Guest Blogger, Nat Miller
Sunday, June 3 is National Cancer Survivors Day, a day of celebration for cancer survivors and a day of hope for those currently fighting cancer, like my daughter Hazel. In honor of National Cancer Survivors Day, I’m inspired to share my family’s story with you. I hope that my words provide some solace to families hurting, hope to those who are afraid and light to those who are trapped in the midst of darkness.
I have started this narrative numerous times, each an attempt to say what I felt needed to be said about my family’s journey with cancer. All of those attempts before now focused on the “cancer part,” the hospital visits, the medications, the ups and downs of testing, side effects, traveling, and mainly despair.
Wrongly, I felt that to give my perspective as a father, I had to walk my readers through the everyday heartache that is dealing with cancer. But then I realized that by doing so, I would be giving cancer too much power, too much credit for what it is. Instead of telling a story about cancer, today I want to tell a story about people, love, and support.
Hazel is the youngest of my four children and was 2 years old when diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. She is now 3 years old and has entered the “Maintenance Phase” of her treatment which will last until she turns 5 years old in 2020. The past year has been tough, the toughest of my life in fact. Since that fateful day in April 2017 when Hazel was diagnosed, I have shed many tears; mourning the pain and heartache that Hazel has been forced to endure in such a short time on this earth. In the days following diagnosis, I lamented that it should be me and not her. I was so angry that my youngest, most vulnerable child was being attacked by an invisible villain that I had no control over, that I could not kill.
I would love to say that I dealt with the events of this past year with some sort of grace, a type of dignity, but alas, I do not feel that was the case. It was hard, so excruciatingly hard, that we simply got through it however we could. My family of six was often split up, some of us attending chemo visits in the hospital two hours away, some of us trying to maintain a normal life in our hometown of Marietta, Ohio. Events were missed, vacations foregone, and birthdays moved. This experience changed our life in almost every way possible, but it never broke us, never destroyed our bond.
My family is stronger today because of our journey with cancer, and here is why: people. The people that we have met during this process have been unforeseen blessings, providing comfort, support, love, and respect at every turn. We have met people from all walks of life that helped provide the stilts to prop my family up as we struggled to manage our situation. We have never been made to feel needy when we asked for help, nor weak when we stumbled.
Some of those most cherished people have been representatives from The National Children’s Cancer Society (NCCS). During the early days of Hazel’s treatment, as time off work stretched longer and hospital stays were more prevalent, the NCCS stepped in to provide financial support to meet a specific, direct need for my family. As we progressed through treatment, the NCCS followed up with us, providing informational resources as we transitioned into new treatment phases. Finally, as we continue to walk this uncertain path into the future, the NCCS has been quick to provide emotional and ongoing support for all of our family members.
The story that I want to be told today is not about cancer or even about my family specifically, but is about the people that fight cancer, and the people that help others fight cancer. They are as courageous as the patients themselves, waking up each day with a goal to help families in certain peril. These individuals understand all of the toughest aspects of dealing with cancer and use their resources to help keep families like mine afloat in the tumultuous sea of life. The impact the NCCS has had on my family has been profound and will shape our life from now until we leave this earth. For them, we are eternally grateful and forever in debt.
– Nat Miller, father of Hazel Miller