointment with Oncology. I walked in the door to a half a dozen boys and girls with their bald little heads staring at me and my wife as we held Hayes in our arms. The image was almost as scarring as the CT image we witnessed just a few weeks before. The innocence in these kids’ eyes stared back at me and I was overwhelmed with emotion I had never felt before. I felt sadness that this was now the world we were entering, and there was absolutely no turning back. I felt extreme anger for this deadly illness that ripped the innocence from these kids’ worlds. They weren’t supposed to be here, isolated in a hospital room, away from the outside world so their little bodies could fight the cancer that consumed them.
Hayes’ cancer treatments consisted of six rounds of chemotherapy. Each of those rounds required we stay isolated for 28 consecutive days in the hospital room. Because of his suppressed immune system, Hayes was unable to see his siblings for much of his treatment in the hospital. Our world consisted of hand sanitizer, hospital masks, and surgical gloves to avoid any contamination. Sound familiar? This was our new normal, far different than what I had envisioned my life.
My wife would stay overnight with Hayes, while I took care of our other five kids at home. I would wake up and get his triplet brother and sister fed by 6:30 so I could get the older three siblings dressed, fed, and ready for school by 8:30. I would head to the office around 9:00 a.m., with a relative volunteering to watch the infants. A typical day at the office would slow down around 4:00 p.m. and I would drive directly to the hospital to switch places with my wife in the valet temporary parking spot. She would get in as I would get out so I could spend quality time with Hayes, and she could show some love to the other siblings. This was our norm.
I craved my old life back. I yearned for the simplicity that once existed, a chance to be together as a family of eight. I begged for an opportunity to take my family on a vacation to relieve some stress and create some memories outside of our house and/or hospital room.
In November 2016, just after finishing his last treatment, we fled to Disneyland as a family. For an entire week, we experienced that old life. I saw the joy in my kids’ eyes for the first time in over a year. The fear and worry of cancer were put on hold as we experienced what was normal for other families. I stared at Hayes as I pushed him in a swing on Balboa island, realizing this was the first time in almost a year he wasn’t surrounded by nurses or doctors. The chords and the tubes that administered the chemotherapy were no more. For the first time in his brief 20-month life, Hayes was experiencing what it was like to be a regular boy.
Unbeknownst to us, Hayes’ journey in this world would be brief. Just 3 weeks after this trip to Disneyland, Hayes’s cancer returned as aggressive as ever. On December 3, 2016, Hayes took his last breath as our family held him in our arms.
There was a moment throughout our journey through childhood cancer where I promised myself I would never take normalcy for granted. I promised to soak up the simplicity of life. The day after Hayes’ diagnosis, I reflected back on the morning before when cancer was not a part of my life. Just a day before, the thought of childhood cancer came from a commercial from St. Judes, where I would internally show compassion by thinking, ‘I can’t imagine my child having cancer.’ Never would I imagine it would be my world.
2 weeks ago, I sat back and watched the crisis that was unraveling in China, South Korea, and parts of Italy. How many of us thought that would be us? And yet, here we are quarantined in our house with every inch of our previous normalcy ripped from our fingertips, only to beg for what life used to be like.
We don’t know what the future holds, or what will ultimately occur with this virus, but I know many of you will never take a day of normalcy for granted again. I know I don’t.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Steve Tate. You can follow his journey on Instagram and learn more about his book here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read Steve’s powerful backstory of losing his son:
‘I’m so sorry I can’t take this away.’ He looked up at me with absolute perfect clarity. ‘It’s okay.’: Parents ‘astonished’ by infant son’s miraculous response, lose him days later to rare brain tumor
‘With perfect clarity, our 20-month-old looked up at us. ‘I love you.’ It was a miracle days before he passed.’: Father recalls tender moment son diagnosed with childhood cancer shocked parents, ‘Those words are forever etched in my memory’
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