A day like no other
December 3’rd 1986 will be a day that will be forever etched in my mind and in my memory. That date forever changed my life, and the events that flowed out of that date, have shaped my life, the lives of the people in my family and extended family. That date was the day when I heard the word “cancer” the first time in a manner that was intensely personal and intimate. But it was not directed directly at me and my health situation, but it was directed to me as a parent. The person affected was my first born daughter, Carragh, who was two and a half years old at that time.
Carragh was misdiagnosed
Carragh had been dealing with a situation for the better part of a month. She was dealing with pain, and when she was put to bed at night, she would bang her knee against the wall and cry herself to sleep. When we went to the GP, he referred us to a pediatrician. So off we went and got Carragh checked out. The pediatrician said it looked like juvenile arthritis and prescribed the treatment of Aspirin, three a day. Within days Carragh’s blood count plummeted. We took her to Grand River Hospital (which was Kitchener Waterloo Hospital at the time), and went to Emerge. They began to do some tests. Lori and I were taken into a private room, and it was in that room, that I heard the word “cancer” when the physician spoke to us. My parents were outside the room. The sound of the doctors voice faded, and I remember being there, but not being there. I was in shock. All I saw in my mind’s eye was a black coffin, and death. I determined then and there that I wanted no more children (I am glad I changed my mind a year later). I just did not want the pain that being a parent entailed. I was devastated that Carragh was facing what looked to me to be a losing battle.
The pediatrician set up a referral to Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto
From Kitchener Waterloo to Toronto, between 3 – 19 December, our family of three lived at Ronald Macdonald House on Dundas in Toronto, and Carragh underwent chemotherapy for the diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, also known as acute lymphocytic leukemia or acute lymphoid leukemia (A.L.L). A.L.L. is an acute form of leukemia, or cancer of the white blood cells, characterized by the overproduction and accumulation of cancerous, immature white blood cells, known as lymphoblasts. It is an acute type of leukemia, which means it can progress quickly. Without treatment, it can be fatal within a few months. She had chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The cancer went into remission within a couple of weeks, and we were able to go home for Christmas. Carragh would face ongoing chemotherapy for two and a half years. As a family we would face this battle together. We would have two more daughters, Caitlin and Erinn, and we would journey with Carragh, together, as she experienced three relapses, changes to two other different treatment protocols, consider a bone marrow transplant, fight to get Carragh free from the treatments, see her live the best year of her life since diagnosis, and pass away from this life at age 9, after the cancer came back.
Your body not only has a a memory bank, but a clock that awakens you to remind you of particular events in you life
What I find stunning and it happens every year, is that the body, your physical being, carries a memory bank within it, where you will remember even suppressed memories, when your body reminds you of an event that took place. That is what happened on this day, the 3’rd of December. I knew when I woke up, that this day was significant, and when I thought about it, I knew that it was that date in my past when I became intimately aware of cancer and discovered just how much I loved my daughter.
That date was the beginning of a deep walk with God, and a journey in the discovery of intimacy with God, and how much God loves us and how much His grace means to us, as we journey through life’s ups and downs.
I was a 28 year old man, married over three years to Lori. We had our first child, Carragh Rebekah Jacqueline, who was two years old. I was in my second last semester of my four year degree program. When I heard this news, I wanted to drop out of school, but my profs worked with me, and talked me out of it, and I finished the semester, and would graduate the following April. But it certainly was not easy.
This beginning of Carragh’s 7 year battle with cancer became one of my life’s defining moments
I have much joy in my heart for having been the father of this incredible young girl. Carragh graced my life for only nine and a half years, but she changed my life forever. Carragh found incredible comfort and joy in Jesus and her faith was vibrant and strong. She believed that God could raise her up anytime and she was resilient through three relapses. Even during her last relapse when death seemed imminent, Carragh still believed Jesus could raise her up.
Carragh came to mind often over the last few months, and especially when I realized how serious my own battle with this disease was going to be. I prayed to the Lord for strength and resilience and that I would have faith like Carragh and be strong like her. She inspired me and continues to inspire.
Whatever you are facing, no matter what trauma you body clock reminds you about, know that you are not alone in this trauma
God is with you. God can heal you of your trauma, and can heal the pain and ache you feel in your heart. Just call out to Him and ask Him for His help. I would not be where I am today without the daily walk I have with Jesus and the mercy and grace and love I receive through my relationship with Him. He is but a whisper away. Go ahead, call on His name. Call on Jesus.
I do not sorrow as one who has no hope. I actually rejoice. Carragh knew Jesus and knows Jesus even more intimately and personally than I do right now. She is more alive than anyone of us on the planet. She is in His presence and has a knowledge that I do not have, but I will have it one day. One day, I will see Carragh face to face again. I have great joy and comfort in that and refuse to be sorrowful and full of grief. I am filled with joy, for those of us who know Jesus Christ, we will have the greatest reunion ever.
As each 3’rd of December comes, I am reminded once more, of a most precious little girl, who stole her Daddy’s heart, who battled courageously for seven years and never gave up hope or faith in God, and who modeled for me what it is to live by faith. I embrace that date, that day, and the goodness and blessing of God that flowed through my little Carragh. I trust that you can put your trust and hope in God for the same, no matter what trauma you have gone through.