In February of 2009, I began to write in my blog to keep people informed. It was consistently helpful as everyone remained aware of the most up-to-date information. My blog continued thereafter to decompress.
It was never intended on being a place of vulnerability for me. It became this place for me as it allowed me to safely express myself, and receive the support from everyone that encouraged my heart. It was never a place where I cared whether I was grammatically correct as I just wanted relief. I discovered it was a place I could release my burden of thoughts, and the surmounting emotions that made me feel like I was drowning. I remember feeling tired, emotionally overwhelmed, and it was the last thing I wanted to do was to rehearse the traumatic experiences of our childhood cancer journey to each individual person. My blog became the best approach to share the days of this heart wrenching journey through a parent's lens. I never imagined that my blog would have been a place for me to authentically share the pain I experienced each day as I journeyed with my son observing helplessly when he was subjected to pain, needles, transfusions, anaphylactic reaction, serious infections, relapse, radiation, and transplant. I have appreciated those who read my blog and supported our family with kind words and love. My time with my blog has decreased, but that has not meant our journey is over. It continues...just different now.
Today, I write to share another vulnerable story. However, it is a different story. It is a story of the aftermath. It has taken me this long to share this story as I wanted it to be a story of healing, and a voice to other parents to normalize their experience. I believe that in my career, we can only become better Psychotherapists when we do our own work. I want it to be a story that encourages people to get help, and seek someone to walk this journey with you whether it be family, friend or even professional help.
In 2013, when most of the traumatic events of our journey subsided I began to individually suffer. I was strong through it all (as much as one can be), but in 2013 I began to see symptoms in myself that became overwhelming. The only person who knew of my pain was my husband. I chose to be present for every traumatic experience alongside my son, and not because I was trying to be heroic. Unlike my character in so many ways. I was present because I love my son and I was never going to leave him to face this without his mommy. He is my baby. My child. I was so helpless. The only thing I could do was be present. This choice, unknown to me at the time, left me with trauma that inevitably surfaced. I knew that with my cognitive clinical brain I tried to assess myself without severity. I was scared, traumatized, and as I interacted with life I found that I only saw danger. My brain could not shut off, and was ready to "fight or flight." I saw my children hurt, and feared losing my children. Nightmares and flashbacks were present in my daily life. I began to seek means to cope by spending money. I wanted to escape, but could not find means to do so.
The guilt began to surface as I reminded myself that as a believer in Jesus Christ, I had the best form of healing that could be bestowed upon me. As a believer, I should not be suffering as God's grace is sufficient for me. However, I suffered. I suffered as life was quick to return to its normal state of all the details that make a family's life busy. I was not prepared for this return. I forgot about me. I forgot I needed to heal. I wrapped myself in the busy "normalcy of life," and lost myself. As I began to be busy I began to remove all that was nurturing, satisfying, joyful, and restorative. I believe these things managed my symptoms, but once they were eliminated completely my symptoms came with force.
One day, I was returning from a hike with my husband and our children. It was then I realized I needed help. I saw in my mind a horrific scene where my children were hit by a car as we were coming home. The world around me became a place that was unsafe. I startled easy and feared consistently. I went home. I cried. I could no longer keep this pain within me. I knew that months suffering with symptoms that were persistent and worsening were identified as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I did reach out for help to an amazing colleague who specialized in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). I worked through many details of my life, and the trauma of my son's cancer journey. It was incredibly difficult. Actually, that is an understatement. EMDR is hard, but it was the most rewarding process I have ever experienced. The healing and the resolution is unlike anything I can describe. My final session with my colleague ended with me having something left in the form of a physical sensation found in my stomach. My colleague asked me to "notice it." During the next set of what is called bilateral stimulation in EMDR, I realized that the physical sensation was fear. I feared the unknown future for my son, and this could not be changed in any form of therapy. I know the stats, and the research on post-treatment outcomes. My colleague asked me to notice this sensation, and the most amazing experience occurred. I saw Jesus taking this for me. He took my fear, and asked me to release this burden to Him. It was in that moment that I realized that as much as EMDR is using the brain's natural ability that God has intended it for to process/integrate there are many things that we must walk in faith. God's grace is sufficient for me. Jesus died on the cross for me, so that I don't have to carry this burden. As my traumatic images integrated in a healthy and adaptive process during my therapy it was the final step to healing where this fear was released to Jesus, and His grace. There are days that this fear surfaces as it is still very much a part of the outcome of a childhood cancer journey. However, I am instantly reminded to release this fear to the only one whom can carry such a heavy burden. I choose to walk in faith, so that I can have peace that surpasses all understanding.
