I think we can all agree, wearing a swimsuit in public is super anxiety ridden. Which I have felt since I was a teenager. I hate feeling so on display. And the cool thing is that Steve and I are going to Mexico in a few days 🙌🏼🙄
The cruise was my first ever. Barcelona had been so amazing that I couldn’t imagine anything comparing. We took off and began our trip south. I immediately was taken aback by the rockiness of the boat. But even worse than the rockiness was that we were headed straight for an oncoming cold front. Little droplets of the ocean would hang onto the bitter cold wind and sting my face. Steve and I would have to gear up to cross the outdoor walkway to the restaurants. Every time was a bundle up, hunch down, run to the other side. It was SO cold. But the excitement was tangible. We were headed for the Strait of Gibraltar. Read More
My friends like to joke that I go into hibernation in the winter. They aren’t that far off. I ran into one of my neighbors at the grocery store the other day and she really seemed shocked to see me. Almost like she hadn’t seen me all winter! But the truth of the matter is, I do the bare minimum in the winter. I don’t like being cold….I hate it! I don’t have a thyroid so when I feel cold, it is multiplied by 1000. I have the gift of feeling obnoxiously freezing all of the time. So I actually stay inside most of the winter. As a result of all of these factors, winter becomes my most dreaded and isolating time of year. Then there is the fact that winter stirs up all the emotions of when I lost my boy. I am not sure I will ever feel kindly towards that season. Read More
Let’s be honest, my IG feed the past couple of days has been a little heavy. So I decided to lighten things up with another mindless “Friday Faves”. Today’s favorites are all over the map. Everything from beauty products, a current favorite quote, and cleaning supplies we all need in our lives! It is a pretty good list for heading into a weekend of giving our brains a rest from all of the thinking, cause thinking is hard! Read More
You know that feeling of letdown after a vacation. Well ever since I lost Hayes, I dread that letdown even more because I come back home from a trip that was healing only to realize life is the same. Hayes isn’t here. So when we came home from our last trip to California this past month, the feeling was no different. I really was not looking to coming home.
After a long road trip home, we pulled up to our house and oddly enough, Steve didn’t pull into the driveway. He put a movie on in the car for the kids and told me he had something to show me in the house and he grabbed my hand and walked me into our seemingly empty house. He walked me up the stairs to our master bedroom and I opened the door to a magazine cover. No way was this our house!
I was completely beyond shocked! Our house was definitely not empty. A camera crew, producers and a few other people were stuffed into our bathroom ready to surprise us. And then the sweetest couple walked in behind us to give us a hug and formally present us with the gift they had given us! Two people I did not know had taken a week out of their lives to offer us a gift I so desperately needed….a sanctuary. They were Cara and Tom Fox. A couple that designs and builds the most beautiful homes you have ever seen. They had reached out to Steve to surprise me with this unforgettable gift.
I feel incredibly grateful and still blown away every time I walk into my room. The peace, the little #HayesHints and the beauty of the room has truly lifted me up. Thanks are of course in order to Cara and Tom of Fox Group Construction and Overstock for the gorgeous furnishings! You made my home feel more like home. So thank you!
I love clothes, like a lot. I have a problem! But, to be honest, I probably won’t even buy one of these things. Nordstrom is a splurge I rarely allow myself, even for the anniversary sale. They will probably go on my “imagine if I bought these” imaginary shopping list. Here is the thing though, some of these are seriously affordable! A girl can dream right? Read More
I watched him from across the room. He was wearing his perfect, un-walked in, black converse. He basically wore them for decoration, but they also kept his ankles steady during physical therapy when he practiced putting weight on his feet. He leaned up with his hands against the large red exercise ball and proudly “stood” on his chemo, weak froggy legs. I was so incredibly proud and clapped and cheered for Hayes, recognizing that he was doing something harder than I have ever done myself. Reese and Heath walked into the playroom and clapped along with me, not knowing the reason for the show of excitement. Heath walked over to the exercise ball and slapped it with his little hands and Hayes laughed. He was participating in play time with his triplet brother and sister and we were all overjoyed. He was making up for lost time and I was so happy. I had dreamed of this forever.
I remember, I was quickly pulled down from that excitement when the physical therapist explained that Hayes wasn’t progressing as quickly as she would like to see. She told me that she thought Hayes was going to need a walker. She was hopeful that he would respond well to the challenge, but it broke my heart. She told me that within the next month or so, Hayes would need to be fitted for his walker. My sweet boy was cancer free so why did it feel like life wasn’t catching up to the news of normalcy? I decided I didn’t want to believe her and so I shut it away to the back of my mind.
