Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Never did I dream that when I was taking photos of my sweet girl that she had a large tumour growing in her liver. I was snapping photos of her in her cute birthday outfit. She had just celebrated her 9th birthday. And she had cancer. We just didn't know it yet.

Friday, July 6, 2018

When "Life" Hijacks Your Homeschool Regime

I shared the following post on my facebook page on September 15, 2017 after our whirlwind year of our youngest child's cancer diagnosis. She was diagnosed with stage 3, B-Cell Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and completed an intense chemotherapy protocol of 3.5 months which brought her to remission. 

 "We were asked so many questions about how we were keeping up homeschooling this past year. I’ve been thinking about how to answer what homeschooling looked like (and still looks like) in our family for months. Here’s my attempt at the answer, it's hard to summarize in only a few words! 

I’ve been homeschooling my kids for the entirety of their lives. They’ve never sat in a conventional classroom. It’s a personal decision and has been a great fit for our family. I absolutely love it. (It’s not say that we haven’t missed the benefits of the beautiful community that teachers and classmates make. We had a delicious taste of that community during Eden’s hospitalization when a relative’s class adopted Eden as their own classmate from afar. Through team effort, they held a car wash fundraiser, made and sold bracelets and researched cancer as a group. They showed such compassion for a girl they had never met. We love them for it!) 

Last fall, before Eden became sick, I wrote out a vision for our homeschool to help me stay on track. My hope was that it would help me to make homeschooling decisions that would be true to a common goal. The vision I wrote out is simply, ”To discover truth, beauty and goodness together as a family; and to teach my kids how to order their affections”. (By ordering of affections, I mean to teach my kids what’s important to love in life and in the right order).

Looking back over the past 6 months, we didn’t get a whole lot of “worksheets” and “book work” done. We didn’t do the number of math lessons we normally tackle in a year. But we were able to be together as a family every single day. I believe what we learned this year in the hospital is more than we have learned in all our homeschool years put together. What’s amazing to me is that we stayed true to my homeschool vision for the year… without even trying to. I thought I’d share a few things we learned this year:

Compassion. For the sick kids. For Eden. A world we were thrust into and will forever be part of us." 

Patience. Life didn’t revolve around our own wishes anymore. We had to rely on a new timetable. On new people. On the hospital’s schedule. 

Selflessness. When your little sister opens presents in front of you. Every. Single. Day. Like it’s Christmas or something. To choose to be happy for her and set aside your own mixed feelings. To be okay with her getting far more attention than you ever thought possible. 

Kindness. It goes a long way. When you’re hurting and someone has gone out of their way to love you, it ignites something in you. Our friend’s family motto is so true: Kindness inspires kindness. Booboo’s Beanies was born because of this. 

Positivity. Life is just better when you can see the bright side of any situation you find yourself in. Sometimes you have to dig deep to find it. Eden quickly learned that having no hair isn’t always a bad thing. She loved that it didn’t blow in her face. Getting ready was lots easier if you only have to put a hat on. And her favourite: checking for ticks is much easier on a bald head. 

Don’t shy away from hard things. I can’t help but think of our nurses and doctors. To choose this field of work. What would we do without them? What an inspiration they are. Both the girls have added “nursing” as a possible future profession. 

Bravery. As the saying goes, courage in not a lack of fear but the ability to move forward in spite of it. And to take it a step further, I’d always ask Eden before a needle or other scary situation, “Who makes you brave?”. To which she’d respond, “God does.” 

We didn’t abandon academics during our hospital days but at the same time, they weren’t our first motive. The kids did manage to intentionally work their way through many math lessons and work sheets. But what really amused me is is how organically “academics” were achieved along the way. 

Clocks. From the long, boring hospital days in her hospital bed, Eden learned how to tell time. To the minute. 

Handwriting. Thank you cards. 

Measurements. Eden became a pro at reading measurements of metric volume. We had to add up and record the amount of millilitres of liquid that she consumed. And on Eden’s ward, everything that “goes out” is also measured and recorded by the patients too. By the time Eden and I would be back in her room from the bathroom trip, I’d forget the millilitres that had gone out. Luckily, Eden would remember and I would jot it down. We made a good team. 

Percentages. It’s a very quick and important math lesson when you hear that the tumour inside of your body has shrunk by 50%. 

Spelling and vocabulary. The kids would journal during the day. They learned quite the new vocabulary and with the correct spelling. “Mom, how do you spell Chemotherapy?”. “Hey dad, are we still in isolation?”. 

