Photo by Amy Buelow

When Your Child Has Cancer: Letters of Wisdom from Cancer Dads

Reading Time: 8 minutes

There’s no way to prepare for the moment you become a cancer dad. It’s not a title any father wants, but it’s a role that can help define your child’s cancer journey. You’re there for warmth, safety, and love, showing up as the superhero your child knows you are.

In honor of Father’s Day, we wanted to share the encouraging words of fellow dads caring for a child with cancer. Through their heartfelt stories and advice, they’re here to tell you that you should wear your superhero cape with pride.

From Felix

Nicholas M with dad Felix

Felix knows exactly what it’s like to be in the middle of a cancer storm. Reflecting on his son’s cancer journey, Felix encourages other fathers to stay positive, rise above the fear, and be a source of strength as your family navigates such challenging times.

Dear fellow fathers,

I’ve been deeply impacted by cancer twice in my life. The first time, I was 12 years old and my mother lost her battle with breast cancer. In 2008, it hit even harder when at 2.5 years old, my son Nicholas was diagnosed with high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

A month into treatment, Nicholas faced the complication of a rare side effect called acute leukoencephalopathy, which caused a mini-stroke, led to severe weakness of all his lower extremities, and almost crippled him. With an unbalanced gait and a body unable to withstand all that was happening, Nicholas had to be reintroduced to his body and its movement after all the surgeries. This was very difficult but his willingness to persevere was fully present. His determination surprised his oncologist, doctors, and physical therapist. With the combination of Nicholas’ determination to lead a healthy life and the hard work of the physical therapy, Nicholas was walking again and our ongoing work to keep his spirits up made him mentally ready.

Today, Nicholas is alive and well, walking, and enjoying life. God, family, love, and strength kept my family together. Our determination to make sure each day was a successful day was a priority during his treatment. The word cancer comes with a lot of fear, especially for a child at his age. The diagnosis turned our lives upside down. Cancer touches you in a way that breaks you down in places where you have to dig deep into your heart and rise to the occasion, not only to fight but to also make sure your child wins his fight.

As a father, it’s important to guide your family to stay together and stay strong. Most importantly, you have to stay fully informed about the kind of cancer you are fighting. We also created a space that we were all able to speak freely about our feelings without holding anything back and speak about our frustrations with the intent to find solutions.

YOUR POSITIVITY IS KEY! GOD, LOVE, FAITH, FAMILY, STRENGTH, UNITY, and CONFIDENCE are part of the solution to keep fighting this fight. We don’t spend time overthinking the difficult days but rather accepting them as part of the process while still keeping a positive mindset.

While on this journey with Nicholas, we met other families in the same fight and built long-lasting friendships as we supported each other. Family Reach is one of them. Family Reach is more than a nonprofit organization that assists families during the toughest times in their lives. Their dedication to helping families, their focus, care, and support for our son gave us the additional determination and courage to fight for Nicholas, to see him cancer-free and walking. Family Reach is FAMILY.

Your family will be blessed and honored to have great people around you to make sure every day is a beautiful day to be a part of this special family.

Happy Father’s Day!

Love,
The Modestin Family (Felix, Adriana, and Nicholas)

From Jim

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Jim’s three-year-old daughter, Mars, is currently in active treatment for leukemia. Along with taking double the precautions due to COVID-19, Mars’ parents were both let go from their jobs because of the virus. Even as Jim carries an unimaginable amount of stress on his shoulders, he’s here to remind all the dads out there that you’re doing an incredible job. Fly those capes high!

To my fellow dads:

Today is all about you so soak it in! You’ve likely wore an invisible cape and shown strength that you never knew you had to keep your family going as it battles the enemy.

As fathers, we don’t often get the chance to show how we truly feel as our child battles cancer because we are supposed to be the backbone, the glue, the one who keeps it together, the one who comforts others during a fight that we could never prepare for.

As a father of a 3-year-old daughter who’s been battling leukemia for the past 13 months, I can relate to everything you’ve gone through and how you feel. I am sorry that you, your family, and especially that your child has had to fight for their life.

The overwhelming amount of information that comes after your child’s diagnosis and the major changes in your lives is enough to bring you to your knees, and it likely did – I remember how I felt vividly. Then there are the trips to the hospital for treatment where you see other sick children and their families accompanying them and you wonder about what others are going through and the effect it’s having on the parents and families.

Even if that part doesn’t bother you as much, watching your child get accessed with a needle in their port and seeing the fear in their eyes likely did. I’m still not able to watch this even after all this time.

