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The day the sky turned gray

The day the sky turned gray

Depending on your age, you likely remember the exact place you were when JFK was killed, or Elvis died, or the Challenger disaster. It’s like that, only different.

I keep replaying that very second – the second when I knew my son had cancer – over and over in my head. But unlike the world’s tragedies that are so far away – this is so very intimate. And life hasn’t yet restarted as it did after those other times – in fact the sky has not yet returned to blue – it continues to be a dark gray that hangs so very heavy.

Perhaps there is no help that I can offer others who may one day find themselves in this same space of darkness – perhaps it is something you must uncover your own way. However, I do hope that just perhaps a few of my early learnings may offer some insight to other moms who may one day face a similar darkness.

We are more than half way through our journey to a cure with an extensive and brutal chemo, surgery and radiation regimen that demands an overwhelming amount of inpatient and outpatient stays. I have found that the little victories along the way have at times allowed the clouds to part and the sun to peek through ever so briefly.

I have no doubt that as we reach the other side of treatment and my son embarks on his life once again cancer-free – my learnings and my views may change – but this is today.

1. One of the most heartwarming things a mom can encounter is the pure feeling of pride in her children. While there is undoubtedly strength in the pride we feel when our child excels in a sporting event, masters a test or reaches out to help others – I have never experienced the level of pride you feel when your child shows the strength and fortitude to embark on the battle of a lifetime. The way my 23-year-old son has fought this devastating news has filled my soul with a glorious feeling of pride – and for that I am grateful.

2. In late October, when we got the news, I recall one of the nurse practitioners telling me “you will really find out who your true friends are.” I was puzzled, and honestly, that was the least of my concerns. But how true those words are today. It isn’t to minimize the appreciation of each and every friend in your life, but the way that some people step up to fully embrace you with love, not to regain the friendship they had with you pre-cancer, but to journey with you to a new world of friendship. They accept that you are unable to give, as your heart and soul are working overtime for your child – yet they continue to provide endless, unrequested, above and beyond acts of kindness and encouragement. Undoubtedly this journey would not be possible without these amazing friends and family members.

3. I’ve spent nearly 22 years of my life in health care. In fact, my son battling cancer has been there with me every step of the way. As a young toddler, he attended the on-site daycare at the hospital where I worked and we commuted in together every day. The highlight of my days was walking to a meeting and passing him playing out on the playground, blowing kisses and waving as I walked by. I digress…I always knew it was the little things in this complex world of health care that truly made an impact on our patients. And now I know this to be truer than I ever realized. To the valet attendant who remembers my son’s name every two weeks when we pull up and is always wearing his yellow “Pray for Jay” bracelet, to the nurse who recalls my son’s passions and always takes the time to talk to him about the his favorite team or his work, to the doctor who gives us hope and belief in our cure, to the night staff who go an extra step to quietly close the door or to whisper as to not wake my son – these are the things we remember.

4. And finally – we could also benefit from a little more kindness. Wow that sounds cliché. I will never forget the day I received difficult news regarding some labs via a call on my cell phone. I turned my car around to get back home to my son. I delayed an extra second as the light turned green and was reaching for a Kleenex when I was greeted by loud horn honks and a nice middle finger from the gentleman behind me. Each one of us has so many stories deep inside – triumphs, defeats, sorrow and joy – that we must maneuver through each and every day. It is remarkable how much light a simple smile or someone holding an elevator as you walk down a hall or a text from a friend letting you know that you are in their prayers or even just someone letting you merge into their lane of traffic – can add to your world of darkness. I have to hope that this experience has enlightened me to be more kind to others.

Of course there are so many other things that I could share and perhaps I will as our journey continues. For today – hug your kids, cherish the moments and don’t sweat the small stuff.

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  1. Lisa Parro

    From one mom to another, you’re an inspiration. Thanks for so openly and honestly sharing your journey. I look forward to reading the next installment when the sky returns to blue and Jay is healthy again. Our prayers go out to you and your family.

  2. Sarah Scroggins

    Thank you so much for sharing your story with all of us here, Kelly Jo. You inspire me in more ways than you can imagine. I think of you and your family every day and pray that Jay’s journey only continues to go up.

  3. Debi Jordan

    With our sons being the same age we’ve shared many stories along their way. I can’t imagine what you are going through but please know I am there still sharing in his successes and setbacks with you. You are all in my prayers every day. This journey you’ve been on caused me to stop and reflect what’s important in life and deepened my appreciation for the great relationship with my son. I’m sure your strength has been instrumental in Jay’s recovery. You inspire more people than you know.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story. You and your family will be in my prayers. I hope that the warmer weather and sunshine will continue to break through the clouds if only for minutes each day.

  5. antoinette charak March 9, 2015 at 11:14 am · Reply

    Thank you for you story and your inspiration.

  6. Shannon Homolka March 9, 2015 at 11:15 am · Reply

    You have such an inspirational and powerful story that it must be shared. I will share your stories with my loved ones and will keep your family in my prayers.

  7. Hope the blue skies and acts of kindness will continue to shine through KellyJo. Thanks for sharing your inspiring, honest and brave story. Having a 23-year old as well, I can only imagine the pain and pride that you share with Jay every day. He is truly blessed to have you by him every step of the way. Sending prayers for healing and strength as you continue the journey….

