It was a beautiful day. I was out working in the garden of our new home, our first home, while my oldest daughter, age 4, was in preschool and my little one, age 2, was napping when my husband uncharacteristically arrived home from work in the early afternoon. He had a swollen lymph node on his neck that he went to the family doctor to check out and we were waiting on results of the x-rays she took earlier that week. He came over to me and asked me to drop what I was doing and come inside to talk. The doctor had called him at work to tell him that the x-ray revealed a tumor in the center of his chest and he should see an oncologist right away.
This began a flurry of doctor's appointments, scans, biopsies, surgery to place a mediport in his chest and talk of chemotherapies rendering our chances of a third baby virtually impossible. Doug was diagnosed with a stage IV follicular small B-cell non-Holdgkins lymphoma and it was incurable but very treatable we were told. I cannot even describe the horror of this time, the thoughts of raising my babies alone after being a stay-home mom for several years, living in a state far from home, no family to support us through this trial and having to consider banking sperm if we wanted that third child. What?!? No, if my husband is not going to survive, why would I want another child!
The next six months were filled with 4 to 8 hour sessions of chemotherapy, followed by days of my husband unable to do much but grateful he had the strength to get to work most everyday. All household chores--mowing the lawn, taking out garbage, dealing with kids, preparing meals that he would not or could not eat, making appointments, keeping up with insurance claims, paying bills…..everything, EVERYTHING fell to me. Gratefully, our insurance proved to be awesome and his bosses were more than understanding under the circumstances. The kids, what do we tell the kids? How do we explain that Daddy may not be around to see them grow up or tickle them every night or read them bedtime stories? We chose to tell them the truth. We explained that all living things have life cycles just like in the Lion King (thank God for Disney!). Some living things last a long, long time like an elephant and others only briefly, like a butterfly. No one knows when they are born how long their life cycle will be, that is why we need to treat every day as a blessing. Doctors are going to try to help Daddy's cancer go away but the medicine will make him very sick too and he will lose his hair. We will need to work as a team to get through this together. So, Go TEAM Campbell!! They helped Daddy buzz cut his hair before the chemo took it….they thought that was fun. I worked very hard to keep them occupied and in their little routines to minimize the impact of this disease on them. Friends and neighbors helped by taking them to gym class or on play dates for me especially when we had our long days in the infusion room. Doug made it through those first very dark hours with a three year reprieve. In that time, we celebrated our five year wedding anniversary in Hawaii and conceived our third daughter despite the odds.
Little did we know that the next decade or so of our lives would revolve around this cancer. Eight chemotherapy regimens later, we knew there were no more chances for remission. Thankfully, an amazing man by the name of James Murray, whom we have yet to meet face to face, registered as a marrow donor somewhere in Canada and was Doug's only perfect match. In 2010, Doug got this second chance at a life free from cancer with the hope that he might live long enough to see his girls graduate high school, go to college and one day walk each of them down the aisle at their weddings. The road has been arduous and frightening, but we remain strong and vigilant. People tell us our daughters are the most mature, compassionate, respectful teenagers they have met. There is nothing that makes me prouder as a mother than to hear those words from others about my children. We never hid the truth from them. They were always allowed to ask questions and tell us how they felt. None of them have a memory of their Daddy before cancer. Our oldest is a junior in high school now and plans to become a doctor some day, our middle one is a freshman full of character and our little one is 11 and full of spunk. They are so very different and so very amazing. They are what has kept their Daddy pushing through some very hard and deadly days. They are what keeps me looking forward and standing firm determined for cancer not to take its toll on their lives and to reveal the blessings amid the storms so they can see the hand of God at work in sustaining our family along the way.
For the last 13 years, our family has dedicated time, talents and funds to support The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to spread the word about their work in blood cancer research and hopes for a cure. We have also registered hundreds of new marrow donors with Be The Match so others may be given the gift of life if their cancer journey leads them there as ours did. What better time than Mother's Day to consider a donation to this worthy cause and help end the plight of blood cancers for families everywhere?
If you would like to take time to honor a mother, like Stacey, in your life please consider making a donation to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society this Mother's Day.
Make a donationonline and a letter of recognition of your gift will be sent to the mother you are honoring with your donation. You are also welcome to mail in a donation to: LLS, Attn: Mother's Day, 8111 LBJ Fwy., Ste 425, Dallas, TX 75251.
Thank you and Happy Mother's Day from the North Texas Chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.