Our journey as parents and professionals can be exhilarating, hilarious, fulfilling, frustrating ... you name it, right? How do we, all of us, 'keep it together' while managing the everyday trials and chaos of a growing family?
Especially when, for some families, random fate strikes, and we may be faced with a parent's worst fear ... a life-threatening event that impacts one of our precious, dear young children.
A Family Crisis
We were a chaotic, active, happy, motivated young family. Linda and I were taking on life ... and fast! ... 6 kids, a successful and fulfilling career at HP, a wonderful network of friends and family ... and then, one evening, everything turned on a dime.
Our precious daughter, Charli, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, triggered by a simple eye exam at school. Suddenly we were off to Children's Hospital in Denver, urgently seeking treatment and a path unknown.
Up to this point in our lives together, life's cruel challenges had only landed close to us. We'd lost parents and a few close friends ... but now we faced our biggest challenge as a family.
To make a long story short, Charli endured 23+ surgeries, deriving from a myriad of complications over three years. I used to tell people "we are in a tunnel. It's dark, scary, and I don't know how long it is or when we'll come out.. And we don't know what life will be like when we do come out". Over the course of that three years we were at Children's Hospital (an hour+ away) every other month for weeks at a time.
For our daughter, Charli, the suffering seemed unending. When she was between the ages of 13-16, she faced more suffering than I would wish on any young person. We were all scared. There were her battles in Intensive Care and the painful reality of recovery, set-backs, and more surgery. The process kept repeating itself.
We had lost our balance, it was our time to pull together every fiber of strength and perseverance, and advocate for Charli, while continuing to nurture our five other kids (at the time). Linda and I would not leave Charli alone, nor would we leave our kids at home. So we eventually devised plans to cover all of the bases we could; one of us would sleep in the hospital room with Charli at night and then in the morning we'd wake up and drive back home. We passed each other on the highway. Other families provided rides to soccer, school events, and other activities. Of course, we would both be present during a crisis, surgery, etc.
Managing My Career
At first, I did my best to stay plugged in at work. Charli's tumor was not cancerous, so we initially thought this would be a short challenge to endure. But the complications mounted, and it became evident that this was not going to be an easy path.
Enter "Charli's Angels"; my term for the amazing people who reached out with support, love, and human connection from every corner of our lives and from all over the world; my HP family, our relatives, neighbors, and the caretakers at Children's Hospital and beyond. We learned to lean on them and to accept the help we needed. My HP family supported me in every way imaginable. My buddy Jeff took on much of my workload, and my boss/mentor, Chris, supported me genuinely. Everyone lent a hand. Our friend Shelly "quarterbacked" the meal parade that started coming our way. Our kids, themselves affected by the uncertainty and seriousness of Charli's journey, were integral to our healing and managing things. Alexa (Charli's older sister) was a staunch advocate for Charli at school; TJ had to become "man of the house" one Easter morning when Charli was in surgery; and our little Currie was born during the 3rd year of Charli's crisis ... providing hope to us all and especially Charli ... Currie would rest as an infant on Charli's chest while she was on a gurney on her way to surgery. Angels abounded all around us.
We saw, and were surrounded by, the suffering of little ones at Children's Hospital. We never felt 'alone' in our suffering, and we realized that, for some families, the battle was even more cruel than ours.
Today, we are truly thankful and blessed because our entire family is happy, healthy, and stronger for the journey. Charli recovered, and to her credit (as well as her educators and my wife, Linda) she graduated high school and college (with a degree in Social Work from Colorado State University). She is now teaching pre-school in a private school for children with Autism in Denver. Charli is in love, happy, and healthy. As are we all.
While I put my career "on hold" during this time, I was fortunate to be able to re-engage with more commitment than ever. I wanted to "pay it forward' at HP by excelling in my role and by embracing empathy and personal engagement as a leader. I believe in the power of Faith, Hope, and Love, and am forever grateful for my precious family.