I started to have some complex feelings about how our upcoming homeschool is supposed to look this year. How can anything in our lives ever be the same again after everything we’ve gone through? What’s important to us now? I’ve come to the realization that the same homeschool vision I wrote last year applies to us this year and every year. To discover truth, goodness and beauty and to learn to order our affections. The world is our classroom. Our Lord is our teacher."

Hebrews 4:16

"Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
In time of need. God saw that we were in a time of need. Desperate need. We were terrified and in shock that our baby girl had a monstrous sized, aggressive cancer in the form of a tumour taking up residence inside her abdomen. We didn’t know if she would live through this. But we knew that God saw us in our agony and pain. And He cared enough to speak to us. Yes, the God of the universe spoke… to us! Personally. Not audibly, but in the way He most often speaks to people. Through His Word, the Bible. 
My niece was fervently praying for us on March 15, 2017, the day that everything came crashing down for us. A doctor’s check up leading to ultrasounds, ambulance rides and the unutterable words, “We’ve discovered a large mass…”. My niece, only 10 years old at that time, knew God was telling her to turn to Hebrews 4:16 in her Bible:
"Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
I’m still amazed that God used a child to minister to us as we ached over our child. Faith like a child. Simple, uncomplicated faith. If an adult told us that God gave them a Bible verse just for us, would we have perhaps doubted that it was really God? But it was through a child that God chose to speak to us and comfort us. And it was through God’s own Child, Jesus that we were given access to God’s throne. We were always meant to have a close relationship with God. However, our own sin separated us from God. God is Holy and perfect and just. Sin can’t be in His presence. Why did He allow us to sin in the first place? He chose to give us the freedom of choice- He’s not a dictator and He won’t force us to love and serve Him. We can choose to. Through Adam and Eve, sin entered the world and spread to all men. With sin, came death. It was never God’s plan and it makes my heart ache when I hear people blame God for allowing people to get cancer, for allowing people to get killed by drunk drivers, for allowing people to hurt children. Oh, how God’s heart aches when He sees us drowning in the messes of this broken world. The world is broken. But God went took the most extreme path to make things right- and that’s through the life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. The sacrifice that God made, that Jesus made, is ineffable. It’s hard to comprehend with our finite minds and we have to lean into faith to trust God’s bigger plan in life. His plan of eternal life. 
Jesus made it possible for us to draw near to God with confidence.  Jesus was acquainted with grief, deep grief, and through His suffering we can be close to the Father. 
And we can now boldly approach our Father and receive His mercy and grace in our time of need. Mercy and grace simply mean compassion, lovingkindness, favour. God desires to lavish us in His lovingkindness. His heart is for the brokenhearted. His compassion is the essence of who He is. 
In the midst of our anguish in life, we often ask why God hasn’t rescued the world yet. Why hasn’t that promised return of Jesus happened yet? The Bible says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise (that Christ will return) He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). 
As we journeyed through cancer with our sweet little girl, I’m thankful for my faith in my loving Father. His presence brought me deep comfort then and continues to sustain me as I live in the aftermath of the diagnosis. 
I’m thankful for the thoughtful gift a friend gave to Eden. This necklace with the Hebrews 4:16 Bible verse inscribed on it. Eden wrote Hebrews 4:16 on everything through her hospital stay. While she may not fully understand the depth of the meaning of the verse, she does understand that God cares deeply about her. He knew the number of hairs on her head before she lost all of her hair, “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Luke 12:7.
And Psalm 56:8 touched us deeply as we cried so many tears over the last year, "You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book." 
We can know God personally, we can have a close relationship with Him. But where to start? If we want to know what He’s like, take a look at His Son. He came to us in person so that we can know God’s character personally. Jesus' life and His words are recorded in the first four books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If you don’t have a Bible, you can download the app: Youversion. It has the Bible on it and reading plans and devotionals. Nothing is more meaningful in life than getting acquainted with the One we owe credit to for the very breath we are breathing. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Our Journey Through Childhood Cancer

Our cancer story begins around Eden's ninth birthday. Our first clue to her illness was that she was experiencing many fevers and colds over the course of a few weeks, leaving her feeling tired and lethargic. Considering that it was cold and flu season, I wasn't too concerned. Yet, I didn't like how pale she looked- even her lips seemed to have no colour to them.   March 15, 2017- It was after Eden started complaining about tummy pain in addition to everything else that I finally took her in to see our family doctor. He immediately recognized that something formidable was happening and he proceeded to set up an emergency ultrasound at our local hospital. When he cancelled his other appointments to meet us at the hospital, I knew that it was serious. Right after the ultrasound, Eden was hooked up to an IV and the doctor let us know that a mass was discovered in her liver. She needed to be transferred by ambulance to McMaster Children's Hospital to clearer imaging and a treatment plan.

