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On Being Her Mommy: Remembering My Daughter Who Passed Away From Brain Cancer

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I’ve made it through another Mother’s Day. That might seem like a weird thing to say, but the truth is, Mother’s Day has been pretty awful for me since I lost Olivia. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t love her brothers, but it’s hard to be happy on this day when one of my kids is missing.

This year has been the worst I’ve experienced yet. I spent so much of the past week in tears, remembering her and what it meant to be Olivia’s mommy. And what it still means to be her mommy today.

I became a mommy on February 19, 2012 when my twins, Wyatt and Olivia, came eight weeks early via C-section. It was 24 hours before I was able to see them because I was so sick. I had severe pre-eclampsia with pulmonary edema and I spent those first precious hours completely out of it on magnesium while they were whisked away to the NICU.

At that time, being their mommy meant spending every waking hour by their side in the NICU. We did kangaroo care. I pumped hundreds of ounces of breast milk. I talked to them. I prayed and I waited for them to get strong enough to come home.

After we got home I struggled through the exhaustion that came from being a brand new mom to twins. I had to learn how to establish a schedule and bond with two babies simultaneously.

Then when Olivia was 4 months old everything changed. Being her mom no longer had much to do with the normal worries a new parent faces. That was the month my baby girl was diagnosed with brain cancer. And in a moment I had to grow up fast. There was no longer time for me to be scared or overwhelmed.

In an instant I became an advocate for my daughter.

After Olivia’s diagnosis, being her mommy meant sleeping by her side on a tiny couch in a hospital room. It meant being woken up at all hours of the night by machines beeping, nurses doing vital checks and doctors coming in to discuss details of her case.

It also meant waiting in sheer agony while Olivia had surgery after surgery, including a brain biopsy that put her in the PICU for five days. I would pace the halls of the hospital feeling like I could burst out of my skin.

It was a desperation I had never felt before.

Being her mommy also meant I spent hours and hours sitting in a treatment room while my baby girl was pumped full of chemo. I would bring toys, read her books, sing her songs, and tell that beautiful baby how deeply I loved her, all while willing the cancer to leave her and enter me instead.

Over those 16 months I watched my daughter endure numerous MRIs and surgeries. I sat with her while she was hooked up for several days at a time to an EEG machine to monitor her seizures. I learned how to give dosing for anti-seizure medication and was trained on how to access the mediport in her chest. I even had to give her intra-muscular steroid injections and learn how to place a feeding tube down her nose and give her tube feedings.

Being Olivia’s mommy wasn’t easy. It was exhausting, actually. I had never felt so tired in my entire life. But I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

mom holding daughter in hospital bed

Being Olivia’s mommy also meant having to take on the most horrible and impossible of tasks. I was alone the afternoon I got the news that Olivia was going to die. I was sitting in the conference room waiting for scan results when her beloved oncologist and nursing team came in and spoke the words, “Your daughter is going to die.”

I stared at her while they spoke with every inch of me pleading with God for it to not be true. But it was. And then I had the excruciating task of telling Olivia’s dad and the rest of our friends and family.

Being Olivia’s mommy also meant giving my girl permission to give up her spirit. I will never forget whispering to Olivia that it was OK. I loved her but I knew she needed to be with Jesus and leave this pain behind. And at 7:09 p.m. on October 22, 2013 I watched my 20-month-old take her last breath.

Just an hour later I handed her over to the coroner and watched her leave our home for the very last time. I let go of her and hit the floor.

Today, as I have countless other times, I ache for my daughter. My soul physically hurts because I miss her so much. But being her mommy also meant having the strength to let her go and to continue to be an advocate while she watches from heaven.

This post originally appeared on the Olivia Caldwell Foundation blog.

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Thinkstock photo by Ruslan_Iefremov

Originally published: July 24, 2017
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