A few days ago I informed you about a three-part series that I was doing with the Childress family to help my readers better understand what it is like when one of your children is diagnosed with a catastrophic illness, such as their son, Elric, was when he was diagnosed with cancer. Continuing this series, I bring you Kelly’s interview.
A Mother’s Perspective on Childhood Cancer
What was your typical family day like before cancer? how did it change after cancer?
Life before cancer was almost perfect. Elric was starting 2nd grade, happy, bright little boy. He loved to play and be mischievous. He enjoyed spending time with his family, helping Mommy and Daddy and being the best big brother to his little sister, Kat. Elric was rarely ever sick, a cold every now and again, but nothing to indicate what was to come. Our day was like every other family, get up, breakfast, and depending on the day, getting ready for school or playing, then lunch, more of the same, then dinner and bed.
What was your first initial reaction when the doctors gave you Elric’s diagnosis?
I broke down into a sobbing mess in the neurologists office when I saw the mass in his brain stem. By this time, his behavior had started getting off…Elric was always a happy kid, rarely ever mad, and he was getting downright violent. His walking had started getting off also, he was limping/ walking with a strained gait. and the fingers on his right hand were curling in. When we had the diagnosis from the neurologist, our first thought was how to do we fight this?
How did having a child with a terminal illness affect your family finances? Your family dynamics?
Our finances went to nothing. We ran our own business, which we had to close to take Elric to St. Jude’s to begin radiation and chemo. We did have savings which in the first year was gone, just paying our bills and making sure Elric and Kat have what they needed while we were in Memphis, Tn. My father helped us a lot, to make sure we could put all our care and thoughts into Elric’s treatments. Our family dynamics really didn’t change. We made sure to keep everything as normal as possible ( as we could ) and make sure the kids were still having some fun and happy.
Did Elric’s diagnosis strengthen or diminish your religious beliefs? In what way?
Well being as though I myself really didn’t have “religious” beliefs, to begin with, it didn’t really affect myself or Eric. The kids hadn’t been taught as of yet about religion. They knew about Angels and that was about it. I was raised Catholic and had a bad relationship with religion, My beliefs and Eric’s are mostly the same, more of spirituality and based more in our shared Irish Heritage than organized religion. We struggled even with that simply because we couldn’t figure out how any “Higher Power” could allow innocent children to contract such an awful disease.
How did having Elric diagnosed with a terminal illness affect your emotional and physical well-being? Did it make you stronger? Did it make you physically ill?
Physically we kept going, regardless….there were a lot of sleepless nights, stomach issues etc, all related to the stress of what we were dealing with. We became virtual germaphobes, and honestly, anyone with a child with cancer, become these. Because a common cold can now land your child into an extended hospital stay or worse. Emotionally was the hardest, you just want to sit and cry, and you can’t, because you have to make sure your child doesn’t “give up” their fight. And these children look at life completely different than anyone else.
How did your extended family (your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.) deal with Elric’s diagnosis?
My Father was Elric’s biggest supporter, he backed everything we did. My younger brother, the same…I lost any relationship with my youngest brother and his family.
What is the one thing you feel Elric would want you to do for him now that he is gone?
Raise awareness, he never wanted another family to go through what we have, another child to have to deal with what he did. Elric felt everything he went through could help another child, and that was his primary concern, not what was happening to him, but to other kids, and his family. Eric and I are striving towards a foundation to offer support to other families going through this. Not just financial if possible, or even care packages, but emotional support which is sorely lacking within foundations for childhood cancer. Another thing is our issues with Breast Cancer Awareness…we are not against it, but September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and Breast Cancer Awareness bleeds into our children’s month constantly! We would also like to see big corporations putting gold ribbons on their products and donating proceeds to research. Childhood cancer gets a penny per dollar donated for research! Also to make sure he is not forgotten and his fight wasn’t in vain. He was a light of hope for a lot of other families, as he busted past expected diagnosis.
How did cancer affect your relationship with your husband? with your other children?
If anything my relationship with Eric is stronger. Sadly we have seen many families torn apart when a child is diagnosed. We work together and are probably stronger than we were when we started our journey.
Kat learned a lot, and was always one of Elric’s biggest cheerleaders! We were anal to make sure she was included and not pushed off to the side like a lot of siblings can be. We still spent just as much time with her as we did Elric, and the family day never wavered, even if Elric was in the hospital, we had a family day there.
We will never be the same people we were when this started, no person can be, Childhood cancer affects every aspect of life, it’s how you choose to move forward and how you choose to let it affect you, that designates the outcome.
Thank you, Kelly, for your candor, your strength, and your willingness to allow us into your life for a moment. As a mother, I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose a child, and you will always and forever be in our hearts and prayers.