Meanwhile, Eden's 10 year old cousin, Lidia, began to fervently pray at home for Eden. While praying, she felt God tell her to look up Hebrews 4:16 in her Bible. She wrote it out with a prayer and drew a picture of Eden. This verse was our lifeline during our journey. It was a clear message to us that God would not abandon us- that we were never alone. His love would carry us through, where ever the journey might take us.

The same evening at McMaster Children's Hospital, an emergency CT scan revealed that the tumour had spread from her liver to her bowels. Three separate tumours bulged in her small body, two in her liver and one in her bowels- extending her little tummy. The one was bleeding and Eden needed a blood transfusion right away.

The team of doctors surrounded us and let us know that Eden was very sick and that she had their full attention. They let us know that she would certainly have chemotherapy as part of her treatment plan. My heart sank. Tumour? Chemo? So much devastating news and all on the same day. Eden had been fasting all day and now she had to continue to fast until the next day so that she could get a biopsy and a PICC line inserted. 

That first night in the hospital, I lay awake the entire night- begging God to let me keep my baby. At some point in the night, I decided to give up control. I knew in my heart that no one loved my baby more than Jesus, and that He'd take the very best care of her- whether it would be on earth or in heaven. I envisioned myself placing her in His arms. Peace flooded over me and I knew that He would be near to us through everything. I could rest in His goodness. His good and loving character did not change, only my circumstances had.
Photo credit Lisa MacIntosh Photography

The biopsy results revealed that Eden had B-Cell Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Stage 3. It's an extremely fast growing cancer and the doctors believe that the tumours grew over a course of a few short weeks. It's also a curable cancer that responds well to chemo. The protocol was 1 light round of chemotherapy followed by 4 rounds of high dose chemotherapy. This would take place over the next 4-6 months. We were told, "a very rough ride but high cure rates."

It broke our hearts to tell Eden that she had cancer. She had no words -but her trembling body and quiet sobs expressed everything she wasn't able to say. Together we sang in shaky voices, "Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus". While singing, I focused so hard on staying strong for Eden that the last line of the song escaped my memory- but Eden remembered it and sang it out alone in her sweet little voice, "Oh, for grace to trust Him more". That has become my favourite line in the song.

Eden's hair loss was devastating to her. It started falling out in chunks on Easter Sunday. Through her experience with hair loss, our initiative Booboo's Beanies came into existence. 

The end of treatment came not even 4 months after diagnosis. What a celebration! Our  nurses placed a banner on our door and many of our wonderful hospital staff signed it with encouraging notes. 

Today marks the one year anniversary of our diagnosis day. So much has happened over that time. Biopsies, PET scans, CT scans, sedated lumbar punctures, chemo, nausea, hair loss, fingerpokes, week-long hospital stays, ultrasounds, encouragement from friends, new friends, the launching of Booboo's Beanies, a Disney trip. Eden is being monitored by ultrasounds every 3 months. She just heard the good news that she doesn't have to come in every month for blood work, now it's every three months. 

If your child has been recently diagnosed with cancer, I encourage you to not allow your mind to wander to the "what if's" and the "if only's". Stay in the moment. There is joy in the journey and you will meet the most incredible people along the way.


Our eyes have been opened to the world of childhood cancer. We have fallen in love with all the kids and families we met along the way. When I reflect on them, I think of Shakespeare's quote, "How beauteous mankind is. Oh brave new world that has such people in it!". We want to make a difference in the world of childhood cancer. It begins with awareness which is part of the reason why we share our personal story so openly. We've learned from personal experience that "No one fights alone". We all need each other. We can't travel this difficult path alone. Small actions go a long way. A hug, a listening ear, a gas card, a thoughtful gift, a handwritten card. These things bring smiles in a hurting world. 

And smiles change the world.


Wednesday, August 3, 2016


It's always lovely to see Ingrid. She recently welcomed a little member to her family: a little Chihuahua named Wesley.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Pioneer Day

What a joy to experience a pioneer school day. We visited the Wilson MacDonald Memorial School Museum in Selkirk last month. Dana Stavinga plays the part of the school marm so well!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Smith Family

This sweet family has had quite a few additions since I've photographed them last!