It was the worst phone call of my life. Our daughter, Michelle, called me as she left her office in Wisconsin. She was upset, crying. Doctors told her to rush her 2-year-old daughter, Brooklyn, to Children’s hospital to be admitted. I told her she needed to drive safely, stay positive, try to breathe.
The distance between us was too much! Her dad and I were in Wisconsin the next day, as were the other grandparents. At the hospital, we found Brooklyn hooked up to IVs and looking so tiny in the big bed. It made our hearts sink to see our own grown children wide-eyed with fear, fighting panic, taking it all in. Suddenly, everything had changed. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia was threatening the life of our previously strong, healthy, vibrant granddaughter. This was the start of the chain forged from worry and fear, strengthened by hope and love and vigilance.
It was both sad and wonderful to see Michelle and Grant work together for Brooklyn. In the beginning, for the first several months, they were literally round-the-clock warriors against cancer.
Having recently retired, I stayed with them in Wisconsin, along with Grant’s mom, Joy. We helped with household and shopping tasks, offered support and listened as the kids discuss Brooklyn’s care, options, and progress. We offered advice, accompanied them to all appointments so we could help remember and process all the new directions and information, as well as get to know the medical team.
At home, Brooklyn required a lot of hands-on time, and us grandmas helped get her to eat, make her special food, play with her and entertain her with dolls, play dough, paints, books, movies, games. Michelle and Grant rarely left her side, but when they did, we were there so they could go. The longest they were gone was when Thomas was born, just a few weeks after Brooklyn’s diagnosis. It was a happy event in the midst of all the stress!
We ride along on the rollercoaster of childhood cancer as partners in caregiving, as well as parents and grandparents. All of us grandparents mostly want to be there for our own kids, and we do what we can to help them. When Michelle and Grant decided to leave Wisconsin and return to Minneapolis, closer to the supportive network of their families, we were thrilled.
While they searched for their own home, they lived with us. That time was especially satisfying because we were able to continue to support them and spend so much time with the family and with Brooklyn as she met her challenges. Knowing situations in real time, and being able to give food, hugs, relief, walks, whatever is needed, seems like the best way to help.
Brooklyn is on track to beat cancer at the moment. Through the research that has been done and is ongoing, doctors have been able to save many, but not all, young lives. I pray and pray and thank God, the universe and all the lovely people who have come forward for the love and hope that surrounds her and this beautiful family.
Written by Teri Blonigan
Teri Blonigan is relishing her role as Grandma to eight grandchildren after 40 years as an elementary teacher in the Osseo Area School District (a Minneapolis suburb). Teri says that having more time to spend with family is the best perk of retirement. She enjoys reading, walking, traveling, learning piano, and gardening in her spare time. And, she includes her grandkids in doing these activities as much as they’ll let her! She and her husband Bill, a local attorney and longtime Robbinsdale City Council member, raised their four children in Robbinsdale, a suburb of Minneapolis.