When considering writing about our cancer experience I thought, “Who am I to share? Our son survived, but many others have lost this battle.”
Yes, he survived. But I am realizing his survival does not minimize his fight or the journey of our family. We had an experience that others might learn from and find strength in. On that premise, I share part of our story.
Kaleo was 7 months old when he was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma. On the ride home, I cried. I needed to get it out of my system so I could deal with the journey ahead.
My husband came up with a game plan. He explained we would deal with everything that was within our control, and leave the rest to God. This attitude was our emotional saving grace. It allowed us to advocate and be emotionally stable for both of our boys. Had we allowed ourselves to be consumed by fear, it would have only fueled negative thoughts.
Admittedly, at times I would think of the meaning of Kaleo’s name and get emotional. Kaleo means ‘The Voice’. For us that meant, ‘not a lot needs to be said, just have value in what you speak.’ Throughout his treatment though I feared Kaleo would never have the chance to find his own voice.
Those moments were the hardest.
There were times during his treatment that Kaleo would need to be held down. I did it… I held him down. I would never let a nurse do that job. My perspective was this; ‘I am his safe person and he will NEVER see me walk out the door.’ I held him tight and calmly told him it was okay to be mad. I had to emotionally disconnect from being “Mom.” Those moments had nothing to do with me. They were only about helping my son. Not once have I regretted those temporary emotional discomforts.
After 11 months and nine rounds of chemotherapy, Kaleo’s eye and the cancer that had grown in it were removed. I was grateful for this new stage, yet I felt lost. Mentally I was still on the fight. More than half of his first 18 months were spent dealing with cancer. How would I adjust to having a healthy baby boy?
Today I am still in fight mode, but with new direction. I continue to advocate for my family and search for how I can help others who relate to our story. My husband and I walked side by side in this journey, which has made our relationship incredibly strong. We still have the same attitude in life that we started with on that first day of diagnosis. Kaleo is now 4 years old and is finding his voice.
Maria Ilac, 2019 Washington Mother of the Year, is a wife and mom of two wonderful children. Her youngest son was diagnosed with cancer at seven months old and successfully beat the disease. Through this experience Maria has discovered her passion to teach others both how to advocate for their children and inclusion awareness. She aspires to one day begin speaking publicly through lectures and seminars about these passions. Maria received a Bachelor’s of Science in Earth Science, majoring in Geology, creating a career that has landed her at several energy companies. Currently Maria works as a technical software trainer at one such company. In just the last five years she has taught over 1000 people how to use complex technical systems that aid them in their jobs. She has received several awards and recognition for her accomplishments at work. Read more about Maria here…