I hope that by meeting these courageous mothers that have navigated their way through the toughest of circumstances, they can be uplifting and encouraging to those of you who may be experiencing the same. If you ever want to submit your story for consideration, you can always email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org with a little snippet of what you would love to talk about! Now, here is the story about Gabby & her boy, Camden…….
Brain Cancer. The word literally took my breath away. Sucked the air right from my lungs.
There it was. The answer for the sudden increase of severe headaches, and complaints of dizziness. The tumor was the problem. Causing my baby pain. MY BABY. my sweet boy. he was four… this wasn’t fair.
Just hours before, I had picked him up from school and he was fine. Normal. Playing with his sister at the doctor’s office. He was a normal four old boy. and now… now he was a four year old boy with a brain tumor.
Within a matter of hours we went from the possibility of imagining our boy with severe migraines to admittance to the ICU with a surgery scheduled mere hours later. We were told the tumor was uncomfortably close to the brain stem. We were then told the brain stem is inoperable, most physicians won’t touch it- it’s too risky. In my head, I am trying to rationalize how leaving part of a tumor in his brain is better than removing it… until they said he could wake up and possibly never breathe on his own again, or chew or swallow. So we made the difficult decision to sign the consent form allowing for the tumor to be removed with the exception of the brain stem. Then they wheeled him back… and we waited.
We waited for about four hours, in an empty ICU room by the phone to get updates on our son. Looking back, it seems so strange that a phone call saying they removed the skull was a relief, but at the time… it was like a deep breath knowing we were one step closer to seeing him again. As they wheeled him in, still sedated, I just remember crying nonstop. The aching desire to be with him, in that pediatric hospital bed. I needed to be near my boy, I needed him to know I was there. He needed to know that Mommy was there and I was going to take care of him.
Camden remained sedated and medically paralyzed overnight so they could perform a post-op MRI to see how successful the surgery was. I still remember watching his little four year old body twitch and attempt to wake up, through the paralytic medication, there was very little sleep that night as my husband and I watched over him, holding his hand, and trying to convince ourselves it would all be ok.
The next morning Camden was taken for his post-op MRI, which showed a “gross total resection” which is truly the best case scenario we could’ve asked for. The surgeon stated he left what appeared to be residual tumor on the brain stem and that we would need to follow up carefully on the follow up MRI scans, but that otherwise our son’s tumor was gone. Another sigh of relief.
After another 24 hours, they decided to finally stop the paralytic medication keeping our son asleep. We waited another 24 hours, possibly the longest 24 hours of my life, to hear his sweet voice. Those 24 hours were filled with worry, anxiety, and fear of severe brain damage- a risk we knew we were facing.
Finally, we heard his sweet voice, asking for his mommy, the tears didn’t stop. We still had no idea what we were facing, but he could talk and THAT was enough for me at the moment. Camden woke up with pretty severe muscle paralysis in his face, and on the entire left side of his body. BUT he was awake, and he could talk, chew, walk with help, and hug me. That was all we needed.
As a mother, there is nothing more terrifying than looking at your child wondering if they will to grow up to be a completely healthy child. You look at all the memories in your phone and separate them into “before” the cancer and “after” the cancer and the two seem like two different lifetimes.
It has been one year since Camden’s cancer diagnosis, and while the scar on his head has healed, the left sided weakness and paralysis are long gone… the damage is still there. The fear that this battle isn’t over, the ache of knowing our son will always have to check the “cancer box” on any forms for the remainder of his life, the guilt over not catching it sooner.
But in the last year, I have learned a lot about motherhood. I have learned to embrace every. single. day. with your children. Yes, even the bad ones where the kids argue nonstop, you can’t catch your breath, and never get to finish your cup of coffee. Embrace every moment. I have learned to make the memories count, to take the vacation, or last minute trip to the zoo- whatever it is. Make the memories, and stop for one minute and just be… BE IN THE MOMENT, be in the memories. I’ve learned to look to my children for strength. So often, as mothers, we think we need to be the rock of the family and the glue that keeps everything together. For me, my son gives me the strength I need to make it through each day, if he can conquer brain surgery and still want to ride on the tallest slide at the playground, then I can surely put my own fears aside to join him, right?