Today we share the story of Campbell, a young boy fighting cancer, through the eyes of his courageous mother, Jill Dale. Jill and her family are facing Campbell's battle bravely, with positivity, hope, and a strong faith firmly rooted in God. Jill reminds us that children with cancer are just like any other child. "Most of the time, you will see them running down the hall with their IV pole or playing in the activity room. They are an inspiration…they quickly take your mind off of yourself and your problems and make you see what is really important in life…loving others and helping each other through life."
Between our two children, Campbell has always been our healthy eater. He ate fruit around the clock and never blinked when we switched from baby yogurt to Greek yogurt. We really had not noticed any glaring signs that something was wrong, even the weekend before we entered the hospital. On Monday, February 10, he went to school like normal, but got upset because he was having trouble going to the bathroom. We decided to do an enema that afternoon to see if we could get things moving. He was only running a 99* fever, so we weren't too alarmed. The enema didn’t do much for him, so we did another one Tuesday. He had gotten 2 cavities filled that morning so he wasn't in the best of spirits. By that afternoon, his temp was 100, but I decided to call the pediatrician anyways. The nurse told us to do MiraLAX and watch him. Wednesday morning, we kept him home from school. By then we had noticed his belly was a little tight, but seemed only hollow so we thought it was a lot of gas and some constipation. Mid-morning, his temp shot up to 101 and with no relief from the MiraLAX, we called the Dr back and they told us to come in at 2. After running a flu and strep test that were both negative, the Dr looked at his belly and noticed how swollen it was. He sent us to a Radiology group to get an X-ray done. When that came back inconclusive, they did a CT scan that revealed a mass in his abdomen. We were immediately sent to Blaire E Batson Hospital for Children where we were admitted at 5:30. After running more tests, the next day we sat down with our doctors and were told our son had a mass in his belly that needed to be removed. It could be anything from lymphoma, to Neuroblastoma, to a taratoma or Rhabdomyosarcoma (at this time Rhabdo was toward the bottom of the list). On Friday, surgeons were able to remove a 4 1/2 to 5in mass from his abdomen. After surgery Friday, we sat down with our surgeon and were told it wasn't lymphoma, but they weren't sure what it was, so we had to wait until the pathology reports came back. I thought Feb. 14th (the day of the surgery) was the worst day of my life, but Feb. 19th quickly became that day.
On that day, we learned that Campbell had been diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer of the tissue. They were able to remove the entire tumor, but unfortunately there were some studs left in the abdominal region. We were scheduled immediately for a bone scan and PET scan for Monday, Feb. 24th. On Tuesday the 25th, a bone marrow aspiration was done along with the placement of a chemo port. The preliminary results from the bone scan and PET scan came back favorable meaning it had not spread to the bones or other organs. That Tuesday at 5:00, we were told that our son has Stage IV Rhabdomyosarcoma and they had found a spot in his bone marrow.
Campbell and Avery are very close. She is the older of the two (only by a minute) and has definitely taken on the caretaker role over the past 7 months. Our biggest fear throughout our cancer journey has always been what would we do if something happened to Campbell and how would that affect Avery. Twins have a bond that is unlike any. They speak their own language and when one hurts the other hurts. The first night they had ever been apart was his first night in the hospital on February 12th. I remember sending her home with my parents and telling them they may have to sleep upstairs with her or even let her sleep in the room with them. She had never been without Campbell and he had never been without her. Since birth, they have looked out for each other.
These children are my miracle babies. I remember sitting in the conference room with my husband David on one side of the table and a team of doctors on the other. When we received our diagnosis, I told them, through tears, their story. I had a miscarriage a year after David and I were married. In the months to follow, we had trouble getting pregnant. In February 2009, I was convicted about my prayer life and committed to praying for 28 days about a specific need I had. I remember pleading and asking for God to bless us with a child. A month later, we found out we were expecting not only 1 baby, but 2! Being a high risk pregnancy, we knew the complications that could happen. I was put on bed rest at 29 weeks and had them at 33 weeks. They were both very tiny. They both went immediately to the NICU, needing oxygen and more time to grow. It was hard to watch them struggle those 3 ½ weeks they were in the NICU, but we brought them home and they thrived. God had answered our prayers and was continuing to show His healing power in our lives. And in my mind, we had faced our struggle and my babies were healthy and doing great.
