The Secret I Want to Share After My Son With Autism Was Diagnosed With Cancer

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“God never gives you more than you can handle.”

People have been telling me this ever since our son, Alex, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2. Now at 25, he has cancer. Everyone wants to find meaning in the meaningless and to comfort our family and themselves.

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I know people feel helpless. I know they care. I’ve been in that position myself many times. I’ve struggled to find the right words to say or tried to be the one who can say something profound to make a difference.

I’m grateful for the support we receive daily. I also find myself agreeing with people to try and make them feel better. Keeping others happy is more important than sharing my real feelings.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I don’t believe this is happening for a reason.

When Alex was first diagnosed with autism, people told me “Everything happens for a reason” and “God never gives you more than you can handle.” And I believed it. I had to. I had to find a way to make sense of my world. Over the years, my feelings have changed.

Life is beautiful. But it’s also hard, unpredictable, unfair, and sometimes, painful. Loss, pain and tragedy aren’t doled out in equal measure.

Our family is strong, but we have to be. We don’t see any other choice. Our strength enables us to endure life’s challenges while still finding joy. We have a happy life. Alex gives us joy, not heartache. My family has a bond that is unbreakable.

I no longer see his autism as a tragedy. It’s part of him. And who he is, is pretty darn amazing. He brings joy to his family and everyone he knows every day.

Photo credit: Jenna Kutcher

Autism does make his life harder. He is nonverbal and struggles to express himself even with technology. He can tell me he wants pizza and verbally repeat, “Love you.” But he can’t share his deepest thoughts and fears. He can’t weigh in on the life decisions his father and I must make for him, like where to go on vacation, if he should move into a group home or does he agree to his cancer treatment.

So we make these decisions for him and constantly try to balance what we think he wants with what we think he needs.

The “everything happens for a reason” chorus has been renewed this year. Alex has cancer. Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

I can’t believe he’s been chosen for this.

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He’s endured 12 rounds of chemotherapy — a treatment every two weeks for 24 weeks. When he was diagnosed, we couldn’t imagine how he would be able to tolerate the treatments, but he amazed us all.

Then came the news the treatments weren’t enough. He still has cancer.

He’s two-thirds of the way through the next phase of chemo. Each of the three treatments is three days long and done in-patient at the hospital. This chemo is preparing him for an autologous bone marrow transplant. The transplant will take place at a hospital 110 miles away from our home. Some of it is in-patient, and some is out-patient. We’ll be gone for at least six weeks.

So that’s my secret. I don’t believe Alex has cancer for a reason. He just has cancer. And it’s awful.

I also don’t need a reason to believe in him. We’re in this together, and we are strong. We are grateful for the support of friends and family. We know we’re not in this alone.

Alex, we’ve got your back.

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