In part 1 of this 2-part series, mom Kellie Beresh shared her son Jake’s story about his fight against cancer, and what his life looks like as a survivor. Now, she shares what this fight taught her personally.
The entire experience of watching my son go through cancer treatment for Ewing sarcoma was nerve-racking to say the least. We were constantly worried and afraid.
As the years go on, it gets easier. But it does feel like there will always be a lion in our closet. You never know if or when a health scare—whether it’s Jake’s cancer coming back or a side effect from treatment—will roar and attack.
Childhood cancer survivors don’t typically live long, healthy lives after treatment. They have chronic illnesses, can suffer from depression, and have many health scares. Sometimes, they die from treatment side effects.
But our son is a survivor, and for that we are so grateful.
We are thankful to be dealing with side effects, because the alternative is him not being here. We take very little for granted, and this experience has shaped the way all of us view and live our lives. Our child having cancer has taught us many lessons.
Lesson #1: We Learned How To Accept Help from Others.
Our experience with Jake taught us that we couldn’t do everything on our own. We had to rely on our support system.
The biggest challenge we faced outside of Jake’s treatment was caring for our other son, Jake’s only younger brother at the time.
We didn’t have daycare for him when Jake went into the hospital, so we had to find somebody who could get him to and from preschool, and take care of him during the days and evenings.
Luckily, we had a really good friend who stepped up and took him. She became our younger son’s mom for a year. That was a huge relief to know how well he was loved and being taken care of when we couldn’t be there.
Lesson #2: We Learned The True Meaning Of Generosity.
In addition to needing help with childcare, we needed help with work, our house, and just general support. Good friends, family, and even people we didn’t know surrounded us with generosity.
We received countless well wishes, visitors, gift cards, and homemade meals. These people carried us in an overwhelming wave of support. Really, you don’t know how much people need until you become the needy.
Going through this experience, we learned that we could be doing more to help others in return. The old adage of “paying it forward” really guides so much of what we do now. It became a priority for our boys to know the true gift of giving and how to do it.
Don’t wait for someone to ask or make a donation or volunteer. Go find those opportunities. Saying, “Call me if you need anything” is not enough. They won’t call. Just go mow their lawn, get them groceries, have their child over for the day, etc. Be proactive in your giving.
Lesson #3: We Learned What Real Human Strength Is.
We found strength in ourselves we didn’t know we had. You have to when there’s no other choice. But even bigger than that, we witnessed the most amazing strength in Jake and the other kids with cancer around us.
Treatment for children’s cancer is barbaric really—it’s brutal, relentless, and painful. But these kids have such a strong resiliency and determination to get through it and just be well again.
Their attitudes while going through these horrible treatments were astounding at times. They smile and play through the pain like adults never could. They are heroes.
Lesson #4: I Learned How Amazing Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Is.
Trust me, I’m not just saying that because I’m writing for this blog.
We were lucky not to have to travel far for most of Jake’s treatments. We live in Omaha, but we met a lot of friends at Children’s who were coming from hours away, from places like North Platte and South Dakota.
Location wasn’t even half of it, though. Before we had a really sick kid, I took our local hospital for granted. I knew it was there, but I never needed it. I didn’t realize how sick the kids inside the hospital were.
Once inside, I could look down the hall at any given moment and see a family in worse condition.
The people who work at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha are wonderful. Those who work in pediatric medicine are truly special people, from the child life specialist to the doctor, from the nurse to the person cleaning the room.
Lesson #5: We Learned To find Joy In the Worst of Times.
Having a child with a life-threatening illness is a horrible situation, but there is still joy.
Those days Jake was on treatment could have been his last. We wanted to spend that time with both our boys playing, laughing, cherishing the moments, and making memories.
On our rough days, the staff was there with support, fun activities, and plenty of smiles to get us through. Life is full of battles and bad times, but you have to create joy, revel in it, and make it fill your days regardless.
Lesson #6: I Learned Childhood Cancer Isn’t Rare.
Nearly 1 in every 285 US kids gets cancer before age 20, according to the American Childhood Cancer Organization. That’s common. One in a million is rare. Cancer kills more kids than AIDS, asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy—combined.
But very little money is actually spent on pediatric cancer research, which is incredibly frustrating because of how common childhood cancer is. Most treatment protocols for children are more than 30 years old. We can do better for our kids.
Lesson #7: We Learned The Little Things Matter.
How good it feels to sleep in my own bed.
How comforting it is to have everybody home, all under one roof.
Being able to send your children to school and hug them when they get home.
How easily your perspective of every day can be flipped upside down.