There are a lot of things that happened to my family in a very short period of time that changed our lives forever. In August of 2008, my father-in-law passed away from a brain tumor and in December of that same year, we lost everything in a house fire. It seemed as if things couldn’t get any worse. Little did I know, our faith was about to be truly tested.
It all started a few months later when my daughter started seeing spots and vomiting. At first I thought it was just a virus that was going around, but something didn’t seem quite right. I don’t know if it was mother’s intuition or God or my late father-in-law screaming at me from heaven, but I kept hearing a voice inside my head saying, “Take her to Children’s!” I’m not one to overreact, so looking back it’s kind of surprising that I called my husband and told him we were going to Cincinnati Children’s. That night, a CAT scan confirmed our worst fears.
The year 2009 is a year I will never forget. It was the year that changed my whole outlook on life. Hearing the words “your child has cancer” had that effect on me. I’ve heard the sad stories of children diagnosed with cancer, and seen the unimaginable stories on TV. Never in a million years would I have thought that my daughter would be one of them. These weren’t things that I thought would happen to my family, they were things that I heard about happening to someone else and that I would pray for, or try and sympathize with. When it happened to my daughter, I didn’t know how to react. I felt helpless, angry, scared, shocked, and numb all at the same time. It felt like I was in a dream, and I tried to reassure myself that the doctor didn’t just tell me that my daughter had a germinoma brain tumor the size of an egg growing in her brain. My beautiful daughter who was just playing in her 7th grade basketball game last weekend. I tried to pretend that it wasn’t happening because I couldn’t let myself go to that dark place that was the reality of what was really happening.
We as mothers do everything we can to protect our children. I became lost when I realized that I couldn’t protect her from this. I had to put all of my hope and trust into doctors and nurses that I had never met before. My daughter’s life was in their hands and there was nothing that I could do. So I did the only thing I could. I took a deep breath, shut off my emotions, and prayed that God sent these angels in disguise (her doctors) to make my child better.
The year 2009 is still hard to talk about. I watched her go through brain surgery, four rounds of chemo, and thirty treatments of radiation. Instead of taking my daughter to get her hair done, I sat in our living room brushing her hair and putting it in a pile to save for her. She wanted to save every last strand. Instead of going to a fancy restaurant, we sat in a hospital bed eating our dinner and playing cards. Instead of watching her giggle with her friends, I watched her suffer through the effects of her chemo treatments. These are memories I never thought I would share with my daughter, but I treasure every one of them. I got to watch her strength, courage, and faith grow each day. The doctors and nurses who were strangers to me became like family. They treated my daughter like they would their own. Thanks to them I now get to make new memories. I have seen the excitement in my daughter’s face as she drove a car by herself for the first time, and I have had the joy of taking lots of pictures of her in her prom dress. I now realize what a special gift these moments are.
The night of the house fire we planned on picking out our Christmas tree, so boxes of ornaments were stacked all over the living room. A few weeks after the fire, my dad and I went through some of the boxes that were pulled from the remains of our house. He opened a blackened box, and I was thrilled to see our Christmas ornaments inside. They were in perfect condition with no smoke damage. As I looked through them, I saw our list of whose turn it was to put the angel on the tree that year. The angel had been lying on top of the list, which was blackened a little by the fire. When I looked closer, I realized the paper that contained the list had a perfect outline of an angel around it — wings, halo and all. Then I saw whose year it was to place the angel on the tree. Abbie’s.
The significance of this moment didn’t occur to me until after Abbie’s diagnosis. Some may believe that the preservation of the angel and the outline it created on the list was just a coincidence. But I know better. I believe it was a sign, showing us that everything would be okay. Abbie would be watched over by angels when we needed them the most.
Today the paper with the angel outline is preserved in a frame, along with a picture of our house after the fire. We will never forget 2009 and we will always hold the following seven-letter word very close to our hearts, which is etched on that same frame: B-E-L-I-E-V-E.
Editor’s note: We recently asked the Gebauer family to help us tell Cincinnati Children’s story in a TV commercial. Here is a behind-the-scenes look:
Related post: Abbie describes how her grandfather’s letter was a beacon of hope during her battle with cancer.