Every so often, my mind would drift to the worry. What if Hayes never knew how to walk? What if he never ate food like all of the other kids? What if he never got to participate in regular childhood activities? Sometimes these worries would consume me to the point of tears. I would get so frustrated for him. I would always have to remind myself of the incredible blessing that Hayes had with built in best friends. Regardless of the circumstances of his physical abilities, Heath and Reese were always going to accept him and love him as he was. Reese was a built in little mom and Heath was a bulldog. He was going to be fine. He would always be protected.
Looking back on that anxiety, I realize how completely ridiculous those worries were. I would give anything to see him grow now. I realize that none of those physical setbacks mattered…he was here! Who cares if he was going to spend his childhood in a walker, or eat through a feeding tube? In hindsight, it obviously didn’t matter. But, it is easy to get hung up on those fears, the worries that those dreams we envision for our children won’t come to fruition. Stepping back and seeing the bigger picture, now I am able to appreciate that Hayes was enough exactly as he was.
It is a reminder to me that my job as a mother is to encourage my children and help them to realize that no matter what they accomplish in life, they are enough. My job is to teach them to be proudly aunthentic. They are my greatest gifts. I hope Hayes knows this. I hope he knows how proud I am of him, how lucky I am to be his mom. I hope he knows that every accomplishment he made in his short life was enough. He is and always will be the strongest person I know.
My stomach had been a bundle of nerves in anticipation of these moments. I was nervous. This place was a place where 7 months before, life had been beautifully perfect. Our kids had played in the sand, the babies had climbed on the playground and Hayes had swung in the swing, tube free and cancer free for a moment. Our lives had culminated to that day on the beach with Hayes and pure bliss and the true meaning of life was felt. I was nervous. What if we never feel that again? How can we possibly feel that ever again without Hayes?
We walked up to the beach, the one that now belongs to Hayes. The beach is on Balboa and there is a playground right on the sand. A row of swings is lined up along the side and during the day, it is usually hard to find an empty swing. This day was no different. All of the swings were packed with parents pushing their happy kids. But, there, in the center, was Hayes’ swing, sitting empty and lightly rocking in the beach breeze. He was waiting for us. His soul had pulled us back.
It was a quiet, peaceful feeling. A part of our family will always be there. We cried, we hugged and we talked about our sweet boy. Bo was touched more than I had expected. Our older children seem fine but sometimes it hits them and thankfully, they let it out. Bo cried in my arms and was my little boy for a minute.
One of the reasons we started the foundation is because we want other families to experience the joy we felt in California. The Make-A-Wish foundation is so amazing and does so much good for the world. But, a little known fact is that they don’t grant wishes for children under the age of 3. But cancer affects the whole family, so a huge group is neglected and forgotten. We hope to fill that gap. We have been able to help several families already.
The next day, after the beach, we had arranged to meet a family I had found on social media. The Ellis family has a little 16 month old baby girl that has Choroid Plexus Carcinoma which is exactly what Hayes had. She is being treated at the Children’s Hospital of LA. We arranged to visit them and it meant so much to us that they welcomed us into their lives for a moment. We had raised money for them during the month of May, brain tumor awareness month. Gifting them a check and telling them to make memories with their children made all those painful, fresh wounds worth it. Hayes wanted this! I feel like Hayes directs us to those kids and families that need us. He has the wheel, I am just sitting there while he directs me!
That day I received a message in my inbox. A follower I do not know reached out to me and asked me if he could gift our family tickets to Disneyland. To be honest, we hadn’t planned on returning to Disneyland anytime soon. It was still too fresh, but once again, it wasn’t up to me. I truly felt like Hayes was giving us the go ahead. He wanted us to return. The next day we went and it felt like one HayesHint after another. A Mickey sticker on the cement, Mickey ears found unclaimed for Mia, a tiny Mickey Mouse bead on the ground, walking into a shop and seeing a Disney “H” on the ground, getting the green car on our first ride, seeing two separate sets of triplets, and lastly, seeing a butterfly land on the Mickey Mouse hat of the man in line in front of us. While all of these may seem small, I felt like it was our sweet Hayes, encouraging us every step of the way. Love that boy so much for the joy he continues to give us.
