Katie Caldwell

@katie-caldwell | contributor
Katie Caldwell is the Founder/CEO of the Olivia Caldwell Foundation, which she started in memory of her daughter, Olivia, who passed away from brain cancer at 20 months old in November 2013. The Olivia Caldwell Foundation has given $155,000 to pediatric cancer research since then. In addition to her work for the foundation, Katie is also a freelance writer and writes a popular blog about child loss and childhood cancer.
Katie Caldwell

Finding Happiness After My Daughter Died From Cancer

  For so many years I lived a kind of double life. On the outside it looked like I had it all together. Yes, I had lost my only daughter to cancer. But I was “thriving.” I ran a successful nonprofit that grew more each day. I had the perfect marriage. I simply wasn’t going to let the grief ruin me or my family. But none of it was real. In reality I lived in daily agony. My marriage was anything but perfect. I wasn’t allowing myself to grieve my daughter, and it was starting to eat away at my soul. This successful foundation was the only thing I seemed to be doing right, and that success wasn’t because of me. The blessings have always come from above. Life has settled down tremendously over the past year and a half. I have had to make incredibly difficult decisions, but little by little I see that each difficulty has brought me to where I am today. Today my life is busy and far from idyllic most days. But in it I have found such true joy. My life is not perfect. My family is not perfect. But it is perfect for me. They are perfect for me. It has taken so much work to get to this place. And there’s no way I would’ve made it if it wasn’t for a small army who has surrounded me, loved me and fought for me when I didn’t have the strength to fight for myself. I still struggle daily with anxiety. Sometimes it feels like my legs are too weak to carry me. I have some serious PTSD from the traumas of this life. But my little army patiently guides me through those anxiety spells with such love and grace. I am so grateful for each and every person who has made up my support system over the years. This road has been far from easy, but each of you has made it possible for me to take the steps to move forward. And I couldn’t love you more. The Olivia Caldwell Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit that raises money for pediatric cancer research in memory of Olivia Caldwell, who passed away from brain cancer at 20 months old in October 2013. To date we have given $225,000 to pediatric cancer research. You can learn more and donate by visiting www.oliviacaldwellfoundation.org.

Katie Caldwell

Seeing Facebook Memories After My Baby Died From Cancer

Today started like any other. I woke up to the embrace of my sweet 3-year-old who likes to start the morning by petting my hair. We woke up, I had coffee, fed my boys breakfast and hit the day with a running start. I was blissfully unaware today was any different from another. I got to work, turned on my computer and there it was… my Facebook memory from five years ago today. February 13, 2013 was the day Olivia was supposed to have her last day of chemo ever. It was the day that was supposed to re-define our lives. After seven long months of chemo, MRIs, hospitalizations and nonstop cancer, we were supposed to start living normally. I felt such joy on that day. I was smiling from ear to ear as I loaded up our stroller and pushed my daughter out of the Cancer & Blood Disorders Center at Children’s Hospital Colorado. The nurses and doctors were smiling. We all wanted this to be the turning point in Olivia’s life where cancer no longer got to hold her captive. But it wasn’t. Our lives were turned upside down again just four months later when Olivia’s cancer returned with a vengeance. And with that, February 13, 2013 became a sad memory. It was just a short reprieve rather than a new beginning. In reality Olivia would eventually have her last chemo ever, but not in the way I had hoped for. Her very last chemo treatment would take place on October 17, 2013, which was also the day I found out she was going to die. I hate childhood cancer. It took my daughter. It took everything. My fight is just beginning. I will do whatever I can to find the cure that wasn’t there for my baby. I may not be able to re-write Olivia’s story, but hopefully I can help another family get a different ending. The Olivia Caldwell Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit that raises money for pediatric cancer research in memory of Olivia Caldwell, who passed away from brain cancer in October 2013 at just 20 months old. To date we have given $225,000 to pediatric cancer research. You can learn more and donate by visiting www.oliviacaldwellfoundation.org.

