Kimberly Bruhn is co-Chapter Chair of Southern Oregon Candlelighters. She and her family understand what it’s like to go through childhood cancer, from the shock of diagnosis to the grief of loss of their son Michael. Below, she shares what it was like for the Bruhn family, and what she found helpful along the way.
“When a child is diagnosed with cancer,.they don’t fight alone…it takes the whole family to help equip them with physical, mental, spiritual and, especially, emotional support. Michael has an older sister, Molly and a younger brother, Max. There is about three and a half years between all three kids. They were incredibly close, both in age and development. In that initial period when Michael was at Doernbecher trying to get in remission his siblings tried very hard to distract him with games, Lego and anything “competitive.” He loved the Radio Bingo and other programs that Candlelighters offered the children in-hospital, and being able to choose some special treats from the Snack Cart was something he looked forward to!
Our family was scared but we tried not to show that to Michael. He had just lost a teacher to cancer (at age 48) that had taught him both grades 3 and 5 and he was looking forward to playing football for him as he coached the Ashland High School football team, so there was a lot to fear. Michael also knew that most of my immediate family died of cancer (my mother when I was two, my father when I was 25 and my brother when I was 35) so he had that on his mind, a lot. We tried to reassure him that childhood leukemia, especially ALL, had a pretty good track record of kids making it through. Honestly, at that time, either I was confused or just chose to read what I wanted, I believed the 88-93% “survival rate” meant kids would go on to live to adult hood for those high rates. Unfortunately, I learned after the first year of Michael’s treatment, that those percentages mean kids with ALL would live for FIVE YEARS.
My advice to others facing childhood cancer? Some people cannot take in too many details at once…if reading about the disease your child has would overwhelm you, then don’t. Consult with other researchers or doctors who can help you decide. On the other hand, if you are able to digest and disseminate facts, research and other medical developments, do it. Look for other valid/reputable organizations that support childhood cancer. There are support groups on-line for just exactly what your child is facing. You can join in and ask questions and for advice. There will be parents, some of whom are medical practitioners, to offer you the best ideas for treatment and supplements that will help your child or your other children that are watching their sibling go through this. Our son did not need therapy but both his siblings had some to support them through the six years Michael was fighting cancer. Some of the best hints I got were from other parents going through this that I met at Mums Night Out through Candlelighters in Southern Oregon.”