New Hope for a Family Devastated by Childhood Cancer
- Tanya and Jason Gill were heartbroken when they lost their beautiful baby boy to melanoma at just 19 months old. They’ve kept his memory alive by setting up an annual charity event in his name.
- Now, the couple will soon have the chance to raise a child again after being chosen as adoptive parents for a baby boy with an upcoming due date.
- Grief is an unavoidable and essential part of the healing process following the loss of a loved one to cancer.
Tanya and Jason Gill were heartbroken when they lost their beautiful baby boy, Christian, to pediatric cancer at just 19 months old. He was born with a condition called giant congenital melanocytic nevus that eventually developed into malignant melanoma. A congenital nevus – also known as a mole – is a kind of birthmark that appears at birth or during a baby’s first year of life. These moles usually do not cause health problems, but a small percentage go on to develop melanoma. And Christian’s type of mole, which is larger than other moles, had a higher risk of developing melanoma.Read More
“Christian had his first tumor removed at just two months and our arduous journey began,” Tanya Gill writes. “We had the honor and privilege of celebrating one birthday with him. Only one. And, he is missed all the more with each passing year.”
The Gill family has since held an annual charity event called the Christian Kennedy Graham Memorial Toy Drive in honor of their baby boy. Still, they’ve been missing their child and remained heartbroken by the fact that they are no longer parents – until just recently when their prayers were answered.
“Now, Christian is going to get a baby brother,” Tanya told an NBC-affiliated TV station in Cincinnati. “It’s a boy.”
The Gills were chosen by a mother looking to put her child up for adoption after she read about the couple’s story.
“[The birth mother] goes, ‘That clinched it,'” Tanya said of the biological mother learning about the couple’s story. “She goes, ‘When I met you, I knew from the moment I met you, that this baby’s life path was meant to be with you.'”
And for the Gills, the upcoming adoption is a God-send.
“It’s a huge blessing,” Jason said. “It’s something that we needed.”
Forever grateful for the choice being made by the biological mother, Tanya is determined to share with her boy exactly how he came to be a part of the family.
“Her role is so important,” Tanya said of the biological mother. “Her sacrifice is so important. I want this baby to know how much she loves him, too. Not just me, she loves him too.”
Understanding Childhood Cancer
Treatment advances in recent decades have lead to 84 percent of children with cancer now surviving five years or more, according to the American Cancer Society. This is up from 58 percent from the mid-1970s.
But according to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, more than 95 percent of childhood cancer survivors have significant health-related issues because of the current treatment options, and only 4 percent of the billions of dollars spent each year on cancer research and treatments are directed towards treating childhood cancer in the United States. Since 1980, fewer than 10 drugs have been developed for use in children with cancer while hundreds of drugs have been created exclusively for adults.
Dr. Elizabeth Raetz, director of pediatric hematology and oncology at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, reminded us in a previous interview that there is still reason for hope.
“There are also targeted treatments and different immunotherapies that have been studied in adults and have now moved into clinical trials for children and there has been a great deal of excitement in the community about that,” Dr. Elizabeth Raetz told SurvivorNet.
Still, navigating a child’s cancer diagnosis can be tricky.
Jayne Wexler’s son battled acute lymphoblastic leukemia and now deals with heart disease as a side effect of chemotherapy. In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Wexler explained that in addition to regular parent worries – having a child with cancer means living with a whole new world of anxieties.
“My husband and I will always have fear,” she said. “I don’t think we can ever let go of that. Just when he was OK, then he relapsed, and then he had the bone marrow transplant … so there’s always some sort of worry.”
Wexler admits she tries to live for each and every day, but its understandable that this does not always come easy.
“And I do try – you hear people say this – we do have to live each day and be thankful for what we have,” Wexler said. “And it’s hard to remember that when you’re caught up … it’s very hard to just sort of enjoy the moment, because we just don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.”
Losing a Loved one to Cancer
Grief is an inevitable – and essential – part of the healing process after losing a loved one to cancer. And there’s definitely no one way to cope, but Doug Wendt shared his thoughts on grief in a previous interview with SurvivorNet after losing his wife Alice to ovarian cancer.
“We’re never gonna move on, I don’t even think I want to move on, but I do want to move forward,” Wendt said. “That’s an important distinction, and I encourage anybody who goes through this journey as a caregiver and then has to face loss, to think very carefully about how to move forward.”
Everyone’s journey of grief looks different, but therapy and support groups can also be wonderful options to explore. It’s also important to keep in mind that time does not heal everything, but it certainly helps.
In an earlier interview with SurvivorNet, Camila Legaspi shared her own advice on grief after her mother died of breast cancer. For her, therapy made all the difference.
“Therapy saved my life,” Legaspi said. “I was dealing with some really intense anxiety and depression at that point. It just changed my life, because I was so drained by all the negativity that was going on. Going to a therapist helped me realize that there was still so much out there for me, that I still had my family, that I still had my siblings.”
Legaspi also wanted to remind people that even though it can be an incredibly difficult experience to process, things will get better.
“When you lose someone, it’s really, really, really hard,” Legaspi said. “I’m so happy that I talked to my therapist. Keep your chin up, and it’s going to be OK. No matter what happens, it’s going to be OK.”