After my daughter Alice passed away, I was thrown into the realm of child-loss. It's a club no one wants to join, but its members support and uplift one another in a truly miraculous way.
It is a heartbreaking and terrible society, but it is also overflowing with some truly inspirational people. The majority of the people I have met through my experience, are mothers. These are the kind of women you can easily imagine fighting off a lion with her bare hands to protect her kids. Women who love their families so fiercely, that the mantle of sorrow they carry with them, is matched only by their mantle of strength.
One such woman who I have had the absolute pleasure of corresponding with these last few months, is Savanna Tate. Savanna is kind and humble. She is has a quiet, gentle spirit, and yet at the same time is seriously hardcore. I want to be more like her when I grow up, but for now we just have one thing in common; we have both lost a child. Here is her story:
"Being a mother to six children completed me. I had three children already, but at the ultrasound for what was supposed to be our 4th and final, we found out we were actually pregnant with triplets. I battled through a difficult pregnancy and welcomed 3 perfect babies to our family.
Our day to day life far surpassed what I had envisioned pre children. My kids were happy and the babies were magical additions. Life was perfect.
When our babies were nine months old, Hayes, our youngest triplet started getting sick. Nothing outrageous at first. I remember taking him to the pediatrician, not being able to put my finger on any one symptom, just explaining that something seemed off with Hayes. He was sleeping much more and he was irritable when he was awake. I was sure he had an ear infection and when the doctor said he was healthy and fine, I decided that my once happy baby must just be going through a grumpy phase.
But, it got worse.
My mom gut was screaming at me that something was seriously wrong. Mom gut is a real thing! I know that now. Within weeks of that pediatricians appointment, Hayes began to use his left hand less and less, he could no longer sit up and he slept almost constantly. What finally pushed us over the edge was when he could no longer hold down food. He would drink an entire bottle and then immediately throw it up. Not just a little spit up, like projectile vomit his ENTIRE bottle!
It was horrifying. Three weeks after his first signs of a problem, my husband Steve and I took him to the ER.
Driving up to Primary Children's that day was devastating. We knew we were headed into a life changing event. We were silent as we drove and tears flowed freely. I didn't know exactly what we were going to face, but I knew that our life was shifting and that our sweet Hayes was in desperate need of help.
The ER doctors were amazing. They took our worries seriously and had compassion in their eyes. They knew something wasn't right either. We took Hayes in for a CT scan and then waited in the room for the results. I was holding Hayes in my arms, stroking his soft cheek as he slept; every once and a while he let out a little moan of pain. A few minutes later the doctor walked in and told us she had an answer. She pulled up an image on the screen that I will never forget.
A large mass was growing inside of my babies head...a monster that was making an entrance and shifting our lives. I screamed. I am a very quiet person. I don't like attention, but in that moment I let go of every inhibition I had ever created and I cried...I wailed. An out of body experience like my body was releasing a part of me that I hadn't met before. I held Hayes and instinctively rushed for the door, as if escaping that room was going to save him. But, there was no running from the monster. It had made its entrance and it was the beginning of the fight.
The next morning Hayes went in for surgery. We were scared to death. We were warned by the surgeon that he might not be able to remove the entire mass, because of the risk of bleeding out. We knew he had residual tumors on his spine, but the first step for killing this cancer was going to be removing this tumor. We pleaded for success.
We waited in the Ronald McDonald room at Primary Children's. I sat with my face in my hands and prayed as I waited. After what seemed like forever, my husbands phone rang and the surgeon let us know Hayes had finished and the doctor wanted to sit down with us. We met in a meeting room with our doctor and my heart beat in my head. I had never felt so nervous before. It was in that meeting that we received our first glimpse of hope. The doctor explained that he had removed the entire tumor. A full resection; a miracle.
A few weeks later we received the pathology results of the tumor. Our sweet baby boy had brain cancer. An extremely rare brain tumor called Choroid Plexus Carcinoma. We googled the term and we were immediately knocked down, hope broken, again.
We started chemo on January 30, 2016. We had a long road ahead of us. The plan was to go through 6 rounds of intense chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant. And it began. Quite anticlimactically as the poison was pumped into his central line. I say anti climactic because I was expecting immediate vomit and sickness. I had never seen anyone go through chemo so I didn't know what to expect. He was happy as could be and seemed entirely unaffected. This was going to be easy....so I thought!
Each round consisted of 8 straight days of chemo. On about the 10th day was when he got symptoms. It started with extreme nausea and vomiting and shifted over a few days to mouth sores. Mouth sores are the equivalent of cankers that coated his mouth all the way down his throat into is GI tract. He was miserable! He refused to swallow for at least two days and we would have to use a mouth vacuum to suck out his excess saliva. It was awful. But the scariest was at about day 13-14 of the cycle. He would get extremely high fevers and became very weak. This was scary because he had no white blood cells to protect his immune system and so the risk of infection always sky rocketed.
After about 20 days in, Hayes was feeling better and we were usually able to finally go home. He spent about 20 days away from his home and siblings every round. It was always the same roller coaster of sickness followed by about a week home. Then we would go right back to the hospital and start another round again. It was torture. But, to get him better, I always clung to the hope that we were killing the cancer! That we were getting him better for a long boring life.
After completing six hellish rounds, the scans showed us that the chemo had done its job and Hayes got to ring the bell! It was bliss and I was so proud of my baby!
To celebrate, we planned a family vacation to Disneyland. All of our kids had battled through the past 9 months and they deserved to celebrate their accomplishment. Seeing Hayes with Mickey was one of those moments I will never forget. He was happy, a regular boy without wires and tubes or hospital rooms! It was the happiest time of our lives!
On the drive home from California, Hayes threw up. He threw up several times. It was happening again. Those all too familiar symptoms that I had known so well from 9 months before. They were back and the pit in my stomach returned.
The doctors did scans and we were officially informed of the devastating news. Our babies cancer was back and this time, they couldn't do a thing. It was located in an area of his brain that controlled the vomit reflux. He was vomiting uncontrollably and within hours of his scans his right eye started to "drift". My beautiful perfect 19 month old boy was being overcome by the monster and I felt more broken than I knew was possible. I didn't know how I would survive, how any of us would.
The doctors arranged for Hayes to come home on hospice. We kept him comfortable with morphine and he slept the days away. I didn't leave his side. For an entire week I held my boy, stroked his hair and watched him peacefully sleep. It was sad and awful, but I felt closer to heaven than ever. I felt the angels near and knew my baby was going to be mine!
On December 3, 2016, I held my baby as he took his last labored breath. I watched his heart stop beating and felt his sweet spirit leave. We didn't experience the miracle I had prayed so hard for. But I did receive the miracle of seeing the beauty that this life can give. The beauty that comes with family and motherhood. Everyday we had with Hayes was a miracle. He showed us pure joy and pure love through the most intense pain humanly possible. He was my miracle baby. I am so proud of him! We live each day honoring him, talking about him and telling our kids we are a family forever. Hayes will always be with us."
Even before Hayes' passing, his parents started the Hayes Tough Foundation whose, "goal is to support families affected by cancer, to raise awareness and funding to cure this disease". They have hosted 5k's to fundraise for cancer research and have helped many families who have endured similar trials to theirs. They are truly a light in this difficult world. They lift others, even when they themselves need to be lifted, and I am honored to know them.
If you want to learn more about the Tate family and their journey you can do so on any of the following platforms.