Katie Caldwell

Watching My 6-Year-Old Grieve His Twin Sister After Cancer

When I found out I was pregnant with twins I spent hours daydreaming about the life they would share together. I imagined a special bond filled with a secret language, lots of giggles and endless hours of play. I saw visions of my sweet twins being close even in adulthood as they shared a lifetime of adventures. I saw them supporting each other through thick and thin, always having a great advocate in life.I never imagined their future together would be cut so short. Or that Wyatt would spend his life without his beloved sissy after only 20 months together on earth. We lost Olivia more than four years ago to brain cancer at just 20 months old. Her death not only meant the loss of my daughter but also the loss of Wyatt’s other half. And I have watched him cope with that tremendous loss each and every day since the moment she took her last breath. The night Olivia died was truly awful. Wyatt was miserable and extremely tired so he went to bed at 6 p.m. He was sound asleep in his crib down the hall when Olivia took her last breath at 7:09 p.m. At the exact moment her soul left her body my little boy cried out from his bed. And the next morning he knew she was gone. He didn’t ask where she was. He didn’t look for her. That little baby just knew. Since that night Wyatt has learned how to do life without his sissy, but he still feels her absence. And as he gets older he asks more questions about her and why she died. This morning as I drove Wyatt and his younger brother to school I saw tears rolling down his cheeks. When I asked what was wrong he told me he had dreamed about Olivia and he was really missing her today. He said in his dream Olivia was still here with us. They were in kindergarten together and they shared a room with Landon. And then he asked me the big question: Why couldn’t it be that way? Why did Olivia have to go? Those are questions I wrestle with on a daily basis. Why did I lose her? Why did my baby get cancer? Why couldn’t it have been me instead? All I could do was tell Wyatt yet again that I didn’t have the answers. But we will keep talking about her. Keep missing her. And make sure we remember and honor our girl for the rest of our lives. Content with my answer for the moment, Wyatt dried his tears and bounced off to happily play with his friends at school. Grieving my daughter has been awful. Her loss is like a giant chain I wear around my neck each and every day. But my grief is nothing compared to watching my (almost) 6-year-old grieve. Wyatt has experienced far too much loss in his life. I can’t fix it. I can’t bring her back. But I can love that little boy without ceasing. I can give him a safe space to talk about his sister and make sure he still feels her presence in his life. And I can work to give him the tools necessary to deal with his grief in a healthy way. Olivia girl, I miss you. Your brothers miss you. We all miss you. And we will love you forever and ever. The Olivia Caldwell Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit that raises money for pediatric cancer research in memory of Olivia Caldwell, who passed away from brain cancer at 20 months old in October 2013. To date we have given $225,000 to pediatric cancer research in just 4 years. You can learn more and donate by visiting www.oliviacaldwellfoundation.org. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Katie Caldwell

A New Year With New Beginnings

Another new year has begun and I can’t help but be struck by how different the beginning of this new year is compared to the last. On January 4, 2017 I made the most difficult decision of my life when I chose to officially end my nearly eight-year-long marriage to my high school sweetheart. It was a choice I never dreamed of making when I said “I do” at the young age of 22. But it was one that became necessary after so many years of life beating us up in every way imaginable. That marriage gave me four beautiful children. Two of them are in Heaven, including my precious Olivia, and another baby who was unfortunate enough to end up in my fallopian tube. The beginning of 2017 was horribly sad. I don’t know that I’ve ever cried that much in all my life. We left so much behind as the kids and I moved delicately into a new and unknown chapter in life. We’ve all spent a lot of time in counseling over the past year as we heal from the losses we’ve each experienced. But now as 2018 begins I am truly and joyfully happy. My kids are doing so well. Wyatt is in kindergarten and thriving. My littlest Landon is three years old with the vocabulary of a 5-year-old and boundless amounts of energy. The boys still have a wonderful relationship with their dad and see him every week. I’ve also been blessed to find a new love who makes each day so beautiful for me. I am constantly in awe of how he has embraced my children and I so completely. We began 2018 in his hometown where the boys were able to meet his family. Watching the joy in my little boys’ faces was wonderful as they ran free on the acres of land, drove tractors, went sledding and played with newfound family members. This life has been filled with a lot of heartache. But little by little it has turned into something more beautiful and peaceful than I could have ever imagined. I hope and I pray that 2018 is a wonderful year filled with new beginnings for all of us. And I wish the same for each of you. The Olivia Caldwell Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit that raises money for pediatric cancer research in memory of Olivia Caldwell, who passed away from brain cancer at 20 months old in October 2013. To date we have given $225,000 to pediatric cancer research. You can learn more and donate by visiting www.oliviacaldwellfoundation.org. This post was originally published on the Olivia Caldwell Foundation Blog. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Getty Images photo via Ruslanshug

