In 2009, Merri Hackett’s six-month-old son, Josiah, was diagnosed with brain cancer. She shares how she found reasons to be grateful for her son’s cancer diagnosis.

By Merri Hackett
Courtesy of Merri Hackett

I am grateful for my son's cancer diagnosis.

Say whaa? I know. If I hold up a mirror right now, I am giving myself the sarcastic stink eye as well. In the words of a dear friend: “Please don’t hear what I’m not saying.”

I’m not saying our journey through treatment was easy and enjoyable.

On Mother’s Day 2009, we huddled in a hospital room in Memphis, Tennessee, as the neurosurgeon told us our first and only child, Josiah, would have emergency brain surgery the following day to remove what they could of what was most likely a cancerous tumor.

At just six months of age, Josiah was diagnosed with an indeterminate-grade glioma astrocytoma. I think my heart left my body for a few weeks after that as I attempted to reconcile what was happening to our child in my young mother’s mind.

My husband, Josiah, and I endured setback after setback over the next 11 months of chemotherapy and surgeries and seizures. We were thankful to stay in our hometown, which included St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The thing about being grateful is that you have to first recognize you’re in better shape than you would be otherwise. Being a part of the community at St. Jude was our first hint at this.

I’m not saying I would do it all again given the choice.

I’m not saying I am grateful for cancer. Cancer of any sort is a stealer of joy, a stealer of hope, and too often a stealer of life itself.

I will weep with any mother or father or child going through a cancer diagnosis, no matter the stage or grade.

My sense of control and my ability to protect my baby were stripped from me in an instant in May 2009. There are plenty of dark days that, even now after nearly 10 years, I wish were completely erased from my memory.

I am not thankful for every day since Josiah’s diagnosis, but there is a bigger picture at work in Josiah, in me, and in our family and the people affected by Josiah’s life.

I am grateful for my son’s current health, though it isn’t what I originally wanted for him.

I don’t want him on daily medications. I don’t want him struggling in school because of side effects of treatment and multiple brain surgeries.

Words cannot describe Josiah’s tender-heartedness. At any age it is true: When you experience pain, you can allow it to harden your heart or grow and change your heart. Every time this 10-year-old chooses to be honest and face whatever comes his way with perseverance.

I am grateful for who I am right now, and she couldn’t exist without hardship and without being repeatedly knocked off her high horse. I learned quickly to hold plans loosely. I learned to live only in the day I woke up in, because wondering what might happen to our little family tomorrow was too frightening.

We hoped Josiah would still be with us, but realistically we had no reason to believe we were guaranteed that blessing. That is one lesson I have not forgotten in 10 years of living with my child’s cancer.

Perspective changes everything. There are a lot of things concerning Josiah’s future that I am unsure of: whether he’ll be able to drive, whether he’ll be able to live independently, when he’ll be able to attend college classes, but really I don’t even care.

Each day has enough worry on its own. Today Josiah is breathing and smiling, so mission accomplished! The rest are details.

“Hope has two beautiful daughters

Their names are Anger and Courage;

Anger at the way things are,

And Courage to see that they

do not remain the way they are.”

— St. Augustine

To read more stories about families like Merri Hackett’s visit St. Jude Inspire. This Mother’s Day, you can support families like Josiah’s by visiting stjude.org/family.

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