I have told this story hundreds of times. It is the story of our first-born and the difficult circumstances that surrounded her arrival in this world. Most often, when I tell it, I share the miracle of it all and how grateful we are that she is now a happy, healthy, energy-filled toddler.
Today, as I eagerly anticipate celebrating my dad and my husband on this upcoming Father’s Day, one of the most significant moments of the story keeps replaying in my mind. It is a part that I have shared only with a handful of friends before now. In the grand scheme of the story, this particular moment lasted just a few seconds – but it is impactful in a way that still shakes me to my core.
You see, our daughter was born with Neuroblastoma. Neuroblastoma is a type of cancer that is very rare but is most often diagnosed in young children. Before she was born, I didn’t even know someone could be born with cancer. I had always wrongfully assumed that it was a disease that developed after birth.
Through the first six months of our little girl’s life, we spent countless hours with oncology doctors at a local children’s hospital, learning everything we could about this disease. The specific diagnosis was Neuroblastoma 4s – or 4 special – a very specific type found only in children under the age of 1. So while it was stage 4 cancer, it was what our doctors called “the holy grail” of cancers as it self-regresses in over 80% of the babies who are diagnosed with little to no treatment needed whatsoever. If researchers can figure out why it does this, they believe they will have unlocked the beginnings of a cure for all different types of cancer. But that, miraculous as it is, is not the point of my story.
Let me back up to baby girl’s birthday. I labored for about 14 hours before she was born at 8:44pm, crying and perfect in every way. The details of those first moments are still so fresh in my mind. We have a beautiful photo sequence of her crying and then stopping to turn her head when she heard the sound of my voice. It’s one of the things I treasure most in this world.
Our families stayed late at the hospital to come in and meet the new princess before the nurses kicked everyone out so we could all get some rest. That first night was a blur of intermittent sleep and frequently asking my husband to get up to make sure she was still breathing. (Every new mom does this, right?)
The next afternoon the phone in our hospital room rang. My husband answered – I’m assuming he was expecting it to be a relative from another state calling to offer congratulations. After only a minute or so, I saw his face drop as he received news that our perfectly healthy looking daughter would need to be medically transported to another hospital. No one said “cancer” at that moment, but as I watched his expression change, I knew something was terribly wrong.
He hung up and, in his typical fashion of trying to protect me, told me with as much composure as he could muster that he and the baby would be leaving the hospital for the transport while I healed. I believe my exact response in that moment was “Over my dead body. I’m coming with you.” Thankfully, my doctor understood and agreed to sign my release papers.
For as long as I live, I will never forget the next thing my husband said to me. He grabbed my face, looked me straight in the eyes and said through choked tears, “Mis… no matter what happens, we can’t let this tear us apart, okay? Do you promise?”
I am sobbing as I type those words out for the first time since he spoke them. You see, I consider those words to be one of the most priceless gifts he has ever given and will give our family. As we faced the most uncertain, horrifying moment of our lives, he remained focused on what we could control – our commitment to each other, to being a united team. As the world around us was falling apart and as he anticipated gut-wrenching days ahead, he verbalized his assurance to me that we were in this fight together.
To this day, he continues to give this gift to our family over and over, often in small ways. His unwavering support of me is setting an example that can only be taught if it is modeled. He sees and understands the value of honoring and respecting me both when little eyes are watching and behind closed doors.
While he works tirelessly on his career and in his professional commitments, I can say with certainty that his life’s work is uplifting and honoring me and our family and keeping us united as a team even, and especially, when life gets hard. While this will not keep me from making mistakes and questioning my abilities as a mother from time to time, I have every confidence that it does make me better. And I will take all the help I can get being better at this mom thing!
So cheers to all the dad’s out there who recognize the deep value of a supportive parenting partnership! And to my husband, thank you for using everything – even the hard things – to keep us together. Happy Father’s Day!