As you know (I hope), September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Two dear friends of mine, Eric and Kelly Childress, had an absolutely adorable son, Elric, who lost his battle with cancer on September 9, 2012. The effect that this young man had on the world, however, during his ten short years on earth, was absolutely amazing and inspiring.
You hear of things like this, of parents who have had a child diagnosed with a catastrophic illness, or have lost a child in some fashion or other, and while your heart goes out to them, you never truly understand what it is like … until it happens to you. I personally cannot even begin to imagine how we would survive, how we would be able to manage if one of our boys developed a catastrophic illness such as cancer or leukemia or MS. It would destroy our family financially, of that I am certain. Emotionally? That’s a toss-up. Hubby and I are just now getting to the point where we are agreeing on consequences for actions … so we’d have a 50/50 chance of surviving something so catastrophic as cancer in one of our boys.
It got me to thinking though, just how do you ‘deal’ when something like this happens? So I asked Eric and Kelly if they would agree to be interviewed and share their side of things with our readers, to which they agreed. This is Eric’s story.
A Father’s Perspective on Childhood Cancer
What was your typical family day like before cancer? how did it change after cancer?
A typical day for us was to get up in the morning and I would go to work, oftentimes missing the kids when they got out of bed, or not being home before bedtime. After being diagnosed I closed my business, and we spent a lot of time traveling back and forth from home to Memphis and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. I spent a lot more time with the family and was there for everything.
What was your first initial reaction when the doctors gave you Elric’s diagnosis?
The easiest way to say it would be anger. I was mad at the fact he had it, mad at the way the diagnosing doctor acted and treated it as a lost cause not even worth fighting.
How did having a child with a terminal illness affect your family finances? Your family dynamics?
Finances? Ok, that’s a joke right? Once Elric was diagnosed we had no income at all. And still had the bills going out. Talk about stress. Family dynamics… I don’t think it really changed that much. In spite of how much I worked, we have always been a very close family. Kelly and I split everything equally. It’s a partnership. Anything less is a path to loss and destruction. We spent more time together obviously, but we still faced everything together as we always have.
Did Elric’s diagnosis strengthen or diminish your religious beliefs? In what way?
That’s a tough one. As my religion to me is not so much a religion as it is a way of life. I do believe there are higher powers, but I do not believe in organized religion. If it is what feels right in your heart then it is what’s right for you. With that said to have people spouting off to me about “God” and “Jesus” and how if we put our faith in them everything will be fine. The anger was more dominant and I found it more difficult to hold my tongue when dealing with hypocritical so-called “Christians”. I mean no offense when I say that, but it’s the truth. 98% of “Christians” go to church a day or two each week and then live life the same as the rest of us whom they condemn for the rest of the week. I at least will be honest with myself.
How did having Elric diagnosed with a terminal illness affect your emotional and physical well-being?
Emotionally I was a wreck. I found myself losing control of my temper faster and more easily at stupid stuff. I felt distant from my own family even though we were all there together. Physically it was a test. I was the one who had to do all the lifting for everyone else’s safety. No, I’m not complaining about that. Granted I may have at times, and I truly wish I could take those times back, but they happened and we got past them. Not sure if it was because of the stress or just natural order of life, I was diagnosed as a diabetic. There are muscle issues that developed, and of course headaches and all other sorts of maladies that you learn to ignore as best as you can.
How did your extended family (your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.) deal with Elric’s diagnosis?
We were in this alone. I mean yes we got sympathy from some, but no understanding. Elric was not your typical child. He was very healthy and weighed a good bit. So, of course, it was full care from both parents needed to care for him. Most people didn’t understand this and wanted to complain about how we lived our lives and what we did and didn’t do. Friends, on the other hand, that chosen extended family, understood and supported us emotionally and mentally.
What is the one thing you feel Elric would want you to do for him now that he is gone?
In our own time, move on. Survive, and when possible get our own place.
How did cancer affect your relationship with your wife? with your other children?
You learn from experience to never take anything for granted. We have seen so many other relationships fall apart within months if not weeks of diagnosis. I honestly feel that we, at least my wife and I, have a better understanding of each other. We certainly never take Kat for granted. I think in the long run things will be great, but for now, we have our moments, and we now have to fix the fact that as parents we feel that maybe at times Kat didn’t really get the attention she deserved or needed because we were so focused on Elric and fighting cancer. Now is time to make up for that mistake and oversight. But… not take it too far.. just make sure she knows what she means to us, now and always.
Eric, thank you for sharing your perspective with my readers. I know that they will appreciate your candid perspective as much as I have.