A few months after I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2011 a friend of mine since meeting on a family trip for church in 1990, Rich, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Prior to his own diagnosis Rich had reached out to me to support me through mine. When he was diagnosed, I couldn’t believe that friends who met 21 years previously were both diagnosed with cancer around the same time. As Rich and I were writing back and forth he told me about a childhood friend of his, Connie. He shared her story with me because Connie and I both were going through different, yet similarly unique circumstances. I was pregnant with cancer and Connie had just given birth to a son born with a rare form of liver cancer. Rich thought introducing Connie and I, via Facebook, might provide both of us with comfort and support. Rich was right.
About the time that I started writing my blog Pregnant With Cancer: What??, Connie had started a closed Facebook group, Aidan’s Story, where she was writing her son’s story, from his newborn perspective. Rich added me to the page and I began reading. I was so overcome with emotion as I read what this little guy was going through that I wrote a blog entry inspired by his story, A Collective You. He was only weeks old and enduring chemo, blood transfusions and much more. I marveled at Connie’s ability to share something so personal and so gut-wrenching while including bits of humor. Soon after that Connie requested me as a friend on her personal Facebook page and our friendship was born.
Aidan had surgery to remove his cancerous tumor the day before my Lilah was born. The day Lilah was born, Rich started his radiation therapy. We were all three on this journey together. I remember praying that Rich’s side effects would be minimal with the radiation. I remember wondering what it was like for him to try to explain to his 8 year old twins that Daddy had cancer. I remember praying for Connie, Aidan and their family as I was preparing to meet my healthy baby girl and then shortly after have surgery to remove my own cancer. I remember wondering what that pure torture was like that Connie and her husband Tim went through as they sent their newborn off for a long and dangerous surgery to have his liver resected.
I have since asked myself how a person copes with the knowledge that the removal a tumor from your child’s liver required taking 80% of his liver, leaving just enough to sustain life and knowing that during that surgery he lost three times his blood volume. I do not know how as a parent you can even process that as your reality. Around the same time that Rich was beginning to fight the fatigue and other symptoms associated with radiation with 8-year-old twins and an infant daughter at home, and I was in a hospital bed fighting a post-op infection, sad that I was not home with my healthy newborn, our Connie was across the country begging her newborn son to not give up his fight.
Connie is an amazing, kind, spirited woman who has supported me on multiple occasions, writing to me just what I needed to read. I can only hope that I have provided her with an equal amount of support and kindness. Aidan and I, both now in remission, are on similar follow-up schedules for our cancers. Which means that when I am in Missouri, crawling out of my skin over more testing, there is a mom in Arizona perched on an emotional ledge anticipating painful and difficult testing for her son and the coming results. We have messaged late at night many, many times sharing with each other our follow-up test anxiety. I am so grateful to be able to call her my friend.
I have not seen Rich in 20 years and I have never met Connie in person but thanks to technology, the three of us we were there for each other. I once wrote to Rich to tell him to keep an eye on his wife. It took me a little bit to realize how tough my diagnosis was on my husband so I wanted to pass that little lesson on to Rich. I do not think my sweet friend needed me to tell him this, but he still shared with me the moment that his diagnosis really sunk in with his wife. Being able to share things like that with someone else who has been there is so therapeutic when you are fighting cancer. Rich had a successful surgery and radiation and is also now in remission and from what I understand, is more healthy and fit than he has ever been in his life.
By what I know is much more than a coincidence, September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. I am currently anticipating an article I wrote for Hope for Two, the Pregnant with Cancer Network’s fall newsletter to be published. I was so honored to be asked to share my story and delighted that, by something I also consider more than coincidence, it will be coming out in September. I feel that is something I am blessed to be able to give to increase awareness of thyroid cancer, which is currently the fastest growing cancer, and to reach out to other women diagnosed with cancer in pregnancy.
Aidan, turns 2 on September 13th, Childhood Cancer Awareness Day (no coincidences here people)! He is a handsome, energetic little guy giving his mom many funny stories to tell. He remains in remission. Connie and other parents of childhood cancer survivors, fighters and angels are working very hard to increase awareness of childhood cancer, the #1 disease killer of children under the age of 15 in the United States. I would like to lend my support in honor of my friend Connie and her dear little cancer survivor by asking anyone reading this blog to post the childhood cancer awareness gold ribbon on your Facebook page for any or the rest of September. (I have included some options at the end of this blog entry.)
Happy Birthday sweet Aidan, my little hero! Connie and Rich, I love you both and wish that none of us were on this journey, but I am so honored to be a part of your stories and so thankful for both of you and all you have done for me.