In 2019, at the age of 3, Declan Callahan was diagnosed with stage 4 high-risk brain cancer. The cancer quickly spread to other parts of Declan’s brain as well as his spine, but thankfully, after a year of high-dose radiation and chemotherapy, he received the coveted “No Evidence of Disease” status.
However, like many children with pediatric cancer, being declared cancer-free wasn’t the end of his health journey. The brain tumor’s placement caused a traumatic brain injury, and that, in addition to the intense treatment of the tumor, has left Declan with multiple diagnoses. Declan now faces cognitive and behavioral delays, hearing loss, a permanently closed left eye, thyroid and growth hormone issues, and many imbalances in his little body and mind. To this day, he is still closely monitored by a team at St. Jude.
“The hardest part of our journey is living in constant state of unknown—that our world can change again at any moment, knowing his cancer can come back, and just having to put our faith and hope in God that it will not,” Declan’s mother Abby shares. “We know where our help comes from and rely strongly on the promises of the Lord.”
As Abby reflects on how isolating the world of childhood cancer can be, she has advice for other families. “I encourage families going through the same fight to truly never stop living.” She also wants to remind families living through childhood cancer that there isn’t a time limit on processing trauma. “Your trauma is real and validated, and it is okay to feel all of the feelings you feel from day to day.”
Abby encourages each family member to take time to process their feelings. “Even the dads—the strong ones—have feelings and hurt they are burying deep down, and they, too, deserve to be validated and heard. Even the siblings who have been pushed to the side time and time again while their brother or sister fights the hard fight are still yearning to be children and live life. And moms, you can’t carry it all. Help is OKAY, and you have to take care of yourself in order to take care of your children and spouse.”
“Give yourself grace because even if it takes years, you can learn to live and cope in a way that is healthy and right for you and your family,” she continues.
Abby encourages any family who is facing the unknowns of childhood cancer to attend a Lighthouse Family Retreat. “We walked away forever changed, with our faith restored, and we were bonded together better than ever before.” She recalls how seeing their kids finally able to be just kids again was exactly what their hearts needed—and also what it meant for her husband to be able open up and hear from other dads. “It gave him a new sense of life,” she explains.
And for Abby, hearing from other moms who were also on the same journey helped her to leave the retreat completely refreshed and ready to take on the next chapter. “Lighthouse Family Retreat brought hope to our family,” she summarizes. “The hope we never knew we so desperately needed.”