Newport was so perfect. It will continue to be a Mecca that we return to every year, in honor of our Hayesey. Our plan is to return every November, a yearly trek to honor our boy and recognize the happiness he gave and continues to give us. How lucky are we that he is ours?! We know him, we love him and we now live for him. I feel hopeful that although he isn’t here, he will continue to give us opportunities for bliss, memories and hints. Those are the truly meaningful moments of life!
I have mentioned it before, but there is a cancer club…a club I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but it exists, nonetheless. Whenever I find another cancer warrior mom, I try to reach out and send her a letter. It always starts out with this same line, “Welcome to the club…I am so sorry you are now a member. I know you don’t want to be here and I know you are heartbroken. I have been there. Still, I promise you that you’ll one day be proud of the journey you are on. You’ll celebrate and grieve alongside those who are a part of this same club, for you are now parents of a child with cancer. You are never alone. You have an army behind you!”
I reached out to one of these moms recently to get her story. I wanted to get a different perspective, outside of my little Hayes. I asked her to write about her experience and I just cannot begin to say how much I relate. I wish I didn’t…frankly, I wish no one did! But we do, and it is important not to turn away because all of these stories deserve to be heard. All of these children matter. I feel honored to share the story of Brendan Peck from the beautiful perspective of his mom, Kerry Peck.
Never Say Never
I must be a slow learner. All my life, it seems, I’ve made statements that have come back to haunt me. Comments like, “I’d never marry an attorney!” and thoughts like, “If I had that many little children, they wouldn’t look like homeless waifs!” (Yes, I arrogantly thought that after seeing a bunch of runny nosed, PJ-clad kids dropped off to be tended while their mom scurried off to a doctors appointment.) Well, I should have known better. I did end up marrying an attorney. (Although, in my defense, he decided to attend law school after we were married.) And I did have nine beautiful, runny-nosed, PJ- clad children who grew up happily running around looking like homeless waifs. You think I would have learned to never say “never.”
In October 2015, our 11- year- old son, Brendan, suddenly lost the vision in his left eye. During the previous week he had suffered a few severe headaches and had even thrown up suddenly one day without any apparent reason. A doctor’s visit, a quick check by the eye doctor, and a rush MRI found an aggressive tumor filling his sinus, pushing through his cribriform plate, pressing on his optic nerve, and getting dangerously close to his brain. Thus began the demolition of all of the “I could NEVER. . .” thoughts I had ever had, starting with, “I’m glad we’ll never have to deal with cancer.”
Everything I ever thought I could never handle stared me in the face during the next 10 months. I watched my child go through two major sinus surgeries, one eye surgery, one craniotomy (brain surgery to remove cancer from the dura,) and a neck dissection to remove strings of cancerous lymph nodes from his neck. I watched him suffer through two bouts of excruciatingly painful meningitis. I suffered with him as he endured five recurrences of C. diff infections, two LifeFlights, five rounds of chemo, six+ weeks of radiation treatments, and one seizure. (Yes, I may have made a comment that sounded something like, “Well, I’ve learned I can handle a lot of things, but I could never handle a seizure.”)
After I found out we could both live through seizures (not to mention brain surgery), I think I learned enough to keep my mouth shut. I never voiced another “never.” But there was still just one, terrifying, unspoken “never” shoved into the darkest, farthest corner of my brain. I knew I’d never say it, and even thinking it felt like a betrayal of faith. But occasionally, unbidden, the thought crept out of the darkness and tried to be heard. “What if my son died? Could I handle that?“ I didn’t want to answer that question. I didn’t even want to ponder it. I never wanted to find out if I had that kind of fortitude. So back that thought would go — banished from the conscious realm once again.
Six months later, when Brendan went from being declared “cancer-free” to being re-diagnosed with metastasized bone cancer, I knew I finally had to face the ultimate “Never Say Never” question. Ready or not, I was about to find out what I was truly made of — and what I truly believed. I found that death staring you in the face shakes you to your inner core. It sifts out all the unnecessary things in your life and leaves only the things that matter most. I never said out loud that losing a child was the one thing I could never do, but I wasn’t sure how anyone survived something that trying. As I finally had to face the worst “I could never” question, I opened my eyes and my heart to see how other mothers had survived.
