God can use the toughest times for His higher purposes.
by Cristi Brianne Sermon – As-Told-To Priscilla Tate Gilmore
My daughter, Addison (Addi for short), celebrated her four-year birthday on March 11, 2015, and was feeling fine. But that night she had an accident in bed.
I inwardly groaned. Oh no. Not again. Though Addi had been potty trained, the bed-wetting continued for two weeks, right up to the night before we left on a trip to Hood River.
On Saturday morning, March 28, our entire family drove to Hood River for my grandma’s funeral service. After the ceremony, everyone went out to eat, but Addi showed no interest in eating. She looked pale and complained that her stomach hurt.
My mom, a pediatric nurse, thought Addi was car sick or had a stomach bug, so she and I decided to spend the night in a hotel so we could care for Addi. My husband, Chris, drove home to Salem so he could go to work Monday morning.
Addi’s pain worsened. My mother’s heart hurt to see my daughter in pain that we didn’t understand and couldn’t control.
Around ten o’clock that night, Addi threw up bile and complained of pain in her stomach. It was getting even worse.
Sunday morning, my mom drove Addi and I home to Salem.
I immediately called Salem Pediatric Clinic. Because it was the weekend, the call went to Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland. I explained Addi’s symptoms: pale, throwing up, fever, hasn’t eaten. The receptionist directed us to the emergency room at Salem Memorial Hospital.
In the ER, nurses quickly drew Addi’s blood, performed an MRI, and took X-rays. My husband and I stayed all night at our daughter’s side.
The next morning, two doctors walked in and closed the door. One had worked with us the night before, and the other was a specialist. My husband and I looked at each other for a second, thinking This is a big deal.
One doctor spoke. “We are not familiar with what is going on, but we know that there is a mass on Addi’s kidneys that is cancerous. We are transporting you to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland at Oregon Health Science University. They will run more tests and figure out exactly what is going on.”
I was a little anxious about what might come. But trusting, praying, and crying out to the Lord was where our hearts were at that moment. Family and friends joined us in seeking God’s help.
Addi and I rode to Portland in an ambulance. My husband rushed home to get my dad, while Mom watched our one-year-old, Henry.
After arriving, we met with Dr. Linda Stork, a pediatric hematologist and oncologist.
On April 1, Dr. Stork came into Addi’s room and explained her condition so we could understand. “We found out that it is Stage 4 Wilms tumor, a rare kidney cancer, also known as nephroblastoma, that often affects children between the ages of three and four. It has ruptured, and we’re not sure what other organs it has contacted, so we need to do exploratory surgery.”
The word ruptured took my breath away. The world stopped while I tried to get my bearings. Even in this state of shock, I knew the best thing I could do as a mom was pray.
In the next few weeks, there was a lot of praying and hand-holding while Addi was sick with cancer. By His grace, God held us together.
Surgeries and adjustments
Addi went through three surgeries. In the first, Dr. Stork removed only one kidney because the cancer had not spread. In the second surgery, a port was implanted in Addi’s chest so the chemotherapy could get into the bloodstream. Addi had to go back into surgery to fix the port because the tube had twisted, and she wasn’t getting the chemo.
Before chemotherapy started, the doctor said Addi’s appetite and taste buds would change from day to day, week to week. They did. We struggled to keep weight on Addi, but one of the things we could guarantee she would eat was “messy cheese” (nacho cheese sauce). It contained a lot of calories, and Addi loved it. We added it to mac and cheese to build up her calorie intake.
During Addi’s six months of chemotherapy, we traveled from Salem to Portland. But there were a couple of times that we stayed at the Ronald McDonald House because she was so sick.
I was pregnant with my third child and had to take precautions to protect myself and my unborn child against the drugs in the chemotherapy. If there were accidents at home, I had to wear gloves to clean up bile, bowel movements, and urine.
Addi threw up a few times while on chemo and had to have two blood transfusions from donors. I didn’t worry about where the blood came from because I trusted Doernbecher and had peace about it. Before the first transfusion, I refused the doctors’ suggestion about offering Addi marijuana to lessen the pain. God had her covered.
One of the hardest days was June 4 when Addi had to go for another chemo treatment. I suffered with morning sickness and could not take my daughter to Portland, so my parents took her. After they arrived at the facility, my mom called. “Addi is in tears and scared.”
What could I do but cling to the Lord? Addi and I prayed over the phone. Then I told her, “Addi, I’m sorry Mommy can’t be there for you. I wish I was there.”
She got through it, but I was a wreck. The emotions of being pregnant, my daughter’s sickness, and not being with her were too much.
Addi had beautiful brown shoulder-length hair, but it started to fall out in clumps. We knew it was just a matter of time before she was bald, so my dad and I started shaving her head.
It was hard to do, so my dad lovingly intervened and took over the shaving. He was such a Godsend at that moment. As I feared, Addi’s shaved head made her look sicker.
During her nine months of chemotherapy, Addi underwent one week of radiation. She was tired but held up well.
The last time we saw Dr. Stork was on October 1, Addi’s last day of treatment and last surgery to remove the port.
The oncology team told us that during the next five years, we would need to take precautions with our daughter’s health. So when Addi started kindergarten, my husband and I met with the school nurse. We made it plain that if a fellow student became ill, we would need to take her out of classes until the sick child could stay home.
Also, Addi couldn’t play any contact sports for fear of possible damage to her one remaining kidney, so she took up swimming.
Words from God
I knew we couldn’t make it through this ordeal of adjustment without the Lord’s help. In my quiet time, He spoke reassuring words to me: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18, NIV). And Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (NKJV).
Through these scriptures and other assurances, I never doubted God would see us through.
At the five-year mark, February 14, 2020, doctors told us that Addi was cancer free. Praise God! Our hearts sang! To celebrate, we went out for ice cream, and Addi called family members to tell them the good news.
Today Addi is still cancer free and feeling fine. She is on the honor role, plays trumpet, and sings in the choir in middle school. But that’s not the best news. Addi accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior while going through treatments. Is it any surprise that her favorite song is “God’s Not Dead”? God surely gave us living proof of that during our daughter’s ordeal.
Addi wants to be a witness and a light. We have full confidence that God will use her to show others His power in weakness and redemption in pain.
Priscilla Tate Gilmore (a pen name) is a published author of fiction and non-fiction stories, articles, and devotions for kids, teens, and adults. Her writing has appeared in The Christian Journal, Insight, Purpose, LIVE, Power for Living, Keys for Kids, and The Quiet Hour. Priscilla lives in Salem, OR, and has two adult children