(as published in Spring 2013 issue of our free newspaper, Cool Kids Connection)
Our family was complete. In March 2004, my wife Tammy and I adopted our sixth child. Everything seemed to be going well until February 18, 2007 when our world fell apart.
“Until that Sunday, we had no idea there was anything wrong with our beautiful, happy, confident five-year-old daughter Juliana,” said Tammy. “She came into our room that morning complaining about a bump under her right arm.”
The bump turned out to be a swollen lymph node; we discovered the next day at the pediatrician's office that she had a tumor on her right forearm. After x-rays and an MRI, we received that awful call from the doctor; it appeared that the tumor was cancerous and had metastasized to the lymph node. Juliana had stage 3, group 3 Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma.
I remember that phone call. I held Tammy in my arms as she sobbed. I questioned what we had done wrong to deserve this attack on our little girl. Why would we be “called” to adopt Juliana, only to lose her to a horrible disease? As a dad (like most dads), I just wanted to “fix it” and help my little girl be a little girl.
We had adopted Juliana from Minsk, Belarus in August 2003 when she was 20 months old. She had crossed eyes and a personality that was – and is – infectious. I remember how she jumped into my wife’s arms when we met her for the first time. It felt so natural for us to be together forever.
Together as a family – and with the prayers and support of so many people and organizations – Juliana was able to beat the cancer and feel good again. She thrived, grew taller and her hair grew back. Then our life collapsed again. In March 2011 the cancer returned in Juliana’s right thigh. She underwent 36 weeks of chemotherapy and five more of radiation. Last time the radiation burned her badly.
Every single day I thought I was going to lose “My Little Sunshine” who makes me happy when my skies are grey. Juliana brightens every place her little feet wander. Her courage lifts those who are down and gives me hope for a bright tomorrow. Her hugs pick me up while – as her dad – I’m supposed to be picking her up! Her courage and attitude wipes me out. It’s incredible!! She’s smiles so much, regardless of her pain.
Juliana had just finished treatment when my family was at the funeral of my wife’s uncle. While standing in the graveyard, Juliana told her mom that she was in pain and felt like she was going to pass out. We knew something was wrong … again. It was June 2012 and the cancer had returned for the third time, this time in her pelvis and in her chest cavity, pushing on her aorta (the main blood vessel near the heart).
OH MY GOD! She’s a goner, I thought. It felt like someone had slammed me in the stomach with a baseball bat. I cried and cried for a long time. The doctor indicated that there was not much hope. How could I face that possibility of losing my baby?
After quite a bit of time of grieving about the possibility of my child not making it through her battle, I began to look back at Juliana’s life. The other two times when she faced cancer, she placed her faith in her Mommy and Daddy. This time she was doing the same. Each and every day Juliana was struggling with nausea, bowel issues, hair falling out in clumps, depression, and many tears about spending days and days in the hospital every month. Yet she never stopped being a little girl.
My wife and I did our very best to keep her laughing while remembering an old proverb: A cheerful disposition is good for your health. Gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.
I can’t say enough about the thousands of people who have been following Juliana’s journey on facebook and youtube. Their kindness and prayers have kept me sane throughout her journey.
During this, our other five kids (adopted from Russia and Belarus) have been incredible. They are understanding and very patient with Juliana’s struggles. They love her so much. I realize that we could have had kids who griped and complained because everything is about Juliana-Juliana-Juliana. Not these kids. We are so blessed.
This cancer journey I would not wish on anyone on the planet. It is exhausting and it depletes almost all of our hopes and dreams. Yet there have been some upsides:
- Meeting tremendous people who have gone out of their way to help in ways in which they will never know the true impact on our family;
- Organizations like Cool Kids Campaign whose patient understanding “lifts our load” at times when we thought we would collapse;
- Knowing that we, the Carver family, are not alone and there are so many families who have gone through so much more; this helps to keeps our lives in perspective;
- Knowing that there is a “higher power” that loves my Juliana more than I can possibly imagine; this helps me to view life from a higher perspective.
Has this journey been easy? No way! Do I know what the future holds for our family? No way! I do know this, however, that Juliana’s courage, through all of her struggles, gives me hope to get up and spread her positive attitude and energy to the entire world.
That’s why I do my radio show and blog that impacts tens of thousands of people each month … to make a difference … just like Juliana has made a difference in my life.
I love you, Juliana!!
John Carver lives in Manchester, Maryland and is an inspirational writer, speaker, radio talk show host and pastor of Faith Outreach Chapel in Baltimore. Feel free to contact John at 410-905-8336, firstname.lastname@example.org or on johnwcarver.com. He also maintains a web page for his daughter, Juliana, at caringbridge.org/visit/julianacarver.