HSF Ambassador Program Eases Cancer Recovery for Homeschooling Family
By Dana Helton, condensed from Arizona Home Education Journal, Spring 2014
I met my husband, Mike, when I was 15. He was a force to be reckoned with and the most carefree, happy individual I had ever met. I called him the “Pied Piper” because everyone followed him around to see what excitement he would stir up next. Thirty-one years later, he retains that charisma. I still find it hard to believe that this youngster became the head of a homeschooling family who never misses a concert, art fair or play even though he works long hours. He enjoys teaching math and loves drawing or building bikes with our daughter, Olivia.
We've had our share of setbacks, but on April 13, 2013, we were thrown the curveball of our lives. Mike came home from work with a fever and a weakness he had never felt before. He had strange bruising and his gums had been bleeding, so I took him to the emergency room. When the blood tests and biopsy results came back, the diagnosis swallowed us whole: Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia.
He was dying.
We were given a crash course about this rare form of blood cancer and promptly told that chemotherapy would begin immediately. No time for second opinions. No guarantee even if he would survive the next few hours. That night, Olivia slept at the foot of his bed, with me to his right, all snug as a bug around him.
We spent the next six weeks living with him in the hospital; listening to music, schooling, talking, praying, and visiting with the multitude of doctors and nurses that poured through our room daily. A number of them were fascinated with Olivia's studies, taking time to look at her books, asking questions, and checking in with her during the daily rounds with Mike.
But most encouraging to us was the huge envelope of beautiful handmade cards from the children of our homeschool group. We filled the walls of our hospital room, top to bottom, with messages of love and support from other families. We received meals at the hospital, gifts to assist with expenses, and daily texts from loved ones. Dozens of churches added Mike to their prayer lists.
Mike was to go through three more aggressive rounds of outpatient chemo in the months ahead. The odds were in our favor as he made it through those first critical weeks. Unfortunately, he developed an infection during one of those treatments that began with an abscessed tooth and spread to his jawbone. All of his teeth had to be removed. He would be on a liquid diet indefinitely. As cancer had forced us to close our small remodeling business, there was no money left for dentures, particularly the kind that would require a specialist as Mike was missing so much bone.
With two more years of chemo to go, we were contacted by our Arizona Ambassador for the Home School Foundation. The HSF Ambassador Program allows monies raised by an Ambassador to be designated for purposes other than those directly related to homeschooling, so our Ambassador reached out to us and made Mike's new smile possible through the generosity of our fellow home educating families and two caring local dental groups. We are incredibly grateful to them, as this gift has enabled Mike to begin building back the strength that his body needs to make new bone marrow and tolerate treatment successfully.
It’s been seven months since Mike's diagnosis. He is now in remission, but still undergoing chemotherapy. After five years, he will be considered cured, a day we look forward to with hope and anticipation. There has been so much more to learn than what was on my lesson plan. Olivia has had a front row seat, watching God provide everything we need, exactly when we need it and Mike still captures everyone's attention wherever he goes; whether it be in the chemotherapy unit or the hospital cafeteria. Everyone waves and calls him by name.
My husband is still my Pied Piper, and God is with us even as Mike is playing a very different song now.
The Home School Foundation’s Ambassador Program is the service arm of HSF, designed to assist homeschooling families so they may continue to homeschool through challenging circumstances with the help of the homeschooling community. To learn more, visit www.homeschoolfoundation.org/volunteer