I remember this one particular evening during treatment. I went to the Ronald McDonald Room, a large room on the 3rd floor of Primary Children’s Hospital where food is donated by organizations and restaurants for parents of sick children. Hayes had gone to bed and dinner was being served. I made my way down there so that I could have something besides cafeteria food. You walk into this place and no one is smiling…it is SO depressing. But I was desperate for some non-hospital food so I got my dinner plate and made my way to a long table with 3 other parents sullenly sitting in silence. Read More
I remember the day Hayes was given an official diagnosis so well. I was upstairs in my closet getting dressed when my phone rang. Read More
It was two years ago, right before the 5K and the babies first birthday. We were finishing up Hayes’ second round of chemo and I was still feeling naively optimistic. All I cared about was getting out of the hospital for the 5K and celebrating the babies. Hayes was sleeping in his hospital crib and I was sitting on the fold out plastic couch in my daily “uniform”….sweats. We were in the corner room of the cancer unit. There was a double door to get into our room and you couldn’t hear a sound. We were completely closed off from the world in our little corner that overlooked the Salt Lake Valley. Read More
Earlier last year, in February 2017, I woke up to a direct message in my Instagram mailbox. I get lots of messages and I really try to respond to each one because so many are from parents of newly diagnosed children and I want to help them as much as I can. Waking up to a new message was not unusual, but seeing who it was from was definitely shocking. It was a message from Rachel Parcell. In the Instagram world, Rachel is a big deal! I had been following her for a very long time. Here is what it said: Read More
The trip had been in the works for 2 years. Although we were dreading leaving our kids, we have had so many amazing experiences in Europe, so to say we were looking forward to our 15 days in Spain is an understatement. Steve speaks Spanish so we were so excited to completely dive into the culture! The trip was set to start in Barcelona for three days. Read More
I remember one night two years ago up at Primary Children’s Hospital. I had spent the day in a dark hospital room while Hayes slept on and off with intermittent showings of Baby Einstein’s on the TV. I played peek a boo with Hayes and then watched as he drifted off to sleep. It was usually when he fell asleep that I began to notice that I was starving. It was about 7:30 and I vividly remember asking the nurse to keep an eye on him while I ran to grab food at the cafeteria.
It was my break for the day so I usually “enjoyed” myself by getting a Coke Zero from the soda machine and even splurged on some cafeteria sushi. You know, the real fancy sushi with the plastic green grass? Yep, I was a high roller sometimes.
On this night, I had just made my purchase and was walking slowly up the stairs to the 4th floor when my phone rang. The caller I.D. said “Primary Children’s Oncology”…I assumed it was an automated call from the oncology clinic so I denied the call and kept making my way up. All of a sudden, over the loud speaker I heard, “Will the parent of Hayes Tate please immediately make their way to his room.” I had NEVER heard this before, for any parent let alone myself. I was in a panic and ran the last set of stairs two at a time. I used my keycard to get into the unit and ran towards Hayes room.
Doctors and nurses were overflowing out his door with anxious looks on their faces. I pushed my way in and Hayes lay right where I had just played peek a boo with him 20 minutes before but now his eyes were closed and blood poured from his nose. How did this happen so quickly?!? I held his hands and nuzzled into his face with my wet cheek pressed into his. He didn’t respond. I whispered “My sweet baby boy…” over and over again as tears streamed. I listened to the doctors as they explained to me that Hayes had been unresponsive and they had called a “Code Blue”.
The next step was for Hayes to have a CT scan to rule out a brain bleed. The blessing came within an hour and the news that Hayes did not have a brain bleed but rather low platelets and an extreme loss of blood was actually a relief. Hayes had scary situations all of the time, daily and sometimes hourly, so this roller coaster of heart break was all too familiar. The blood loss and platelet transfusion were just the teeniest of bumps in the road.
We were back in his hospital room and I sat rocking him in the green pleather chair. As I held him, I cried that night at what could have been. To be honest, it still takes me right to the edge of tears. The irony is that the “what if” has already happened, but it is just a reminder that I lived that fear.
As I held him, the hum of CNN played on the TV. My mind focused and I realized what the political panel was debating. They were arguing the presidential candidates. Who would be the most honest? Who had said what in their past? Who would cut taxes?…..I wanted to throw up, I was so angry. Here these 5 people were, passionately arguing over something that really, in the grand scheme of things didn’t matter, and I had almost lost my baby boy the hour earlier.
The cancer unit is this other world. You have to go through two sets of double doors and every room is pressurized to insure that no germs can get in. It is truly the most locked down area of the hospital because these little bodies are so vulnerable and susceptible to sickness. Because of this, it is incredibly isolating and lonely. You really don’t know what the weather is outside let alone the political climate. So listening to the news that night completely disgusted me. That people were worrying about things that didn’t matter just killed me inside. How was childhood cancer not the subject of their disgust?!
It probably isn’t completely logical. I understand that childhood cancer isn’t everyone’s agenda, but during that 331 day fight, it was all I knew. It was all I could wrap my passion around. I lived the world of childhood cancer. Still, to this day, I have a hard time empathizing with political and social issues and debates. For me, none of that stuff matters. My fight is childhood cancer. It will be until there is a change. This is my forever fight, my forever “Code Blue”.
I recently read the beginnings of a memoir by a 46 year old man that was diagnosed with endocrine cancer. As different as my situation is, I related so much to the cancer experience of this man. The journey from symptoms to discovery to diagnosis….I have walked that path. But as a mother as opposed to the patient, our paths diverged. As I read him describe his “painful” chemo cocktail of etoposide and cisplatin for 3-4 months, tears began to burn my eyes. Not only did Hayes have those exact “painful” chemo drugs, but he also had 8 more chemos over the course of his 8 Month protocol. My sweet 10 Month Old Baby was exposed to those same drugs and more. It was our only option, but as parents you do anything. You do anything to keep them safe and comfortable while at the same time, knowingly giving them poisons that nearly kill them, day after day. But that is our only hope. It is the only weapon we have to fight the monster that is just as relentless as we are.