It’s a balancing act. He doesn’t understand his diagnosis and prognosis. As his parents (and adults) we do. We know that we are fighting the battle of our lives, of his life. When we received his diagnosis on February 25th, I remember being numb and feeling helpless. Our world had changed in an instant without warning. One minute, your biggest worry is will he ever sleep through the night and the next minute, it’s “Will he survive to sleep through the night?” Our diagnosis was grim…as is any Stage IV cancer. There wasn’t a 100% survival rate, but it wasn’t 0% either. We didn’t want statistics; we only wanted to know what the plan was to give him the best chance at living a long, healthy life. We signed the papers to begin treatment and told the Dr. to do whatever needed to be done to save Campbell. The one thing that stood out in my mind was David telling the Dr. we know the Great Physician (Jehovah Rapha) can heal Campbell, not doctors or medicine…HE provides the means to do it. We decided from that day forward, we would not lie down and give up. Someone has to be in the success percentage to have that number, so why not Campbell. We know that if God wanted to heal him at any point in this journey, HE can and HE will, but until then, we will trust HIS ways and not ours. We know God is in control…HE promises never to leave us or forsake us, so we trust HIM and rest in HIS promises. HE is Jehovah Rapha. Isaiah 40:28-31 v. 31: “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Where is Campbell treated?
Campbell is being treated at Blair E Batson Hospital for Children. We are so thankful to have such a wonderful hospital here in Jackson and even in Mississippi. The care we have received has been excellent. The nurses and doctors truly love these children and want each one to be a success story. You can tell that they love what they do…to do their jobs, they have to. They deal with life and death on a daily basis and it takes a special person to do their jobs.
What is the best thing about having Campbell treated in a Mississippi hospital?
Being able to stay in Jackson close to our support system - family, friends, and our church family at First Presbyterian - has been awesome. We live in Madison and we are fortunate that because of our close proximity to the hospital, we can do some of our chemo outpatient. It also helps to keep our family intact…Avery can go to school and still attend her different activities without much interruption and she and Campbell aren’t separated for very long at all. My husband can also continue working at his 2 clinics (Briarwood Animal Hospital and Millcreek Animal Clinic) without too much interruption when we aren’t in the hospital. We also were able to do our radiation therapy at UMC. We ended up having to radiate his entire abdomen…something that is rare and even rarer for children. The Radiation Oncology team at UMC took wonderful care of Campbell (and us) for 24 treatments of radiation…5 days a week for 5 weeks.
A year ago, I would never have imagined I would be talking about my child’s cancer…even 7 months ago when we received our diagnosis. Getting up in the morning was a daily struggle. I would wake up in the morning and within 5 minutes, our new reality would hit me. I begged and pleaded for God to take this cup from us, to heal our child right then and there. Going through those first weeks was hard, but one day, a peace washes over you and you know that you have to do it for your child. He doesn’t know how grim his diagnosis is, only the adults around him do. For the time we have him here, we want to give him the best life possible…filled with joy and happiness. That’s what everyone wants for their child. No one knows how long our life will be… As much as I wish my child didn’t have to go through this, what God is doing in our lives, in the life of our family, is something I wouldn’t want to miss. I came to terms months ago with his cancer and healing. As much as I want to see him healed on this earth, I also know that may not be God’s will. We are all placed on this earth for a purpose and when HE sees fit to call us home HE will. Our purpose on earth is to bring HIM glory, honor and praise…however HE achieves that (through living a long life here or being called Home) I must remember, that it is HIS will and not mine.
My best advice would be if you don’t have a personal relationship with Christ that is first and foremost. Knowing HIM as my personal Lord and Savior has given me (and my husband) a peace that surpasses all understanding. HE gives us hope and we are stepping out in faith praying and believing that HE will heal our son. The army of people we have praying us through this journey, feeding us constantly over the past 7 months, taking care of us, and just loving on us has been unbelievable.
Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to family and friends…none of us like to be a burden on someone, but if people offer to help, let them! That is part of life…ministering to others…being the hands and feet of Jesus. I wish I could list each and every person that has been that to us, but I know I would leave someone out. Life is hard; we were never promised it would be easy. Life can also change in an instant. Life is precious…enjoy each and every minute you have with those you love and hug them a little tighter each day.
What do you want people to know about childhood cancer?
Childhood cancer does not discriminate - it occurs regularly, randomly and spares no ethnic group, socioeconomic class or geographic region. The causes of most childhood cancers are unknown and not strongly linked to lifestyle or environmental risk factors, unlike many adult cancers. Things just happen that are out of your control. It’s always heartbreaking when you are on 3c (the cancer floor at Batson) and a new diagnosis is admitted. You hurt for the family and the long journey you know they have ahead. But by visiting 3c, you will see that these children are just like any other child.
There are so many ways people can get involved including volunteering at Batson or becoming a Friend of Children’s Hospital. Childhood cancer is very underfunded and more money is needed to research and find a cure for the different types of childhood cancer. Get involved! I promise you will be blessed by the people you meet at Batson.
Thank you Jill Dale for sharing your son's brave story!