Today I’m going to tell you a personal story. One that’s filled with Sadness, Hope, Faith, and New Life. This is a story that involves my family and the story behind Ice Cream Friday.
Driving home one day, I received a phone call saying my little sister, Honey, at the age of 28 was taken to the hospital and was in critical condition. She had been having massive migraines and bleeding. It wasn’t until she collapsed that anyone knew the severity of what had been happening and what was happening now. The doctors did tests of all kinds and tried to get the pain in her head under control, but nothing seemed to ease it. They looked for a tumor, Aneurism, and various types of diseases and all sorts of other things because time was of the essence and she was life flighted to Denver Colorado.
Once in Denver, at the Anschutz UCHealth Center, the doctors found a mass at the back where the spine comes into the head. It needed to be removed immediately because it was pinching off the blood flow to the brain and thus causing the uncontrollable headaches. However, because of her bleeding, there was a great chance if they operated she would bleed to death. They tried to control the bleeding, but nothing was touching it and there was no more time left. They needed to operate, or she wouldn’t make it.
My Dad, Mom and 5 siblings all sent text messages on a family chat line and called when there were any updates. We all prayed that God would bring her through this surgery. I was in shock, then cried and kept praying asking for a miracle in the doctor’s hand. All of us did. When we finally got the call, she was out of surgery, the feelings and emotions that broke free are hard to describe. For those of you who have been through a family trauma, you know what I mean.
My Dad and two brothers were working in western North Dakota at the time and I was about five hours from them. I made plans right away to drive to them and then we would carpool together to Denver which was another 12 hours. Mom and one of my sisters were at the hospital already along with Honey’s husband. Our other sister was in Florida and felt even more helpless than we did.
Honey was in ICU and they were still running tests to see what was going on with the bleeding when they discovered she had cancer, leukemia to be precise. She was in critical condition, had a breathing tube, feeding tube and every other thing attached to her you can imagine. This information came from our family chat line as we were all trying to make it to Denver.
Driving non-stop, we finally made it to the hospital. My Mom, sister, Honey’s husband and the pastor and his wife from their Church were all there. They had stayed with my Mom, so she wouldn’t be alone until my Dad arrived. Our family as a whole will always be grateful to this special couple for being a comfort and watching over our family.
Rules stated that two people could only go in at a time, so patiently we waited our turn to see Honey. It’s hard to explain the feeling of wanting to see someone and knowing how hard it’s going to be at the same time. My brother and I finally were able to see her. If I could tell you what it was like to see her hooked up to all the machines and her lying lifeless on that hospital bed I don’t think I would. We went up to her, prayed for her, told her we loved her and tried to be as normal as possible as far as us speaking to her.
After we were visiting for a few minutes, one of the nurses came in with a big syringe, hooked it up to a tube and started pulling stomach fluid into it to measure it then pumped it back in. I admit that was too much for my brother and me. We quickly exited and went to the bathroom where we could empty our own stomach. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, with some willpower and cold water. But the graveness of our little sister’s situation hit home.
For the rest of the day, we took turns going in to see Honey. At one point we all gathered hands as a family in the waiting room and prayed for her. A moment I will relive forever. If a person ever doubts the power of prayer, then he or she has never experienced God’s amazing care and love for his people. Faith moves mountains if you believe.
While visiting at different times the nurses threatened to kick us out because Honey’s heart rate would go up when we spoke. We knew she could hear us, just couldn’t show it in any other way. Stubbornness runs in our family and the nurses soon found out we weren’t leaving. We understood her condition but also knew if we were in her place we wouldn’t want to be left alone. Hearing a voice you recognize when you’re in the dark gives a person hope, even when they can’t see you. She was fighting for her life and we were there as her cheerleaders.
That evening my Dad took my Mom to a friend’s house in Denver, so she could get some sleep, a shower and step out of the hospital for a little while. My sister Heidi also went home to take care of her young family and so Honey’s Husband, my brothers and I stayed in the hospital all night. Her husband was able to stay in Honey’s room and the boys and I crashed in the waiting room.
Each day we learned a little more about her condition and what to expect. She started receiving heavy doses of chemo right away. We all learned the terms for everything, what each annoying beep from the machines meant and the protocol of wearing clean clothes, masks and of course no one who was sick could enter her room. No flowers could be sent and when they administered certain types of chemo we had to leave the room. We kindly asked them to not pull stomach fluid again before telling us and pretty soon we knew every nurse, doctor and staff member working on the ICU floor.
After the initial visit, the majority of us had to go back home, which was so incredibly hard. Not knowing if we would get to see Honey again. We all have families, jobs, and animals so we left. I know this is still the middle of the story, but I want to tell you that Honey was never left a day or night alone in the hospital. We took shifts as a family and worked out our schedules so Mom, Dad, her husband or one of us siblings were always with her or watching her young children.