Katie Caldwell

Finding a New Balance After Divorce and Child Loss

Lately I’ve been feeling stuck in a kind of twilight zone. I’ve been living with part of my heart in the past while the rest of me has moved on towards the future. I’ve been walking on eggshells trying desperately to avoid upsetting the balance between my old life and the new as I take each step towards the future that’s meant for me. It’s been exhausting. Over the weekend the balance I had been hoping for was shattered. And it absolutely broke my heart. Divorce is tricky, and keeping a balance between two families after heartbreak can be impossible in this broken world we live in. I have shed a lot of tears the past two days. Then I came across a quote this morning that helped lift me back up:  “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” —  C.S. Lewis I realized  I can no longer live in this grey area. I can’t change a thing about the past that led me to where I am right now. But I can choose to take my foot out of the past and move towards the future. I can choose to start fresh and take each new step towards the future with true joy, peace and dignity. It’s time to embrace the beauty in this new season of life and live life as the woman I have become as the result of my life and this eventful year. This past year was one of the worst years of my entire life. I had to make countless heartbreaking decisions and I spent far too much time in utter despair and chaos. But 2017 was also the year I finally found myself, and learned how to break the unhealthy patterns and sadness that had caused my heart to break so completely. I am far from perfect and I will always be the first to admit that. But I will no longer live in a state of fear and anxiety. This life has been hard enough without taking on everyone else’s impossible expectations and judgments. Life is too short to live in bitterness. If there’s anything I’ve learned from all the losses in this life, it is that tomorrow is never promised. And each moment is far too precious to waste. Choose to love wholeheartedly and to see the good in others. Serve without expectation. Live and love like Jesus in spite of all the brokenness. Life is too short to do it any other way. The Olivia Caldwell Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit that raises money for pediatric cancer research in memory of Olivia Caldwell, who passed away from brain cancer at 20 months old in October 2013. To date we have given $225,000 to pediatric cancer research. You can learn more and donate by visiting www.oliviacaldwellfoundation.org. This post was originally published on the Olivia Caldwell Foundation blog. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Getty Images photo via Sylverarts

Katie Caldwell

Picking Up the Pieces After Child Loss

The day I lost my only daughter Olivia to brain cancer, my heart shattered. Something deep inside of me broke. And ever since that awful moment on October 22, 2013 I have been living as an incomplete person. She was part of me, and living without her now just doesn’t feel right. For four years I have struggled mightily with depression and anxiety. Watching my daughter endure cancer and then pass away at 20 months old in my arms has certainly taken a huge toll. There are days when I don’t have the strength to tackle even the most mundane tasks. All I can do is take a step back, rest and wait for it to pass. There are times I burst into tears for no particular reason or I lash out in frustration or anger. Grief is a roller coaster and the ride is exhausting. My grief cycle was only magnified when my marriage ended more than a year ago and I became a single mom to two rambunctious little boys under the age of five. But piece by piece my life and my heart are being put back together. And I am beginning to feel truly whole once again. Over the past year I have learned how to take care of myself, and in a way that lets me be a more loving and present mother to the two little men I’ve been given the privilege of raising. I’ve learned to say no far more often as I work to find a better balance in life. More nights are spent at home and I’ve dropped out of a lot of the extra evening activities the boys and I once enjoyed. The time is flying by and I want to soak up the minutes the boys and I have while they are still so little. More recently my heart has been opened up to a new love. God brought me a wonderful man who loves me right through my grief as he patiently helps pick up the pieces of my broken, tattered heart. Life is still messy and I am far from perfect. But piece by piece my life is turning into something incredibly beautiful. The Olivia Caldwell Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit that raises money for pediatric cancer research in memory of Olivia Caldwell, who passed away from brain cancer at 20 months old in October 2013. To date we have given $225,000 to pediatric cancer research. You can learn more or donate by visiting www.oliviacaldwellfoundation.org. This post was originally published on the Olivia Caldwell Foundation Blog. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here. Getty Images photo via max-kegfire

Katie Caldwell

How Could I Say Goodbye to My Sweet Baby Girl?

