By Kim Gourley
It was Labor Day 2010, and my husband Eric and I took our three kids, Gannon, 4, Jordyn, 3, and Cohen, 1, for an outing in the park. We arrived home in time for lunch and naps.
As I was talking to the kids, I noticed that Jordyn's left eye was slightly turned in. I panicked. Maybe her recent sleepless nights and irritability were more than the night terrors our doctor suggested she was having.
So, I put our daughter in the car and took her to the ER. After begging for a CT scan and getting it, a very solemn-looking doctor walked into our room with results that forever changed our lives: Jordyn had a tumor in her head and neck area called rhabdomyosarcoma, and it was stage IV. When I say life changed forever, it really did. My husband I both worked full time, but after Jordyn's diagnosis, I never returned to my job and our focus became saving her life.
As we researched treatment options, we found out that radiation is required for rhabdomyoscarcoma. Thank goodness we discovered proton therapy. My daughter was an ideal candidate.
Jordyn and I left our home and family in Iowa and flew to Texas for eight weeks. My husband and I instantly became single parents.
After her treatment at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center, Jordyn and I returned home to Iowa. But our joy of being home quickly gave way to worry. Jordyn became ill and was hospitalized with a bacterial infection and fungal pneumonia and we spent another 49 days in the hospital, many of them in ICU. This meant more time away from home, more time away from my husband and precious boys.
Finally, after four months, we were able to go home again and sleep in our own beds. She was able to play with her toys and I could get back to the routine of tucking my boys in at night.
It has been seven months since Jordyn's diagnosis and we are still fighting. I am able to be home every other week between her chemo treatments. I am lucky to have a community of people who are there for us. My parents and just about every family member and friend we know has helped and continues to be there for us. It's something we could have never prepared ourselves for, financially or emotionally.
I think about life before cancer, how I used to sometimes complain about my kids being ornery, fighting with each other or making a mess of our house. I would give ANYTHING to be around for all of it again, with our whole family together.
I can see the physical toll it takes on Jordyn, but my boys are not lost in all of this. They miss us so much. They are sad and scared and even angry that their sister has cancer. But the funny thing is that in all of this stress and worry and fear, as our family is being torn apart and our daughter is fighting for her life, we are closer than we have ever been.
Our bond is strong, and, because we know how truly precious life is, we cherish each other and the time we have together. We are kinder, more thankful for the blessings we have, and we never forget to say, "I love you."