This is a powerful guest post by fellow dad Dan Feltwell. Take a deep breath…
When my son Danny was born in 2008, I made some important promises to him. I promised to love him, I promised to protect him, and I promised to give him the best possible life filled with love and adventures. I dreamt of coaching my son in sports and I dreamt of teaching him everything I know.
I was scared and nervous, but I met fatherhood head on. I loved my son more than I could ever explain.
On November 22, 2010, just five months after becoming Danny’s only parent, our world changed. My worries of being a single dad all of a sudden seemed insignificant when I learned my son was fighting for his life.
I wasn’t prepared to hear the words, “Your son has cancer.”
The very real possibility of my 27-month-old son dying hit me hard. I fell to my knees and cried uncontrollably as I begged the doctors to save my son’s life. Now my only dream for my son was for him to live. I wanted to pick him up, but I couldn’t. He had IV tubes in his hands and feet. He had a tube coming out of his chest to relieve his tiny body of the fluid that had collapsed his lung and pushed all of his organs to the left side of his body.
I wanted to hold him tightly and reaffirm my love for him. I wanted to keep my promise of always protecting him. But there was nothing I could say that would take away the fear in his eyes.
My son was dying in front of me and I was completely helpless.
That day, I promised Danny I would never leave his side. I promised him I would do everything I could to get him the best possible medical care.
After nine days in the pediatric intensive care unit, the disease killing my son was finally given a name. Danny was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, a very rare and aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. His chemotherapy treatment started within hours of his diagnosis.
As I watched my son suffer through treatment, I knew there had to be a better way. I was shocked to learn how few treatment options are available for kids like Danny, and I was even more shocked to learn that only 4 percent of the federal funding for cancer research is solely dedicated to childhood cancers. How can we find better treatments, and cures, for childhood cancers if we’re not spending the money to look for them?
I kept my promises to my son. I never left his side. The day I rushed him to the hospital was my last day of work for over three years. I slept in his hospital room with him for all 17-months of his hospitalization. I became his doctor, his nurse, and his caregiver. I witnessed every single dose of chemotherapy he received. I held him every single time he was put under anesthesia for procedures, just so he knew I was there.
Today my little boy is almost 7 years old and in remission, and I still support childhood cancer research through the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, the largest private funder of pediatric cancer research in the world. It’s part of my promise to protect him. If his cancer ever comes back, I need to know there are better treatments available to save his life.
This year, my dream of being Danny’s coach came true. He still suffers from severe and debilitating side effects of his treatment – including nerve pain that prevents him from walking or running very far and crossed eyes due to chemotherapy treatment in his nervous system – but he’s learning what it’s like to be a normal kid. While these side effects break my heart, my beautiful little boy is with me today, and that’s what matters most.
I’ve taught Danny a lot over the years, but he’s taught me even more. He’s taught me to be compassionate and loving. He’s taught me to be patient and to have fun. He’s taught me to keep my promises, to cherish every moment, and to never take anything for granted.
He’s taught me what it means to be a father.
Thanks for sharing this, Dan, and readers, if you’d like to help, I invite you to check out St. Baldricks and consider a donation towards their research and treatment programs for childhood cancer.