The Howard Family
Stephanie Howard never expected that a persistent cough on a family vacation in the summer of 2015 was actually something much more. After visiting with her family doctor and running some tests, they looked together at the results of an X-ray. “I saw it right there… I was the first one to say it out loud. There was a mass,” shares Stephanie. Within days, she was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma. “We got a call confirming the diagnosis while we were out shopping for school supplies with the kids,” says Stephanie. “From there, we immediately went into ‘go-mode’ and started lining up our treatment plan.”
After connecting with Dr. Punit Chadha from Texas Oncology and learning more about the disease and next steps, Stephanie and her husband, Christian, decided it was time to tell their two children, Stella (11), and Joshua (8). They sat around their kitchen table one night and explained Stephanie’s diagnosis and what it meant, and allowed the kids to ask questions. “I was surprised it was cancer, but not that she was sick,” said Stella, who recalled that her mom had not been feeling well.
I saw it right there… I was the first one to say it out loud. There was a mass.
After that initial conversation, Stephanie’s focus remained on her illness and treatment, but she still worried about her kids. She learned about Wonders & Worries through a school counselor and later, through a friend, and added it to her growing list of things to research. While the Howard family practices open communication in their household, Stephanie and Christian felt that Wonders & Worries could give their children the best support available and scheduled an appointment.
Their first meeting with child life staff member Ali helped them to realize that Wonders & Worries needed to be a focus. “Even though our kids said they weren’t worried, we really wanted to make sure they were getting support,” shares Stephanie. “Just knowing that there were people focused on our kids was a blessing.” Ali helped Stephanie and Christian to understand Wonders & Worries individualized programming, and how it would be tailored to their children based on Stephanie’s illness and treatments, as well as any particular concerns. Returning home from meeting with Ali, “we knew we had to do it,” says Christian. He and Stephanie told Stella and Joshua that they would be starting support sessions.
With the choice of individual, group or sibling sessions, Stella and Joshua chose to do group support. They worked with child life specialist Michele, who leads these sessions at the North Office. “I picked group support because I wanted to meet other kids whose parents have cancer. I thought they might ask the questions I don’t have yet, but will.” says Stella. Joshua enjoyed the group sessions too. “I liked all of the activities we did, like shooting with Nerf guns at a cancer/worries target and making a coping kit,” he adds. “And I liked meeting the other kids…and the snacks!” As part of their support, Stella and Joshua also participated in a tour of the Texas Oncology treatment center. “We got to sit in our mom’s usual seat [for chemotherapy] at Texas Oncology and they even showed us where they put the medicine in the little bags,” he remembers.
We were lucky to have gotten involved so early in my treatment.
Before meeting with Michele, Stella and Joshua started to have terrible dreams about Stephanie’s cancer. Stephanie and Christian could tell a difference in their children from the first group session and the kids could tell a difference too, especially when it came to no more bad dreams. “We were lucky to have gotten involved so early in my treatment and we may have prevented some of the bigger issues for our kids,” says Stephanie. “The drives home from Wonders & Worries were such precious times for our family because Stella and Joshua felt open to talking about what they had learned and asking us questions.”
The Howard family also participated in Wonders & Worries family fun events, such as FestiFall. “They helped us to build another community – our cancer community,” explains Christian. “Just like Dr. Chadha and the Texas Oncology team help with Stephanie’s treatment, we have a team that is built around helping our kids through this whole process. That’s one of the reasons Wonders & Worries is so amazing – it’s so specialized.”
Having experienced the positive benefits of Wonders & Worries support for their family, Stephanie and Christian are now committed to helping raise awareness in their community. In fact, Stephanie recently referred another Texas Oncology patient who she met in the infusion room. “One of the biggest challenges about Wonders & Worries is that you don’t really know about it until you need it,” adds Christian. “I didn’t realize at first that Wonders & Worries was only in Austin. My family is so blessed, but there is a much greater need and opportunity to help others.”
Our community just got bigger. And it will stick.
When asked how they would describe Wonders & Worries in one word, each family member eagerly shared: “awesome” and “optimistic” from Stella and Joshua, and “blessing” and “inspirational” from their parents. “The path was laid for us to go to Wonders & Worries and walk out of our first sessions knowing that we were going to do it,” concludes Stephanie. “Our community just got bigger. And it will stick.”