September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Each day I will feature a different guest blogger who will generously share their personal experience with childhood cancer. Stories are always more potent than statistics. The hope is that by learning about children with cancer, readers will be more invested in turning their awareness into action. Read more about this series and childhood cancer HERE.
By Tom Sutter
It’s really hard to imagine your 12 year old son, who has never had much more than strep throat, suddenly being diagnosed with the adult form of leukemia as a child. That is exactly what happened to our oldest child Cal, the oldest in a blended family of seven kids, in June of 2005. It threw our entire family into a tailspin.
As a parent you want to figure out a way to take this cancer out of your child. If nothing else, take it upon yourself to fight it, but you can’t, so you prepare as best you can for a battle that I don’t think ever even occurred in my nightmares, but here it was, happening to our family. What did we all do to deserve this? How could God do this to such a young boy who was physically fit and an excellent athlete? Why, why, why?
There is no time to search for these answers during the battle – you have to research all you can, learn the ins and outs of cancer and determine how best to keep the entire family together during this fight. You have a sick child and knowing how cancer seemingly has a mind of its own, you know it could turn on a dime and he could lose this battle. You also have to be concerned about the other kids and your spouse. They all depend on you as well and while it’s understood you have to spend more time with the one who is fighting for his life, they too can feel slighted.
Cal’s brother Ryan is a perfect example. As a 10 year old boy, he saw his older brother getting all these cool gifts – an Xbox 360 when it first came out, iPods, Nintendo DS games, books, games, clothes, money, Yugi Oh cards and on and on. Ryan made an off the cuff the comment about how he wishes he gets cancer one day so that he can get all this cool stuff too. Whoa, that’s a real eye opener and a major reason why our Cal's All Star Angel Foundation makes sure to take care of the siblings of children with cancer.
Our other kids ranged from a newborn who arrived 9 months into Cal’s battle to 8 years old, so there were as many ways of dealing with the situation as there were people in the family. We made every effort to keep the other kids’ lives as normal as possible – they still went to school every day, had play dates, and participated in sports. The only difference is that they spent some time with their brother either in the hospital or with him when he was home. It was this normalcy that kept everyone in check.
I had to also make sure I did not forget about my wife, Stacey, during this very trying segment of our lives. We had just been married five months before Cal was diagnosed, and I was spending 50% of the time with Cal while he was inpatient for 11 out of 14 ½ months. Stacey and I remained in constant contact while I was with Cal. She was the backbone and support of the family while I was away and I was there for everyone while home. It takes an extra level of communication to keep it all together and an extraordinary level of mental strength to keep you on the right path.
Through an ordeal like this it is very easy to be bitter about everything and towards everyone, including God. You really don’t know what to think. Your actions, thoughts, and impulses seem to be on auto-pilot almost occurring on a whim and under their own power. It takes some deep self-reflection to keep it all in check because one day this will all be over and the “normal life” you left behind will one day be your “normal life” again in which you will have to adapt or change either with or without your child.
Some people lose everything when something like this occurs. Their jobs are gone, homes foreclosed upon, cars repossessed, families split apart – you name it, it happens and can happen more easily if you let the cancer that is eating away at your child also eat away at you, your thoughts, and your soul. It’s a nasty disease that does not discriminate and can claim its victims quickly or slowly and cause collateral damage beyond anything you can imagine. It can change a person’s innermost thoughts, how they ac,t and what they believe. This is exactly what happened to our family during Cal’s battle with cancer and even more so after he passed away in August of 2007.
The strength and courage Cal showed throughout is what pushed us to start a foundation in his memory and it is the way he cared about others before he even thought about himself that keeps us on our path to running Cal’s All-Star Angel Foundation – www.calsangels.org – in a manner in which Cal lead his life. Our main mission and purpose of granting the wishes of kids fighting cancer and financially assisting their families continues Cal’s legacy and it is the real life stories of the battles against cancer of all the families we help that keep us persevering through what at times seem to be insurmountable obstacles.
Cal's All Star Angels is sponsoring a 5K race tomorrow, Saturday, September 14, in South Elgin, Illinois. Click here for details. I can't say enough about the good work the foundation does. I have been lucky to volunteer with them a couple of times and look forward to doing more in the future. Tom Sutter, Cal's Dad, has written a book about his family's experience with childhood cancer and it will be published this fall.
If you're looking for all of the posts in the Childhood Cancer Stories: The September Series, you can find them catalogued HERE.
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