  8. Jackie Biallas March 9, 2015 at 11:30 am · Reply

    What an inspiring story, thank you so much for sharing it. I will definitely add you and your handsome son to my prayers, and also share your story with family and friends. Your words were very impactful and hope it inspires everyone who reads it. Hopefully soon you can update us with good news and sunshine. God Bless you and your family during this journey.

  9. Suzette Gaines March 9, 2015 at 11:42 am · Reply

    Wow! I’m really sorry to hear about your son, and thank you so much for being transparent about this season in your and your son’s life. My son is also 23 and I can only imaging the pain and thoughts that go through your head. My mom use to say, “when they are babies they tie-up your hands, but when they are old, they tie-up your heart…” KellyJo, as a christian, I can only encourage you in the Lord, so, please encourage yourself in the Lord by praying each moment he comes to your mind. I know for a fact, God is healer and He knows the thoughts He has for your son. As I stated, this is just a seaon, and seasons come and go. Sometimes they linger, but they are ordained to change. I pray the good Lord will give you and your son the grace to go through this season. KellyJo,I pray your strength in the Lord.

  10. Linda Williger March 9, 2015 at 12:08 pm · Reply

    Kelly Jo– Your strength during an unimaginable situation is an inspiration to all of us–especially touching me as a mom. This is an arduous journey and you, Jay and your entire family have shown incredible strength and courage. We all pray for sunshine.

  11. Kelly Jo, I will keep your family in my prayers. We talked in the elevator about our Son’s, they are the same age. My Son is in the Seminary studying to be a priest. I will send him a pray request for his Brother from another Mother. Stay strong…you have many people here lifting you up.

  12. Rae-Jean Young March 10, 2015 at 9:42 am · Reply

    We love you both so very much and pray constantly for Jay to be healed. We are so proud of you both !! Mom and Dad

  13. That is just an incredible story that I am so glad you shared. Jay seems like someoen who is incredible strong and that we can learn from.

  14. Thank you for sharing your thoughts so beautifully! We are proud of you and Jay, but not surprised because we know you come from a long line of strength, compassion, and love! Your Mimi would be so proud of you and Jay also!

  15. I wish Jay and your family the best. I have two small boys and some days when I look at them and they are driving me crazy….I make myself think how lucky I am that they are healthy and they can drive me crazy. It’s amazing what other families, children and mothers go through and as you say when you see them for the first time you have no idea what battles they are fighting. I thank you for sharing and hope things continue to get better.

  16. Thank you for sharing this part of yourself, your son and your journey. Jay will be in my good thoughts and prayers as you continue forward.

  17. My son was diagnosed with AML at age 23. Cherish the good times during the journey with your son. Let your son “drive the bus” when he is healthy enough to take responsibility for his health care decisions. Alas, my son died eight days after his 25th birthday due to complications from a bone marrow transplant and persistent infections. Hopefully your son has a type of cancer that has a much better outcome than acute myeloid leukemia. Be kind to yourself as the “caregiver.” Seek support from friends and family. Treasure this time of closeness with your son.

  18. Chaplain Anish March 11, 2015 at 9:36 am · Reply

    Kelly you are a woman of strenth and hope. Thanks for highlighting how much a little gesture of kindness and care can touch people and makes a great difference. As a Chaplain I try to empathize with patients. As a mother it is an extreme situation to deal with cancer of your son, I pray continued hope, strength and grace for you.

  19. Kelly Jo,
    You and your family are officially added to my daily prayers. May God continue to bless you with strength, courage and all the love your hearts can hold. May you continue to be surrounded by angels.

  20. Kelly Jo,
    I’m so sorry to hear of Jay’s plight. Thank you for sharing your story. I’ll be praying daily for healing, strength and an inner peace for your son and also for you and the family. God is good, and there is power in prayer. I understand what you and your family are going through as my son also had cancer in his 20s. Just remember to give all those feelings to the Lord. We’ll be waiting to hear the good news of Jay’s healing and recovery. Stay strong and keep the faith.We’re your friends and support here at work.

  21. Laura Lavender March 12, 2015 at 1:42 pm · Reply

    Kelly Jo, Your story is truly inspiring — thank you so much for sharing! I’ll be thinking about you and keeping you and your son in my prayers daily. God bless and keep you both in the palm of His hand on your journey to a cure!

  22. Kelly Jo,

    Thanks for sharing this story. It will inspire and bring comfort to everyone going through their own cancer journey.

  23. Kelly Jo,
    Thanks for sharing your personal journey. I truly admire Jay’s strength and courage as he goes through his treatments. I pray that your sky returns to blue. Our prayers go out to you and your family.

  24. Kelly Jo,

    Words fail to convey how helpful it is when another person opens the curtains to their soul in such a way. My wife and I have tests this week for her son that will tell us if we face osteosarcoma or something far less. Of course, we are praying for the best as we both are gearing up for the battle should we get bad news. Your words are truly encouraging.

    Dave Diamond

  25. I am so touched by your amazing story, thank you for sharing your heart and soul. My daughter is the same age as Jay, which really hits home. Jay is a strong young man (he learned it from his mom!) and by telling your story, you are an inspiration to us all!

About the Author

Kelly Jo Golson
Kelly Jo Golson

Kelly Jo Golson, contributor to health enews, is chief marketing officer for Advocate Aurora Health.