Annabelle was diagnosed with Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis at the age of 4, although her first symptoms began as Diabetes Insipidus at 3. She went through 1 year of chemo to fight the lesions that had formed in her pituitary and had eaten a hole in her hip bone. She has big eyes that pierce your soul and beautiful curly ringlets that frame her face. There was rarely a trip we took outside of the house where someone didn’t comment about what an angel on earth she is and they didn’t even know her personality or that she has the purest heart of gold of anyone you’d ever meet. She saves worms that get stuck on the sidewalk, sticks up for her friends at school, and looks for hearts in nature. So many times, you hear that cancer kids who have passed away were some of the most kind and loving, and that fact scared me during treatment. Because sometimes it feels like Annabelle truly is too good for this harsh world.
I am so happy to say that Annabelle was declared “no evidence of disease” on February 12, 2020. Most people believe that as soon as a child rings the bell, cancer days are behind them. Unfortunately, while it may be the end of one chapter of the childhood cancer journey, it’s also the beginning of the next. There are still MRIs, PET scans, CT scans, x-rays, blood work, and check-ups. That’s the minimum, and assuming there is no relapse of the cancer. You try your hardest to get back to normal, to rebuild the life you once had, to let your child have a chance at a normal childhood, but it’s not easy. Cancer is a life-long journey even after treatment ends.
Unfortunately, childhood cancer had taken a toll on our family. Her brother developed anxiety about his sister’s health and worried that he would get cancer himself. Our marriage was barely surviving. It seemed as if we were constantly in an argument. Our faith, both as individuals and as a family, was struggling and sometimes even non-existent. I always believed during good times that my faith was unshakable, but I quickly found out that it’s only easy to believe God has a plan and a reason when it’s someone else’s baby. When it’s your baby, it’s much more difficult.
Annabelle had been off treatment for a year and half when I discovered Lighthouse Family Retreat. They were introducing a weekend retreat in our home state of Colorado. We attended the weekend retreat in Colorado. Then we went on the weeklong beach retreat the following year, which for us landlocked Colorado people was Heaven on earth! I thought maybe a weekend away in the mountains with some fresh air or a week with our toes in the sand would give us the break we needed. I had no idea that it was going to change everything.
At the retreats, we participated in fun events, parties, meals, games, and activities. It’s all so well thought out and humbling to know it’s all for our family and others like us. As much as we loved every second of it, it wasn’t these activities that I remember the most.
I remember being greeted by the Lighthouse volunteers who were strangers, but only for a minute. They instantly poured out love to our family, helping us carry bags and set up our room. They took care of and loved our children like they had known them their whole lives. They made sure Annabelle knew she was just a normal kid, not the “cancer kid,” and that her brother Aidan knew he was just as important and special. They gave my husband and me a chance to reconnect with each other, and to talk to other parents who had lived through the same awful experience. They prayed for us, before we even knew their names. They showed us that there are people out there who give love and expect nothing in return.
Our Lighthouse retreats reminded us that God loves us, that He has a plan for our family, that it’s ok for us to be sad or angry, and that He loves us anyway. It reminded us we don’t have to do this all on our own, we have Him to rely on. We were reminded that God knew our daughter first, and that He loves her even more than we do.
We remembered what a gift our family was and how much we loved each other. We also realized how thankful we were for Annabelle’s health and for every day that we get to spend together. We are so grateful for the memories made and the lessons learned that we brought home and implemented into our daily lives. It was the beginning of the road to finding each other again, and our family is better today because of Lighthouse. No words can adequately describe how grateful we are for that, but I hope this comes close. Thank you.
Article written by Susan Smith