This fear is a reminder of the vulnerable state of life, and of our children. I have learned much about suffering throughout my life, and those of my clients'. Life is hard. Life is dirty. Life is unfair. Life can really suck. But, life can be shaped by the lens that you choose to wear each day. The lens I choose to wear is being present and intentional in the beauty of my children's lives. I want to build a parent/child relationship that is secure, full of love, provides direction, boundaries, and is intentional and mindful. I see beauty through the eyes of my children. I see the flowers that paint our backyard, and hear the birds that my children try to mimic. I hear the sweet laughter of my girls as they prance around the backyard using their imagination. I see my son running, kicking, and smiling as big as the universe. He is able to play and has regained his lost childhood. He is my lovely young boy who has a story of pain and suffering from a relapsed cancer and a transplant. Except, he chooses to live life at its fullest, and to experience his childhood. He is full of joy and happiness. He has been given life, and not without its aftermath. Each of my children have battled their own trauma stories, and have all received EMDR therapy. My youngest struggles with anxiety and fear, but through EMDR it has decreased much of her struggles. We are still working, but her brain is still developing. My middle daughter worries about all those around her. She is a planner and very careful. She genuinely loves, is kind, and is full of as much integrity as a child can at the age of seven years old. Perhaps, observing her brother's suffering, she is trying to be the best child she can be. We encourage her to make mistakes, so she knows that "it is okay." We remind her that she is a child, and that mommy will worry about the worries when necessary. It is her job to make mistakes, and I will teach her. It is her job to be carefree, and it is my job to correct. We see her overly concerned thoughts about normal childhood experiences, and continue to teach and create a place to hear concerns. Gabriel's response is expressed by intellectualizing his journey to where he has not attached it to emotions. We continue to work with him to attach emotions and to connect to physical pain in his body. Very normal for children with medical trauma. It important for children with medical trauma to regain a control over their body again. We continue the journey of healing for our three children. We are thankful that our children received therapy as it created a significant change in each of their lives, and we continue to be observant and attentive to any challenges that may occur as their brain continues to develop.
As for our medical journey....Gabriel continues to attend hospital appointments every four months monitoring any post-treatment conditions that could occur through blood work. He has seen multiple specialist that cover a range of potential complications from chemotherapy and/or radiation. He is being monitored by an endocrinologist and his oncologist for growth and hormonal concerns. He continues with pulmonary and ECG's assessments to ensure his heart is healthy. Gabriel will continue for the rest of his life receiving check-ups to ensure that there are no post-treatment complications or secondary cancers. This is our family's journey. When you hear a family say they are done treatment...it does not mean they are done. A family never closes the childhood cancer door. It remains open forever. We just learn to adapt to this open door.
June 1 is a very special day each year for our family. Mike and I celebrate our son's and our family's childhood cancer journey. Three years ago on June 1st, my son received his life-saving bone marrow transplant. We now celebrate his re-birthday every year, and it has become our family's celebration. Each of my children are celebrated as they deserve to be as they shared this journey in their own special individual way.
Thank you for your listening ears, and your open heart. Please encourage anyone who may be hurting to get help. It is the best gift anyone could receive. Don't let anyone walk this journey alone. If you have a sense that someone is hurting...reach out. Social media has become a place where people meet up, share and express. At the root of social media is that everyone wants to be needed, wanted, cared for, and in-relationship. If not, why go on any forms of social media. Be present in the lives of those who may be hurting.