I returned to stories I had learned about my family. I knew that all of my grandmothers and great-grandmothers had lost a child, some more than one. A farming accident, a blood infection, cystic fibrosis, pneumonia, and typhoid were just some of the things that had taken their children’s lives. I saw how they continued to live and love despite their broken hearts. As a child I had only seen them as “old.” Now, I was looking at them as one mother to another. I’m grateful these grandmothers shared their experiences so I could learn that even the death of a child is survivable.
Then, I began looking more closely at mothers around me. As I looked, I saw mothers everywhere that had endured, survived, and even thrived through all the “I could never. . .” scenarios I could ever imagine. They seemed so strong. I watched as they moved forward through their pain with faith — promoting causes, helping other families, and sharing what they learned from their experiences. And I saw love and empathy. Lots and lots of it.
How did I survive the death of my son? My beautiful, precious child? I don’t know. I’m not sure you ever do. Most of the time it’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. Some days I wish there was some way to get rid of the terrible hurt in my heart. Other days I’m so full of gratitude for life and being able to live it with family that I can’t contain all the joy. But every day I’m grateful I had Brendan in my life and that he taught me courage and faith in the face of challenges. And I’m always grateful that he and others showed me the way past “never.”
Of all I have learned, I found that you do what you have to do, and you can always do more than you think you can. The saying is true, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” And, of course, I’ve learned to never say “never.”
Over the past 2 years, I have transformed into who I am now and I imagine that I will continue to evolve over the years as different emotions come to the surface. There was the pre-diagnosis me…the me that just lived every day. Laughed, was more introverted, was easy going and care free, was unaware, but was also a stickler for schedules and routine. Nothing got between the babies and their nap time! I dreaded vacations, outings, activities and time away from home because nap times would get thrown off and frankly, I preferred the safety of my walls. It was easier. That is what happens when you have triplets, you become intense! You live and die by routine. A big part of that old me died the day Hayes was diagnosed.
I remember waiting in the hospital waiting area while Hayes was in surgery to remove his tumor. I sat in silence with my face in my hands and waited and cried and dreaded different scenarios that played out in my head. Just 24 hours before, I had been home with my kids, playing with toys and caring about pointless things like what I would wear and how I should do my makeup. How quickly life shifts on its axis.
I remember the moment when Steve’s phone rang. It was the doctor telling us he had finished surgery and he wanted to meet with us and go over how it went. I remember the distinct and crushingly overwhelming desire for the surgery to have been a success. We didn’t want a partial tumor removal, we wanted to hear he had removed it all. That is all I wanted to hear, all I cared about. I couldn’t hold back the anxiety ridden tears as we headed to that meeting because I needed to hear this so much!
We walked in, sat across the table from the neurosurgeon and heard the sweetest words. He shook his head in shock and told us that he couldn’t believe it but he had removed the entire tumor…a complete resection. It was a miracle! While I knew we had a long road ahead of us, I also knew that this was my second chance with my baby. I was getting more time and I was never the same, the new me was born.
I now began to find joy in the simple things. A smile, playing with toys, and seeing Hayes sit up again, those things became my happiness. When our family was blessed to be together again, we grabbed those moments and didn’t look back. We were never again going to be held back by schedules and routines because for us, that wasn’t living. Being together, being a family…this was our second chance and we were living! Any day away from the hospital was spent together. Last minute trips to St. George, walks as a family down to the food trucks, trips to the grocery store, sitting on the couch as a family, impromptu walks in the heat to the candy store, getting the babies out of bed to play at night when everyone else was sleeping…this became our joy.
I am so grateful for that second chance we were given. I have thousands upon thousands of videos and photos of times that I now appreciated, moments that before would have gone unnoticed. Everything was big, everything was fantastic and everything was beautiful! I used to wear Hayes around in a baby carrier, in fact, for probably far too long. He was so long and really had outgrown the carrier, but I didn’t care. I wanted him next to my skin forever. Every blink, every smile, every giggle…I wanted to feel it and see it all because this was my second chance and I now knew how quickly life could change. Never again was I taking this beautiful life I had been given for granted.
Now, when Steve asks if I want to take a last minute trip to California, I say without hesitation, YES! I dread the fact that Hayes isn’t physically with us, but this is what he taught me. This is the gift he game me. To realize that every day, every second and every moment I can find joy. Happiness is found in the simple things. A nap can wait, the babies can get grumpy, the house can be dirty but those memories, those moments are fleeting. Summer is just beginning and my goal is to be present. All of my kids need the me that lives and sees beauty. This is my second chance!