September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Each day a different guest blogger will be featured who will generously share their personal experience with childhood cancer. Stories are always more potent than statistics.
By Rebecca Reddick
I remember the first night sleeping at home, after cancer invaded our lives. Kyler was still in the hospital. My husband and I began taking turns going home to sleep. It was my first time being alone in the house since that early October morning when Kyler awoke throwing up after complaining of headaches for several weeks. I knew in my gut something was undeniably wrong.
A mere 24 hours after we arrived in the emergency room, my little boy stopped breathing. Code blue. A team worked together like a fine tuned machine to stabilize him as I freaked out and asked everyone in the room to just breathe. Kyler was rushed to the OR to remove a tumor in his brain, a tumor so big it was cracking his skull, a tumor so deadly it caused him to stop breathing.
That first night back at home was filled with an all encompassing fright. I recall peering into his room and feeling such a void without him there. The fear that he would never come home weighed heavily in my thoughts. I remember knowing how broken I would be if I ever lost him.
After 16 days in the PICU, 19 days on the Neurology floor, and 30 days at a rehabilitation center, Kyler got to come home. While it was a joyous day, there was still that fear lodged deep in my heart.
The pressure the tumor was causing, in addition to the impact of surgery, left my once highly energetic two year old with no mobility or the ability to speak. He had to relearn how to do everything, beginning with holding his own head up.
His diagnosis was rare, pathologists across the country could not give the beast a name. They only knew it was a highly aggressive brain cancer. Kyler contracted meningitis in the hospital which caused temporary cordial blindness, also extremely rare. Go figure. I always knew he was one of a kind. But all of this, really?
Kyler was vocal very early in his life and his speech was the first thing to return. I remember him telling us over and over that he wanted to go home. Finally one day we listened to him and simply asked to be discharged. The doctor obliged.
Once Kyler came home, he thrived. His sight returned, he sat up by himself, he learned to crawl and walk with assistance. Not even all the toxic chemotherapy could keep him down or strip away his joyful spirit. Our house was a home again, his presence made it so.
We were all happy to be home, in our comfort place, with no doctors or nurses. Instead we had his favorite toys, books, and each other. Cancer did not exist to Kyler. He was unaware of the severity; he only knew he was where he wanted to be. Simplicity was something my son taught me to relish. Whether it be digging in the dirt, or eating the air, or lifting his head up to feel the rain tickle his face, he enjoyed life. He breathed life into this house.
But now this house is empty. There is no more pitter patter of little feet. There is no more bath time splashing. There are no more bedtime stories to read. There is no sweet voice calling out for Mommy or Daddy in the middle of the night. There is no snuggling in bed watching early morning cartoons. There is no more giggling, playing, or cuddling. There are no more squeezy hugs or sweet kisses. There is no more joy here. There is no more Kyler.
Cancer took my only child, stole him at the tender age of 3 years old.
This house is a place he brought life to. A place where there was extreme joy in the midst of despair. This house was also the place we watched him slowly fade away from us. The place where he told me he was done, the place where he took his last breath, the place where I held his lifeless body in my arms for the last time. Without him here, this house feels bare, like it has been stripped down to its frame and studs.
Now, less than a year after his death, we are faced with the dilemma of having to either move or buy this house from our landlord. I am so conflicted. This house was a place where so many great memories were made. Yet, is also a place where so much pain and tragedy occurred.
My heart says to stay. Kyler’s chalk artwork is still on the brick of the back of the house. His room is still completely intact, yet his hamper remains empty. I lay in his bed some nights, the place where he was last alive, and think about who he would be today. I long to have his little arm wrapped around my neck as we would cuddle there side by side. There are moments when I can feel his presence here. Moments when I walk into a room and can imagine him sitting there smiling at me.
Yes, this house is empty. But there is no more cancer here. There is no more pain and suffering. There is no more pokes, or chemo, or medications. There are no more gloves, or masks, or port supplies. There is no more waiting and watching cancer take my child from me.
If these walls could talk, they would be screaming for him to still be here. I know I am.
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