Guest Blog By Sarah DeBord
On the night I was diagnosed, I came home and nursed my baby boy to sleep through uncontrollable tears. As is the case with most babies, he was obsessively in love with me and I with him. My only thought as I stared down at him was if I would live long enough for him to know how much I loved him. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would die before he and his older brother would be old enough to remember me, and I wondered how could I love them enough then to last a lifetime if was not there.
As I tackled my diagnosis, surgery, and the lifetime of treatment ahead of me, I knew I needed to shift my parenting priorities around and work hard on not only loving them enough to last that lifetime, but creating the life moments that would lead to lasting memories. I needed to focus less on things and more on experiences, and I needed to pour into them the moments that could ultimately shape the men they might have to become without me.
One day my oldest came home from preschool passionately clutching a NASA bag in his hand, and quickly spread its contents on the floor. An engineer from a nearby NASA facility had visited his class, and my little boy who loved LEGOs, puzzles, how things worked, and anything that flew realized his future. He wanted to build things that went to space.
With my newfound focus on parenting, I set out to encourage and build in him this interest in space and evident talent for engineering. He spent a week at Johnson Space Center in Houston doing a robotics camp, and I took him to the California Science Center to see the Space Shuttle Endeavour - where we made a pact to see the other three shuttles on display around the country. There were books, movies, documentaries, plantariums, and engineering classes to add fuel to his fire. We followed the path of the International Space Station, kept up with the astronauts living on it at any given time, and even had the chance to meet former ISS Commander - Col. Chris Hadfield from Canada.
In a chance meeting on Instagram, I became friends with Chip Moore, a fellow stage IV colon cancer patient who happened to work for NASA at Marshall Space Center in Huntsville, AL. He would post the occasional cool photo from work, and I’d always make sure my future aerospace engineer saw it. It was a causal invite from him to visit Marshall Space Center that got my wheels turning toward my son and my quest to parent by way of experience.
What would I give to get my boy in front of real rocket engineers! Men and women that crunched numbers, determined trajectories, and contributed on a daily basis to the U.S. space program and our future mission to Mars. I knew it would be the very experience I wanted to give him as part of my “pour into them now” parenting plan. But in the midst of medical bills and other exotic memory-making vacations, setting aside the time and money to take Chip up on his offer wasn’t a priority. As much as I wanted my son to see a place full of so much space history and innovation, I also wanted to take him on our annual family trip to Cayman, and pay for those dive lessons he was finally old enough to take.
While talking with Colondar featured survivor Doug Dallmann about this standing invitation to NASA, he told me about The Kimberly Fund and encouraged me to apply. He knew the sacrifices my boys have to make growing up with a mom that has cancer. My oldest alone has been to more chemotherapy sessions with me than most cancer patients themselves will ever go to. The Kimberly Fund was the opportunity to not only expose him to what his future could be, it would provide us the chance to spend time together outside of the infusion room. Hanging out with mom doesn’t always have to be cancer related. The grant was exactly what I needed to get my boy to Huntsville, AL, and this invitation to visit NASA and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center was just the experience The Kimberly Fund was set up to provide.
As I continue on with endless treatments to keep my cancer stable, I will continue to look for those invaluable experiences that shape the way I parent now. But this trip to Huntsville was an experience that would not have been possible without The Kimberly Fund and The Colon Club, and for that I’m grateful. It provided me with an amazing opportunity to see my son light up with inspiration, and forget for a few days that cancer ruled our world.