Carter is a hilarious kid. He was born with a content nature and an amazing smile. He loved to tell jokes, read joke books, play silly tricks, and just be goofy in general. As you can tell, I struggle when it comes to tenses – how do I properly refer to my son that has died? He IS my child, he IS real and alive, just not on this earth. Please forgive me if my tenses come and go.
When you pray for God to be glorified in the lives of your children, you don’t expect that will come through their suffering and death. Carter was seven years old and about to finish second grade (2018) when he started having back pain. We took him to several doctors and the ER over the course of about two months, but we kept getting “we don’t know what’s wrong, but it doesn’t seem like anything serious.” Well, it was something serious.
Rhabdomyosarcoma was a word we’d never heard. It’s cancer. Our seven-year-old boy had cancer. Tiny prayers like: “How is this happening?” and “God fix it!” ran through my mind constantly. At diagnosis, he had over 30 tumors in his body. It was earth shattering to us. We’d eventually learn that it was the Alveolar type and that the gene mutation he had put his chances of survival right around 4%. Worst nightmare. How can God be good, and our son have cancer, an aggressive cancer that would likely take his life? Those two things couldn’t fit together in my mind. At first.
He began treatment immediately and got relief from his pain quickly, which was our first big answer to prayer. He went through 20 rounds of chemo during that first year, over 65 proton radiation treatments, and then had about 4 months of maintenance. He didn’t have a single delay in front line treatment – which is unheard of in the cancer world. Another huge prayer answered. At VBS that summer he accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior – the ultimate answer to prayer for any parent. At the end of treatment scans, he was clear except for one tiny spot that they thought wasn’t concerning. God continued to faithfully answer. During his six-week post-treatment scans, his body had filled with cancer again, that fast. There were very few options left and none were curative.
When faced with the decision of how to proceed, Juan and I prayed that God would align our hearts to each other and to His will. We ended up on completely opposite ends of the fence. Ultimately, we gave Carter the choice, and he chose not to continue with treatment. He had suffered so much, and now knew he wouldn’t survive. He came home on hospice in February of 2020. Our nine-year-old was dying and there was nothing we could do to stop it.
Carter suffered so greatly and died a painful and agonizing death. He had no relief from his pain. We had no kumbaya moment, no bright light and angels singing, no overwhelming sense of peace. The last time he screamed in pain was just a few minutes before he took his last breath. I have struggled with this so much. Why did our baby boy have to suffer? If he was going to die, why didn’t God just take him peacefully, away from the pain? He was on hospice and in pain until May 8, 2020. How can this possibly be the story God meant to write for him?
Since Carter’s death, I have desperately searched for God in His word. I have looked for answers, prayed for clarity. Do you know what I’ve found? The story of Jesus, God’s son, was a lot like Carter’s. I am not claiming to have a perfect, savior son. What I am saying is that God understood every desperate prayer, every shower of sobbing, every moment of begging for help, knowing what was coming and not being able to stop it, watching His child die and be separated from him. My pain and grief are no surprise or novelty to the Lord, He has not only experienced the same with his child but has also walked through every single moment with us. He was near. He was present. He was providing. He was holding Carter and loving him even more than I ever could. And Jesus? What better arms for Carter to run to after leaving ours? He ran to the one that could relate to every moment of his life, and death. The one whose life was given so that Carter could be in eternity, healed and whole, forever.
There are many heavy things that continue to weigh us down in Carter’s absence but wrestling with the goodness of God is no longer one of them. I am so thankful for the gift of our beautiful son who we had nearly ten years with. Beautiful years full of love and laughter, of memories and joy, and of pain and suffering. I am thankful for every single minute he was ours. And I pray that God in His mercy will bring us all home, and that He will use us for His glory until that day comes.
I will leave you with one last thing, a precious ray of light amidst the darkest days of our lives… In the last couple of weeks of Carter’s life, he was not awake. I remember the first day he had slept over 20 hours, his hospice nurse was explaining what to expect moving forward, how he’d be sleeping, how his breathing would slow, how he’d know we’re there and can hear us but won’t be able to respond. She encouraged us to still talk to him and touch him and love on him, so he’d know we’re there with him. As she was talking, she was rubbing his leg lovingly, and he suddenly sat up, somewhat awake and said, “I gotta go pee! Let me get up, I gotta pee!” He didn’t realize that his legs were too weak to hold him up and was stumbling as Juan tried to lift him onto the toilet chair by his bed. As Juan tried to sit him down, I remembered he was in a diaper and reached up to try to take it off, but couldn’t, so we ended up just pulling it down so he could sit. Just then, he whispered, in a sing-songy voice (and I swear, even though his eyes were closed, I could see a smirk and glimmer…), “I’m a big kid now!” like on the old Pull Ups commercials. We all just doubled over in laughter that soon turned to tears at the realization that our precious, little funny guy was in there, he was with us, even though it felt like he was already gone. Those are the last words I remember Carter saying before he died. What a fantastic gift our baby boy gave us in that final joke. He sure was full of joy! “Is” full of joy is more appropriate, I’m sure, as he is in the presence of Jesus.
Carter James Escobar
8/10/2010 – 5/8/2020
MEET RACHEL: Rachel Escobar is a California girl living in a Texas world. Rachel grew up in Fresno, California, but she and her family made Texas their home in 2014. Rachel is wife to Juan and mother to Carter (cancer angel) and Peyton. She has recently entered the healthcare field after having a front row seat to childhood cancer. She is a Healthcare Coordinator for Southwestern Health Resources, while in school pursuing a career as a child life specialist. She is a “momcologist” and is dedicated to spreading awareness of childhood cancer and has shared her son’s journey on social media.
Follow along: https://www.facebook.com/carterescobarstrong.
She is also working on a children’s book titled CarterStrong Dream Chaser and hopes to someday author a humorous book for parents of cancer kids. She can often be heard quoting Friends, while drinking coffee and laughing with her girlfriends.
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