Whichever family member was their sent-out group text messages every night explaining what all took place that day. The entire family was informed the whole time and would look up anything new that the doctors said then shared it so, the family knew in everyday terms what was going on.
It was my turn again when she was still in ICU and was able to see her kids for the first time. She had been looking forward to this day and when it came, it almost didn’t happen. She looked at me from her hospital bed and said, “I’m fighting for them. There’s no point in continuing if I can’t see them.” Her kids were one, three and four. I got on the phone and the kids did end up coming. It’s hard to continue from here.
It was late, and the parking lot was lit by street lamps as I helped take the kids out of their car seats. Once inside the hospital, Honey’s husband and I washed their hands and told them what they would see before entering their mommies room. They were so small, but God seemed to give them the knowledge of an adult and understanding.
Putting on masks, we all walked through the door to Honey’s room. The way her eyes held hope again and the kid’s little voices saying, mommy when they saw her would tear anyone’s heart out. They couldn’t sit with her but stood next to her on a chair and gave her tender hugs and rubbed her hands asking if she was alright.
The nurse cried, and I only held it together for the kids. Those children gave enough love to their mom in those 20 mins. to keep her fighting and alive. The power of love is something we should never underestimate or take for granted.
Our family is extremely close and always has been. Not one time in our lives did we have to face something alone. I’m not trying to brag. Trust me, I know how incredibly blessed we are as a family. Dad and Mom are amazing, and both sets of my grandparent also. We were raised to hold each other up and be there if anything happened to one another. We were and are a team.
Getting back to Honey. When she was able to leave ICU and the hospital, she had to stay in outpatient housing. My sister from Florida gave up her job and moved to Colorado. She has her own family and they were amazing for allowing and encouraging her to go. For the duration of Honey’s rehab and physical therapy, she stayed at the outpatient center. Since Honey had been in bed for months, she no longer could sit up on her own or walk.
Her body had been through swelling to the point of her skin splitting because of the drugs and going back down. Everything was new, and her body had to make a huge come back. Every day she was bussed to the hospital to take blood and then back again to the outpatient housing. My mom and sister took classes so they could be her caretakers and took turns staying with her the entire time she was there.
Now Honey was still on a feeding tube because she had to eat so many calories on her own before they would take it out. This is where ice cream Friday comes in.
Rewinding from this point to before Honey got sick when my Dad and brothers were working construction together in Cheyenne Wyoming. On Friday as a treat Dad would take them out for ice cream, signaling the beginning of the weekend. When we went to visit, and it was Friday we would get the same treatment. From there each sibling adopted the tradition and it became a family thing. We would take photos on Friday wherever we were at in the world and send them on a chat line.
Now, fast forward again. Dad was taking a turn with Honey and was determined to get this feeding tube out. He was with her for days and by the time Friday came, Honey was able to get off the feeding tube. You see my dad had been feeding her shakes. We all received this picture of Honey and Dad drinking their shakes, celebrating her feeding tube coming out and Ice Cream Friday. I can’t write this without crying, remembering their smiles.
From there, ice cream Friday was more than a celebration of the weekend. It was a celebration of a miracle and Honey’s life. To this day we hold the tradition and thank God for the gift of our sister and family.
Honey went home eventually but had to go back to ICU when her cancer returned. This time when I saw her she could barely walk because she was so thin. I’ve watched war documentaries of concentration camps and Honey looked like one of the prisoners living in them. Never have I seen a body go through such extremes.
She needed a bone marrow transplant this time or she wouldn’t make it. All of us siblings were tested, and my oldest brother was a perfect match. In fact, we were split down the middle. Out of six kids, three of us siblings were a perfect match the same as the other three. My oldest brother was chosen because he is male and that helps so a patient doesn’t reject the transplant. Females carry an extra hormone that comes out when they have children that can affect the transplant.
The transplant was successful, but there were side effects Honey had to endure when her body tried rejecting portions of the transplant. Her skin would break out and she would have to be put back on antirejection medicine. When it went away, she was able to get off that pill again. More than once this happened.
Through her long struggle and two years of fighting, Honey has been cancer free for a year. She loves life and is a witness to us all about what inner strength looks like.
Our family is as close as ever and continue our chat line on an almost daily basis. We make a point to stay connected no matter where we’re at in the world. Our individual families were amazing during this time and continue to be. With support from every side and friends and family letting us stay with them, we were extremely blessed and fortunate.
Now, I only eat sugar on Ice Cream Friday for health purposes and to keep the tradition alive. It’s also a reminder of Honey’s sacrifice and the fact that a little sugar and love goes a long way!
With Easter this weekend I felt the need to share our families story. Jesus gave his life, but most importantly gave complete love to his people. We have that love inside of all of us and the ability to shower it on ones who need it. Whatever your station in life or no matter where you live. No one can take away who you are inside and what you’re capable of giving.
Blessing to you this Easter, Good Friday, and from our family to yours, Happy Ice Cream Friday!
– Heather Earles