Looking back over the battle we had, I realize that during that fight, I really didn’t recognize the magnitude of what we were facing. I was devastated and scared, but every day I clung to the hope that chemo would fix my baby. Having hope was the only thing I had control over and I unceasingly held onto it.
I remember so vividly what I was doing a year ago today. It was Halloween of 2016 and Hayes was Home. I woke up early, got my kids in their costumes and excitedly dressed my 3 babies in their themed carnival costumes. Life was beginning to “normalize” and I had nearly let go of all the fear of cancer I had accumulated over the past 8 months. Although Cancer was in the rear view mirror, a deep, hidden part of me knew I was forcing it away; running from the monster that would forever stalk us. But, I ignored it and I have no regrets about my denial…it allowed me to feel peace and happiness and joy which my family so desperately deserved. Life was blissfully naive for a few short months.
I feel like my life is mostly in black and white now. I still smile, my kids still smile and there is laughter. But, that rich deep feeling of life that is seen through saturated color is not felt very often anymore. I sat through my kids Halloween parade today and watched as my kids marched through the halls of their elementary school, proudly showing off their costumes and my babies danced to the Halloween music playing over the loud speaker. I smiled as the scenes unfolded before me, but then it hit, it always does, that Hayes should be here and the magic of another holiday vanishes. It is painful. Steve and I always smile for our kids, but deep down, we want to hide. Sleep away the winter that brings with it all the painful reminders of our sweet angel boy.
I don’t like to focus on the pain, I really don’t, but this is also our story. Life isn’t easy, unfortunately. But, in a strange juxtaposition, what gets me through these hard days is hope. Hope for a brighter future, hope for a happy tomorrow & most of all, hope that I will see my Hayesey again. Hope is what got me through that original fight and ironically, it gets me through my days without him now. I will continue to slap that smile on my face with a hope that one day it won’t be so forced. With hope that one day I will be able to have a life where Hayes is simply a warm, happy memory and not a painful reminder of loss in my heart. Until then, I hope.
There is no question that in the moment Hayes took his last breath, a part of me changed. It felt like a part of me died, and they had forgotten to bury me. To be honest, so much of grief is just surviving. Day to day, hour to hour, Minute to minute and moment to moment. I have a lot of moments left to survive in my life. Read More
Let me preempt this by saying that I know I have issues. I am sure after you read this, you will probably agree with my personal assessment. Since Hayes passed away, I feel like I have become incredibly in touch with my own emotions. I am a bundle of lots of different feelings from one moment to the next. But, for someone that is so aware of my own emotions, I feel like I have become extremely detached from most everyone else’s. I almost feel like I have lost a slight bit of empathy in my life. Odd I know! I am actually embarrassed to admit it.
I remember when Hayes was fighting so hard in his bed at the hospital when the presidential debates were going on. Ugh, politics I know…but bear with me. I remember how scared everyone was. How deeply entrenched people were in the presidential candidates and I was sitting in the cancer unit with my sick baby boy, surrounded by rooms of sick children fighting like hell for their lives. I remember being so jealous of people, where politics was all they had to stress about in life.
Now, fast forward a year later and here we are in childhood cancer awareness month, in the heart of my daily rants about my complete disgust for the monster that is childhood cancer. I miss my baby boy so much, it is gut wrenching. Then Hurricane Harvey hits. I know it is a tragedy. People have lost everything…but really, have they? I was watching an interview with a family that was crying about the loss of their house and all of their possessions. They said this as their 2 year old and 4 year old played on the hotel room floor in front of them. The father bent down and rubbed his daughters head as the mother sobbed. In my skewed grief and I guess bitterness, watching him rub his sweet girls hair, I thought to myself, “You get to ruffle your daughters hair. I would trade you in a second! If I could have all 6 of my children here in my arms, but the trade off was that I didn’t have a house, I would take that deal in point two seconds.”
Now logically, I understand that they have a right to their heart ache and their own feelings of loss. It has got to be so hard and so frightening. But at the end of the day, they have their family. They have each of their healthy children. That is ALL that matters in the end because at the end of this life, you can’t take your house or your possessions with you. Up at the cancer unit of every Childrens hospital is a version of Hurricane Harvey that is killing children every day, but the horror isn’t being seen. It deserves its own state of emergency.
For those that came to my blog for my usual sweet posts, I am sorry to be so angry today. But this is grief, it ebbs and flows with everything I see and experience. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense…maybe I am actually totally crazy. I wouldn’t rule that out. In a strange bizarre way, I feel like this is my way of keeping Hayes alive and remembered. But, regardless, thanks for listening to me on my own little soapbox corner of the internet every day. It probably gets old. I can’t stop. I have walked the path that has shattered my heart. A path that few completely understand. I will forever be scooping up the broken pieces. I will forever be holding my own little telethon and relief efforts, for the hurricane that is childhood cancer. Rant over….oh wait, we all know that isn’t true, I have days and years of rants ahead of me until this disease is stopped.
I had cried like I didn’t know was humanly possible. I had been sad before, but this was complete heart break, complete devastation, and complete darkness, with no hope. My sweet baby laid sedated in the crib next to the recliner we sat in. Peacefully sleeping the night away in bed #28, in the glass room we were closed away in. He slept more calmly than I had seen him do in months and ironically he was completely unaware of the horror that had been discovered in his teeny head just hours before. I laid in Steve’s lap and we held each other the whole night, freely crying and weeping in each other’s arms. We were in the PICU, surrounded by families and parents going through their own devastations. Read More