If you asked me a year and a half ago, I would have told you I had a wonderful, uneventful life. It was a life with the normal ups and downs, but nothing extraordinary. I had just celebrated 24 years at Johnson & Johnson, my husband had just retired, and our boys, Michael age 20, Bobby age 17, and Jonathan age 15 were doing well at school and active in sports. The boys were the center of our lives and every night I thanked God that they were happy and healthy children. I felt truly blessed. At that time, I could never have predicted how my life would change. On Dec. 9, 2011 at 4:45 p.m., an MRI showed a 4 cm x 4 cm x 5 cm mass on the left side of Bobby's brain. I thought it was the worst day of my life, until I had to face the following day. Dec. 10 was when I told my smart, handsome, and athletic 17-year-old son that he had a brain tumor.
As days and weeks passed, we would find out that the tumor was a grade 2 diffuse astrocytoma near the language center of the brain and near where all right side motor was controlled. One neurosurgeon referred to the tumor as a "mass in the worst part of the brain possible." We had differing opinions on what to do but one thing was consistent: Bobby's tumor would impact his language. Some neurosurgeons gave us hope and suggested he would regain speech after intensive therapy; others gave us despair and suggested he would never speak in a language that we would understand. During this time we developed our family motto: "Hope Brings Strength."
One night as I was sitting with Bobby I asked him, "Are you angry? Do you ever ask 'why me?'" He responded that he wasn't angry and never asked why. He said, "I wouldn't wish this on anyone, so why not me?" I thought to myself that if Bobby, a senior in high school, a young man with his whole life in front of him, wasn't asking "why," then I had no right to do so. Instead, I told myself I would find a purpose, a purpose for this brain tumor.
Bobby had 2 surgeries in Jan. 2012. When the surgeries were over, 85 percent of the tumor was removed and Bobby defied all odds. He never lost his ability to speak and he never needed rehabilitation. But the tumor still remained, so Bobby needed 30 rounds of proton radiation. Since we lived a distance from Philadelphia, a social worker suggested we should consider staying at the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House (PRMH), and so we did. This was a suggestion that would change my definition of strength and courage.
During the course of my career at Johnson & Johnson, I met strong, intelligent, confident women who knew how to balance their career and their family. I modeled my life after these women, working hard and ensuring good medicines came to market while cheering my boys on during soccer and lacrosse games. However, the strength and courage of the moms I met during our seven week stay at the PRMH house was inspiring. Every day these moms would fight for their children, they would fight for the best care, they would fight for the best doctors, and they would research new treatments. Every day they stood with hope and strength and courage. The volunteers at the PRMH also inspired me. Each person we met, from the woman that greeted us at the desk, to the volunteers who cooked dinner, made us feel that we were part of a family. Each volunteer simply wanted to make the lives of moms and their child a little easier.
Bobby was also a source of inspiration to all those that heard his story. In the midst of radiation treatments, he helped a little boy at the PRMH with math homework every day. He continued to focus on his studies and graduation, and every Friday we would rush home so he could make lacrosse practice where he coached from the sidelines. He didn't care about his scar or his balding head, he didn't want anyone to feel sorry for him, and he didn't want to be treated any differently. He wanted his friends and family to live life. The strength that he had and continues to have still awes me today and is a source of my strength and hope.
To honor Bobby's strength and courage, Hope Brings Strength efforts to support the PRMH began: bake sales, bracelet sales, t-shirt sales, and "wish list drives." Today, because of these efforts, over $30,000 in donations have been raised. The Hope Brings Strength efforts will not change the world, but they have changed the lives of people who live in this world. These donations help to support the PRMH; a place where a mom too exhausted to sleep, can lay her head on a pillow, a place where a meal is provided to moms too worried to eat, and a place where families like mine, can call home during the worst time in a parent's life. HOPE does bring STRENGTH.