Maybe you had to pull your child out of from school because of their diagnosis and had to figure out homeschooling and decide who’s going to watch the kids so you can go to work to provide and take on medical expenses.

All of the wonderful normal family activities you were accustomed to or had planned had to be canceled as your child’s immune system became that of an elderly person. Your family became part of a community it never asked to be part of and to say it’s scary is an understatement.

Even as you drive down a nightmare-ish memory lane with me, you’ve made it this far and you are a major component to your child’s journey and happiness. You are a hero to your family.

Enjoy your day today, kiss your child and tell them how proud you are of them, and don’t forget to tell mom you wouldn’t be able to do any of this without her.

Happy Father’s Day to you!

Jim

From Scott

Scott & Justice Ramsey

For Scott, the sting of his 11-year-old son’s diagnosis is still fresh. Justice was diagnosed with leukemia last month, and his parents and siblings are surrounding him with love and support as he begins treatment. As Scott stands dutifully by his son’s side, he’s focused on keeping the positive energy high as they navigate this cancer journey together.

Attention all fathers:

When you learn that your son or daughter has been diagnosed with cancer, life as you once knew it will now be turned upside down and flipped inside out.

Maybe you were at work when you got the call. Maybe you came home and your spouse or family member told you. Or maybe, like me, you were there when the doctor pulled you out of the room to inform you of the diagnosis. In any way you received the information, you probably had a warming and numbing sensation that overtook your body as your brain began to process the effects this will now have your son or daughter, the family, and you as the patriarch, who provides a solid foundation of emotional support and strength for everyone to lean on.

My name is Scott Ramsey. My son, Justice, was diagnosed with leukemia on May 11, 2020. He had been having some issues with his stomach for two weeks, but we thought he was just constipated. But who stays constipated for two weeks, right? Finally, we went to the pediatrician. Due to the coronavirus requirements for him and his staff to wear masks, I couldn’t quite tell the look on his face every when he said, “I do not know exactly what is wrong with him, but he needs to go to the ER right now!”

After they ran the necessary labs and tests at the ER, the doctor took me to a small room that looked like it was designated for only two or three nurses or doctors to eat at one time. He said, “Your son’s white blood count should be around 10-15 thousand, but Justice’s is over 200k, which lets us know he has leukemia.”

I had to call my wife at work and have the doctor tell her the news. She broke down immediately. I picked her up and we followed the ambulance to the hospital.

There isn’t a guidebook or rulebook on how to feel or handle the sudden change of your child being diagnosed with cancer. Background, ethnicity, previous experiences with family members or friends who have had cancer, and now being a parent of a child with cancer will influence a father’s movements, thoughts, and behaviors as to how to handle the different situations that will occur during your child’s treatment.

It is perfectly okay to NOT know how to handle situations. It is perfectly okay to NOT know everything. It is truly humbling to feel like there is nothing you can do to fix this for your child. And as fathers, we want to be the heroes and save our children.

During these times, please know that it is okay to begin or continue to develop more of a connective relationship with your child. Play video games, read books, have discussions, watch movies, and most of all, make them laugh. According to Madeleine L’Engle, “A good laugh heals a lot of hurts.” During our time at the hospital, I have made it my duty to make sure Justice laughs every single day. By doing that, it gives me, as a dad, some level of power to help keep him in good spirits throughout his treatments; it gives him reference points and memories to connect to in times when he may be nauseous, or have a headache, or just may be feeling yucky. Those times can help him push through the pain. These times can work for you and your child as well.

Trust in the process. No matter what your spiritual beliefs, please tap into that energy and continue to have faith. Take time each day to quiet yourself to tap into that energy to help you, your child, and other family members to be strong and know that everything will turn out fine – no matter what that means for you.

There will be a whirlwind of nurses, doctors, discussions, and sleepless nights on hospital benches and sleep rooms. They will come and go and the treatments will be temporary. As you continue this journey, just know that you are not alone. Talk to other dads, be open and vulnerable to speak with family and friends to make sure your energy stays positive for your child.

This will let your child know, if they did not before, how much you love them as their parent, but more importantly as their father.

Much love, respect, and support!

S. Ramsey

 

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stevie
Stevie Snow
Marketing Coordinator • Family Reach Team

Always walking the fine line between her right and left brain, Stevie brings her creative and strategic thinking to her role as Marketing Coordinator. Through writing and design, she amplifies Family Reach’s voice and puts financial toxicity in the spotlight.

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