Learning to Live a New Normal

Leaving the Weaver Tower of Wolfson’s Children’s Hospital, my son, Ethan, declared, “that’s a pretty cool place.” All he could see was the Tim Tebow room, video games, and a foosball table. We were visiting his friend and baseball teammate, Charles Breen, who was taking up residence there for five days undergoing treatment for Ewings Sarcoma, a rare cancer that targets primarily children and young adults. On that day, Charles was doing well. They hung out, ate popcorn and cookies, and watched Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. What Ethan didn’t understand was that the last time Charles was in for treatment, his body wasn’t responding quite so well. He went days without eating and spent most of his time vomiting. As I relayed that information, Ethan simply responded, “that really stinks.”

When it comes to kids fighting cancer, is there a more appropriate response?

In July of this year, on Charles’ 10th birthday, their family found out that the back pain he’d been dealing with all through the summer all star baseball season was more than anyone expected. As I sat with his mother, Holly, while the boys hung out down the hall, she recounted what it was like to hear the news no parent ever wants to hear.

I’ll never forget what I was wearing or what the room smelled like. I remember every detail when the call came in. My heart stopped and the only thing I could do was hand the phone to my husband. He found me crouched in the corner outside, and I asked him what they said as if I didn’t already know – Charles had cancer. In that corner of the hospital, I had my twenty minutes. Then, I stood up, brushed myself off and prepared myself to fight.

It was mother’s intuition that lead them to this place. Charles had been experiencing back pain for about 4 weeks. At first, they thought it was just the normal pains of a little league baseball pitcher. After chiropractic treatments offered no relief, they went in for an MRI, which originally showed nothing. When the heavy doses of pain medication offered no relief, Holly knew it was something more. What she wasn’t prepared for was the discovery of a tumor wrapped around Charles’ tailbone.

Charles Going Gold

After allowing their son to enjoy his birthday, they sat him down to explain his diagnosis. When it finally sunk in that this was more than just a standard illness, he looked up from his video game and asked, “I have cancer?”

“Yes,” they responded.

“Can they fix it?”


“Ok,” he said matter of factly and then went back to his games like any other ten year old boy.

The Breen family is living what they call their “new normal.” That normal includes 40 weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatments as well as the anticipation of spending both Thanksgiving and Christmas in the hospital. With such a long battle ahead, I was inspired to see how positive and grateful both Holly and her husband, Patrick, were. They are thankful that they both are able to spend so much time with Charles during his treatments.

“Many of the families who are staying here are from out of town or even out of the country. One parent, or sometimes both, must continue working full-time to maintain the benefits needed for treatment. This place is a constant reminder that no matter what you’re going through, someone always has it worse.”

In our non-cancer filled lives, the little things always seem so big – Rushing kids to practice. Fighting over homework. Wondering how to get dinner on the table in the midst of the chaos. As I watched my healthy son hang out with his friend who would later have poison pumped into his body, it was hard not to gain a little perspective. Not only does someone always have it worse, but the struggles in every room on that hall made my stressful days look like a vacation.

“If I’d known, I would’ve let all that stuff go. We would’ve stayed home from baseball practice one night just to have dinner together as a family. I now know what’s important,” Holly said.

The Breen Family
The Breen Family

Although getting Charles well is their main priority, the Breen family isn’t content to stop there.

“When you find out your kid has cancer, you join a club. The club doesn’t discriminate against ethnicity, gender, or social class. No one asks you if you want to join this club and it’s a club no one ever wants to be a part of.”

This club includes sharing meals at the hospital, identifying the newbies with the same shell-shocked look they had right after diagnosis, celebrating milestones with each other, and mourning the setbacks together this disease inevitably can bring.

“Next month, this country will be covered in pink to honor Breast Cancer Awareness Month and that’s a great cause, but I also want to see these kids who are being forced to fight a very adult battle get honored as well. When we beat this disease, our family plans to make a difference.”

These kids and families shouldn’t be fighting this battle alone. As mothers and fathers, we can help bring awareness to a disease that people know exists but find it hard to accept. No one wants to talk about kids with cancer because the idea of something like this hitting our families one day is just too much to comprehend.

#44As we ended our conversation, Holly remembered a recent pool party that Charles was able to attend.

“For that afternoon, I was just Charles’ Mom again. Not the Mom of a kid with cancer. Of course it was back to reality when we returned home, but for one afternoon, it was nice to leave our new normal behind.”

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and the color to honor these kids is Gold. With youth sports season starting up, consider having a “Go Gold” week. Ask the players to wear gold socks or wrist bands in honor of kids fighting cancer. Organize a “Go Gold” day at your office. Research local walks or runs in your area in which you can participate. For Charles’ specific type of cancer, Ewings Sarcoma, the diagnosis is so rare that it makes research funds for a cure hard to come by so every step towards greater awareness can make a huge difference.

Click Here, for more information on Ewings Sarcoma

Christie Pettus
Christie Pettus is a full time working wife and mother living her suburban cul de sac dream in Orange Park, Fl. She is Mom to two awesome teenagers, McKenzie and Ethan, who have come to accept that certain parts of their lives will be blogged about, so they should act accordingly. As graduates of the University of Florida, she and her husband Ryan can be found rooting on their alma mater every chance they get including the more obscure sports. LaCrosse anyone? When she’s not judging her kids' questionable teenage choices, she can be found hiding in a room buried in a good book or writing, editing, and dreaming about being a full-time author.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here