“If I had to pinpoint a starting date of this story, it would be November 25th, 2019. That’s a few days before my 2-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer but it feels like the start to me. Or the end of our life without cancer.
November 25th is my birthday. My husband came home with a new Christmas tree that day. It was what I had asked for. I had been wanting a new flocked tree and my birthday was the perfect excuse to buy one. It seemed a little early to set up the tree but I think, looking back, I had the urge to set it up then for a reason. We all decorated it together. Me, my husband Tyrel, our then 3-year-old son Tell, our two-year-old daughter Bo, and our 6-month-old baby girl Scout. The floor was covered in flocking that had fallen off the tree but we all sat down underneath it anyway. We shut off the lights in the house and all of the kids’ eyes were huge, staring at the light of the tree. While they sat in awe of the tree, my husband and I sat in awe of them. We talked out loud about how lucky we were. We had these three beautiful, happy, healthy children. Everything felt so right in our world. That’s the last memory I have of that feeling.
A few days later, on Friday, November 29th, as we were getting ready to go to my husband’s work Christmas party, our 2-year-old daughter, Bo, said she was sick. I thought nothing of it and was sure her grandma would be able to handle what I assumed was a tummy ache while we were gone. As I finished putting the final touches on my hair and makeup, my daughter’s pain seemed to increase. It started to feel like leaving her with her grandma wasn’t the right thing to do. As time went on, my husband and I both decided it would be best to run Bo to our local emergency room. At this point, I was sure we would make a quick trip have our minds put to ease and leave with something to help calm her tummy while whatever was going on inside her ran its course. And that is exactly what happened. Everything looked normal to the doctors and we were on our way home to get some sleep. The doctor let us know if her pain persisted, we could come in the following day and they would reevaluate her.
On Saturday when she woke up after a pretty restless night, her pain had increased and she vomited. So back to the E.R. we went. After three more trips to the hospital that weekend, a doctor would order an ultrasound of her kidneys to confirm a suspected kidney infection. As we headed into the ultrasound, it seemed like overkill but I was happy to finally be getting an official diagnosis and moving on from a sleepless weekend spent in and out of the hospital. But that isn’t how this appointment would end. The ultrasound technician pointed out one of Bo’s kidneys was quite enlarged. Still, not a single alarm went off in my head. That must mean she needs to start the antibiotic the doctor prescribed. We were moved into an exam room to talk to the doctor on call. I wish I would have soaked in those last few moments before she got there. Those were the last few minutes I would be a regular mom of three healthy kids. After she walked in and started talking about childhood cancer, I would never be that mom again. On December 1st, 2019, my daughter was diagnosed with a ruptured kidney tumor and I was turned into a cancer mom.
Over the next few days, I was fully submerged into the cancer world. There were spots of cancer in her lungs as well and she was staged with stage 4 cancer. That’s the last stage. She was whisked off to surgery to place a central line she would be receiving all her chemotherapy through. We spoke about survival rates and long term side effects. I didn’t realize it at the time. And maybe I hadn’t realized it at all. Until right now, as I write it down and relive it all, but those were some of the darkest days. Now that the dust has settled, I don’t know how I was so strong back then. But I was. I remember priding myself on the fact I hadn’t shed a tear through those very hard days. Because of my faith, I know I was being carried through those days. On my own, I couldn’t have made my way through them.
After 6 weeks of chemotherapy, it was time for the doctors to go in and remove my daughter’s tumor and her entire left kidney. The spots in her lungs hadn’t responded well to the chemotherapy. Since they hadn’t done a biopsy, I was so hopeful that meant it wasn’t cancer in her lungs. Maybe it was inflammation from a bout of whooping cough she had dealt with earlier in the winter. Or just a swollen nodule. I had read on google that can happen. But after they removed her tumor we found out it was, in fact, cancer. The spots in her lungs hadn’t reacted to the chemotherapy because the type of cancer she had was misdiagnosed. We had been fighting the wrong cancer for the last 6 weeks and we had to start again against a more aggressive cancer. We went over new survival rates, new treatment plans, and new side effects. Sometimes I forget just how traumatic that was. That is probably my way of coping.
We went home for the weekend before we would start fighting the new cancer and to let my daughter’s body heal from her kidney removal surgery. Of all the hard things we had endured up to this point, for some reason, this weekend carried the most weight. We were at home trying to enjoy ourselves for our children while inside, we were trying to build up the strength to fight this battle we had no clue about. Suddenly, everything felt so much more uncertain. We took so many videos of Bo that weekend. We felt this immense pressure to document her. Every fun thing we did had this dark cloud hanging over it, as if it might be the last time we did them together as a family.
When the weekend ended and we began the 3-hour drive back to the hospital where we would start this new fight for Bo’s life, we decided we would fight it head-on and that is what we did. Her treatment would be 35 weeks of chemotherapy and 15 rounds of radiation. After being knocked down by her first round of chemotherapy, she got back up. Then she had 15 rounds of radiation and she rang the bell. It started to feel like we were checking things off the list. She experienced side effects but we were getting somewhere. We were starting to get into a rhythm and we were going to get through it. And then just when we were catching our breath, things changed again.
Overnight, we weren’t just fighting cancer anymore. We were fighting cancer during a global pandemic. It began to seem like this journey had a theme. Around every corner of this trial, we were met with opposition. When we thought we were beginning to understand what we were up against, the plot thickened. This had been the running theme up until this point and it started to empower us. We stopped looking at this serious of unfortunate events as something we were being punished with and began looking at it as a challenge we were going to have the opportunity to overcome.
After 16 weeks of fighting stage four kidney cancer amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, my daughter had a scan that showed we were gaining ground on her disease. The remaining spots of cancer in her lungs had shrunk by 70%. We got the news while we were home for the weekend. We spent the weekend the same way we had a few months earlier when we were scared about our family’s uncertain future. The dark cloud that hung over us that weekend had been replaced with a palpable feeling of hope. 12 weeks later, we would go in for another scan and be told our daughter has no more signs of diseases and she is in remission.
Since I received the news Bo is beating cancer, my focus has shifted. I have felt the very lowest of lows that childhood cancer has to offer. I have felt the struggle and the grief. Now as her treatment begins to dwindle down, I have found a new purpose. I’m writing our story out as I lay beside my daughter, who has just started her 15th round of chemotherapy. She has three rounds left after this. I spent the day documenting her treatment on an Instagram page we’ve started in her name that we use as a place to raise awareness for childhood cancer, a cause we were oblivious to 9 months ago. We sell hand-embroidered clothes that my sisters and I stitch in our free time to raise funds for other families fighting cancer. Last month, we took our first $500 raised to a girl’s family who are struggling to make ends meet while she fights brain cancer. Two weeks ago, we made a $1000 donation in honor of a child we met along the way who lost her battle in February.
That’s where we are now. Our journey has evolved. Somewhere in the deepest darkest corners of childhood cancer, we found a light. While we lost ourselves battling cancer, new parts were also born. Beautiful parts. That we would never have developed if we weren’t given this inside look into childhood cancer.
While I wish this was never a chapter in our story, I would never want to go back to the blissfully unaware person I was that night under our Christmas tree. While I was aware of the blessing our three healthy children were, I was so unaware of the struggling going on around us. I won’t ever be that person anymore. And I don’t want to be.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sydnee Smith from Mountain View, Alberta, CA. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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