The other day I decided to take my 7 year old daughter, Bella, out on a date. I found a traveling circus that was in town and recalled how much I enjoyed the circus as a kid and thought it would be a great opportunity to make some memories with my little princess. On the way I asked her to choose what she wanted for dinner and that we were in a hurry so it couldn’t be somewhere that takes too long. She choose Dairy Queen for some unknown reason? Ya right, she couldn’t wait until after she ate her burger for her ice cream. Then I remembered since it was a date, I shouldn’t be scolding her about eating her ice cream first. Shortly after getting back in the car she asked “how did Caleb die?”
You see, Bella doesn’t remember her only brother. Caleb was diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia that sadly took him away just after his 4th birthday when Bella was only 9 months old. After the question sunk in, I asked her why she wanted to know how Caleb died. She said “because he was my brudder”. Touche’ I thought. Then I asked what she wanted to know? She knows he died of Leukemia. She said “what happened to him to make him die?” I asked do you mean what happened inside of his body? She exclaimed “Yes.”
Against my better judgement, and after probing with a few anatomy and physiology questions to see at what level I would be communicating, I reluctantly explained. “Caleb had Leukemia which is a blood cancer”. Bella said, “I know, his bones make his blood and his bones were making blood that was making him sick.” Then I explained “blood carries all the food and energy to all the cells in your body and that when your blood is sick it doesn’t do that.” “What happened was the blood wasn’t supplying the necessary stuff to keep the organs in his body going, so what happened was his system began to shut down and organs started failing and stopped working.” Bella wanted more answers “then what happened daddy?” I explained, “he was sleeping and breathing very shallow” and I demonstrated how he was just barely puffing with his breath, “and he just stopped breathing and was gone to heaven.” She said “that’s very sad and I wish I was older so I could remember my big brudder.”
I don’t share these personal thoughts and moments of my family to make you sad. Its just real. Childhood cancer has devastated my family but it did not win. We continue to fight this beast and someday hopefully in my lifetime, if not, certainly in my daughter’s lifetime, we will make a difference and bring better life saving treatments to families like ours. We do this in hope that future families will not have to have a conversation like this with their 7 year-old child. We had an amazing night at the circus with a keepsake photograph of a real life mermaid that was wearing a fake tail, ice cream and a story about big brudder Caleb.
Author: Rob Whan