On February 1st, two days after Ashtyn was hospitalized, I received a message from Brady, whose daughter Millie was on the same floor.
I’m very sorry to hear about Ashtyn. While I’m no expert, we’ve been dealing with this now for over three years, so I can give some advice on how to deal with it as a parent.
Millie was only four when she was diagnosed, so she was much younger than your daughter, but I still believe this holds true. Our children don’t fully understand what they’re facing. They gauge how bad the situation is by how we react. If we cry all day and are depressed, they will be frightened. If we are calm, confident, and tackle this task like it’s normal, they will feel the same way.
That’s not to say that I’m never sad – Millie and I have cried together many times. However, we are happy nearly all of the time. On a particularly tough day a few weeks ago, Millie and I talked about it, and she agreed with my feelings that although cancer has been the worst thing that has ever happened to our family, it has also been the best. We’ve gone to Disney World with Make-A-Wish, met Justin Bieber, Swoop (the mascot from the U) visits her all the time, and thousands of people have sent her mail/emails. I can’t tell you how many wonderful things have been done for us by friends, family, neighbors, and total strangers.
When I told Millie about your daughter she said ‘Dad, I really wish she didn’t get cancer. Please tell her that even though it’s really bad, a lot of good things happen, so she shouldn’t be too sad.’ Be prepared to be amazed by your daughter’s strength, your own strength, and by how many people love you.”
At the time I got this message I was being bombarded with information. I was completely sensory overloaded and wasn’t able to take to heart what he wrote. Now that I look back at his message I understand with clarity how he felt. I could now write the same letter to someone else with complete honesty and say the exact same things. Children feel and react how their parent’s feel and react. I have observed this with my own children from the time they were born. It continues to be true when dealing with Ashtyn. From the beginning, in my mind, we were not going to shrink while facing cancer. We were not going to lose ourselves. We were not going to soak in sorrow or throw a pity party. No way! I knew Ashtyn was capable. I knew God was fully aware and had a plan for her. As Elder Bednar put it, “Many of the lessons we are to learn in mortality can only be received through the things we experience and sometimes suffer. And God expects and trusts us to face temporary mortal adversity with His help so we can learn what we need to learn and ultimately become what we are to become in eternity.” We were to be strong, confident, and optimistic. Faith and a positive attitude has been empowering.
Today when I read, “she agreed with my feelings that although cancer has been the worst thing that has ever happened to our family, it has also been the best,” I knew Brady was being sincere. In the short time Ashtyn has had cancer, it has been the worst thing that has ever happened to our family, however it has also brought the greatest blessings. We have experienced wonderful things done by friends, family, neighbors, and total strangers. We have experienced feelings of the Spirit, angels, and God being very near. Ashtyn has already experienced what Millie has observed in her own life. “Please tell her that even though it’s really bad, a lot of good things happen.”
It is difficult for some to understand how Ashtyn and I can find joy in this experience. Others have been shocked that we don’t feel anger. There are those that wonder why we aren’t being more “real” with feeling sorrow and doubt. The reality is, our hearts are full of peace and comfort. Our positive vision for the future fills our minds. Our knowledge of God’s presence in our lives fills our souls.
The last several days have gone by pretty smoothly for Ashtyn. Her days have been spent eating, sleeping, watching TV, doing physical therapy, and talking to staff and visitors. Physically she has felt well though her body is weak and tires easily. Emotionally she is doing well though she wants to go home and is not even able to leave her room. I know each day can change in an instant. Today she woke up at 9:30 am, the earliest since being in the hospital. She was awake and alert all day feeling good. By 9 pm she started to not feel well. She was nauseated and felt bloated. She informed me, “I just don’t feel right. I am going to rest for a bit.” With that said, she put on the “LDS Hymns” station on Pandora and closed her eyes. As I watched her I sensed how crummy she felt. I was so proud of her ability to cope without complaining as she focused on the words of the music. With her eyes closed, her lips moved along to the words of the song, “Jesus Once of Humble Birth.” Her fingers played along to the piano of “Kiss the Rain” by Yiruma.
The words of Brady ring true and bring a tremendous amount of joy and gratitude. “Be prepared to be amazed by your daughter’s strength, your own strength, and by how many people love you.”