When 5-year-old Ava started having headaches, doctors thought her pain may be related to a family history of migraines. But when his daughter was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a brain cancer, St. Jude dad Rob says the research hospital helped make sure Ava had the care she needed.
As the holiday season approaches, I’m looking forward to spending more time with family, being present, and making memories. Sharing a simple meal with my wife and children on a special day or a workday, being under the same roof, has never meant as much as it has this last year.
A little over a year ago, my then 5-year old daughter, Ava, began to suffer headaches. We then noticed she wasn’t walking very well. We went to see a pediatric neurologist who told us it was nothing. My wife had a history of migraines, so the doctors thought that maybe it was related.
When we found out in September that Ava had medulloblastoma, a brain cancer, and that it had spread to her spine — it was devastating.
Prior to Ava’s diagnosis, I was focused on my business, making money and providing for my family. I worried about that type of thing a lot. I don’t do that anymore. My world changed when doctors told me and my wife that my daughter had cancer. My focus shifted. Priorities change.
We had to find the best care for Ava. She had surgery for the primary tumor at a local hospital, but after research we decided that the remainder of her treatment would be at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, where there was a team of experts who knew how to treat this type of cancer.
When we arrived at St. Jude, we were immediately overwhelmed. But at the same time, we were met with kindness, especially by the doctors and nurses, who were outstanding. I’ve never seen such professionalism, and care, people that really care about their job. It’s a calling at St. Jude. They don’t do the work just for the money; they do it because they really believe in helping the kids.
At St. Jude, Ava underwent a second brain surgery, followed by several months of proton therapy and chemotherapy. The days were long. Besides treatment, she had multiple therapies, scans, and lab visits, but my little girl was a champ.
Ava has always been feisty, but this cancer fight highlighted my daughter’s resiliency, perseverance, and toughness. A scrappiness I didn’t know she had. I’m so proud of her for that — she’s been a rock star.
While we worried about our daughter’s health, we didn’t have to worry about the cost of treatment, thanks to St. Jude. While Ava was being treated at the hospital, I didn’t have to decide on treatment based off of what we could afford. I just made decisions based on what was best for my daughter. It’s such a blessing that this place exists. Without that, it would have been much more stressful.
Ava is in remission now, and we have returned home. There's a new normal. Ava attends her therapies and I go to work. I love weekend mornings when we have slow starts, and where we just spend time around the pool and with each other.
As a father you want to provide, and I’m still going to do that, but my number one priority has changed. Now it’s about having my family together, healthy and happy.
I’m happy if everybody is in the same room, enjoying a meal, feeling good — not under duress, not in pain.
That’s my number one priority now.