Contributed by Michael Schnabel
My 27-year-old daughter Stephanie had given birth to her only child. Two weeks later, we discovered she had stage IV colon cancer that would most likely kill her. Her greatest fear was that her child would grow up without his mother and only know her through pictures.
After we received the diagnosis, I began writing a daily journal for my grandson. I was determined to capture my daughter’s courage, strength, and love of life. I wanted to pass it on to her newborn son if she didn’t survive.
The journal captured our family’s strengths and challenges as we navigated cancer together, while also being a source of organization amidst the chaos. It became the foundation of my newly published book, Daddy’s Girl, and a 42-page guide for patients and caregivers alike.
A Journal Inspires Clarity
Recording my thoughts in a Word file helped me deal with the crisis of my daughter’s diagnosis. It was a place where I could write about my emotions, help me understand them, and keep them from overpowering my mind. It helped me record appointment dates, contact information, and anything we needed to keep track of. As a family, we used journaling to identify our priorities and action steps, such as finding the best place for Steph’s surgery.
Entries also captured our family’s thoughts and relationships. They helped us gain clarity on what was most important in life.
The journal made clear that Stephanie’s story is not one about disease. It is about survival and how three generations of our family responded to her crisis and formed a devoted team to overcome it. It is critical for loved ones to help each other through difficulty. The patient is afraid, and loved ones standing next to them, promising their help, can make all the difference in the world.
Taking One Day at a Time
Stephanie was often the strongest member of her team, although she would tell you many times she was barely hanging on. She always chose the most aggressive treatments, educated herself about her disease, and never gave up. Her support team comprised Steph’s husband, Mark; my wife, Colleen; baby Caden; and me. We learned the importance of caregiving, taking one day at a time, and focusing on things within our control — themes that appeared in the journal many times over and thus appear in my book.
Caregivers are a patient’s lifeline, coach, and confidant — but I learned that may not be enough. You must also be their friend and angel, showering them with love and patience. Sometimes, it is difficult.
Caretaking can drain you emotionally and physically. Because you don’t want to burden the patient with your own sorrow and fear, I learned you have to escape occasionally and recharge to help another day. We celebrated anything positive and carried each other through tough times. With his smiles, giggles, and joy, baby Caden became an oasis for us to escape our nightmare.
Illuminated by Faith & Hope
We were surprised by how solid and consistent our faith was during that five-year roller coaster ride. When challenges became unbearable, Stephanie gave them up to God. When things became darkest, the best possible outcome miraculously appeared.
Stephanie’s faith powered her belief in the future, giving her the hope and courage to fight with everything she had against this disease.
Today, my daughter is sixteen years cancer-free.
The Big Question
Everyone asks, “How did she do it?”
The baby’s deep brown eyes and unconditional love fueled Steph’s courage and gave her the ultimate reason to survive. Her faith came from the belief that something greater than ourselves provides what we need and when we need it. I believe Stephanie’s example provides hope for others facing a crisis. Her oncologist said it was a miracle. We believe it was, too.
Her oncologist also told us that hope was consistently his patients’ greatest need. I realized that sharing Steph’s story of survival could provide hope for others, and that’s why I wrote Daddy’s Girl. There is so much more we learned during Stephanie’s journey, and I wanted to share it all.
Michael Schnabel is the author of Daddy’s Girl (March 2023, Armin Lear Press) and the guidebook Living Through a Crisis. Learn more at authormichaelschnabel.com.
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