In the childhood cancer community there is a big emphasis on the importance of mothers. We are the caretakers. The ones who can make a child’s tears go away with a simple look or touch. God gave mothers an amazing gift to reach their children when oftentimes no one else can. But he also gave children two parents for a reason. And the dads are just as important. They are expected to be strong. The providers. To be able to hold everyone else up in the most difficult times. It is for that reason that dads are often forgotten in the realm of childhood cancer and child loss. They are expected to hold up their wife when she can’t stand from the grief. And to be okay when no one else is. They are expected to stay strong, go to work, and be the force that keeps their family going.
But in reality, the dads are grieving too. They are hurting. They want to buckle in grief. They want to curl up in a ball and cry just as much as their wife does. And their hearts are broken too.
Brett has always been an awesome father. When Olivia was diagnosed with cancer he immediately stepped in and took on the tough tasks that I just couldn’t bring myself to do. He held her down when they had to poke her endlessly for her port access for chemo and blood draws. He took on the difficult task of putting her feeding tube down her nose every time it had to be changed out. He did most of her steroid shots. He did all of this because he loved our daughter and he loved me and knew that it was too much for me! It killed me so he did it. Not because it didn’t kill him just as much, but because God gave him the strength to be that parent and that husband.
Olivia’s dad also took on a lot of the care of our son, Wyatt. While I spent endless hours in a hospital bed with Olivia for chemo and appointments, Brett spent those same endless hours keeping Wyatt entertained. He would walk him around the hospital, coming up with anything to try and keep Wyatt happy and to let him know that he wasn’t the forgotten child.
And in addition to all of this, Brett was also the sole provider for our family financially. He had to go into work no matter what was going on at home. It didn’t matter if we had just found out that her cancer had come back, or if we had just gotten home from a long few days at the hospital, etc he had to go in to be able to pay the bills and keep the health insurance that was paying for the treatments that kept her alive for those 16 months! And so often he felt like he wasn’t doing enough. That by not being home, he wasn’t being a good parent. And he felt so torn because he wanted to be with her all the time too. There were many days that he went into work on very little sleep and with so much weight on his shoulders that he could have easily buckled underneath it.
I miss Olivia. She was my world! I loved her so much. But so did her daddy. He loved her and she loved him. And that relationship and his efforts as a parent are equally as important as mine. So please, let’s remember the cancer dads. They are under just as much stress and if their child doesn’t win their battle on earth, I can promise you that their hearts are just as broken.
Olivia Caldwell Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit that raises money for pediatric brain cancer research. All proceeds benefit our neuro-oncology research team at Children’s Hospital Colorado. You can learn more and donate by visiting www.oliviacaldwellfoundation.org.