Today I woke up with a sick feeling in my stomach. It has been this way each morning for at least a week. I have known what’s coming and I am anything but prepared. This week is packed full off anniversaries. Each one even worse than the one before it. And my heart just isn’t ready to face it all once again. October 17, 2013 was the day I learned my daughter was going to die. After fighting beside her to save her life for 16 months, her long battle was going to end. There was nothing else that could be done. I will never forget sitting in the family conference room of the oncology floor waiting for her shunt series MRI results. I was sitting alone in the room with Olivia asleep on my lap. Then in walked her oncologist, neurologist, primary nurse, nurse practitioner and the oncology social worker. My heart sank. I knew in that moment this meeting was different than any meeting we’d had before. Usually her oncologist delivered MRI results by himself. Before the doctor could even sit down he said the words, “I am so sorry, but the results are not good. Olivia is going to die.” Olivia’s tumor had tripled in size in just three weeks. I went into shock. I didn’t know what to say or how to react. It was like my heart was ripped right out of my chest. Tears began to roll down my cheeks and I looked desperately at my daughter who was sleeping so peacefully. How could I say goodbye to the greatest love of my life? How would I continue to live without my daughter? I listened as the doctor told me to go get Olivia’s dad and come back so we could talk about what happens now. That was when it hit me. No one else knew. I would also have the horrible task of telling Olivia’s dad and other family members she wasn’t going to make it. The next hours and the days that followed were a blur. I felt like I was in a cloud. My mind wasn’t really processing anything. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t drink. I just wanted to be by my girl. Beginning that night Olivia slept in bed with me, tucked safely into my arm each night. And our days were spent on the couch with her nestled on my chest or between her dad and I. I was terrified to leave her for even a moment. What if I missed her last breath? I would never forgive myself. On October 21 around 7 p.m. Olivia’s breathing changed. She slipped into a deep sleep and her breathing became gravely and pained. That continued for almost exactly 24 hours. And then on October 22, 2013 at 7:09 p.m. my daughter died in my arms. She was only 20-months-and-3-days old. To say I miss her is a massive understatement. I am no longer whole. How can I be when I have to live without my only daughter? Being Olivia’s mommy changed me forever. Loving her made me love deeper. But losing her also left me with a terrible anxiety and severe PTSD. Many days my stomach is in knots. I am easily overwhelmed. I have a big fear of losing more people I love. Childhood cancer is a monster. It stole my daughter’s childhood, her innocence, her eyesight, the use of her right arm, and ultimately, it stole her life. I will never be the same. Please remember my sweet Olivia. Light a candle. Wear purple. Or make a donation in her honor. I simply can’t believe it’s been four years since I got to hold her. Until I see you again baby girl, I will love you and think of you every single day. The Olivia Caldwell Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit that raises money for pediatric cancer research in memory of Olivia Caldwell, who passed away at 20 months old in October 2013 from brain cancer. To date we have given $155,000 to pediatric cancer research. You can learn more and donate by visiting www.oliviacaldwellfoundation.org. This post was originally published on The Olivia Caldwell Foundation Blog. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Getty Images photo via Nadezhda1906

Katie Caldwell

After 4 Years, I've Finally Found Beauty in the Midst of My Grief

It’s been four years baby girl. Four years since I got to hold you or feel your sweet little lips on my cheek. Four years since I heard your laugh or have been able to run my fingers through your beautiful brown hair. And I miss it all. I miss you. My anxiety has been on overdrive this week. I’ve been lying awake at night just staring at the ceiling in the dark. My stomach is in knots and I constantly feel like crying. My soul is aching for you. The past year has been one of the most difficult and equally beautiful years of my entire life. I said goodbye to so much. It’s taken time to come to terms with how different it all looks from the way I planned it. But it is in the thick of the mud I finally found myself. For so long I lived in a state of disassociation. I knew my daughter died. And even though on the outside it looked like I was grieving in such a healthy way, I wasn’t allowing the grief in at all. I talked about Olivia, but didn’t really let myself remember her. And when I did think about her I only wanted to remember the good and refused to remember all the trials and tragedy. And when the tears welled up and threatened to explode down my cheeks, I would force them to stay in. I said I was making a choice by refusing to let the grief win. But in reality, I was refusing to grieve at all. There have been so many tough days this year. I have days where the grief overtakes me. Days where she is all I think about. But I am finally really grieving. Really processing it all. And while it is far from fun, it is also completely necessary. With each day I get a little healthier. My feelings become more real and less veiled. And with that, the beauty of the mud in this life is starting to show through. Yes, I lost my daughter. And yes, I got divorced. Both have been incredibly painful. But there is so much beauty in what has come after these storms. “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross I love harder because I’ve lost so much. I have a deeper appreciation for the people around me and for the “small things” that happen each day because I know tomorrow isn’t promised with any of them. I can really see the beauty that’s come from all of it. And that is what makes me grateful for all the mud I’ve had to wade through in this life. The Olivia Caldwell Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit that raises money for pediatric cancer research in memory of Olivia Caldwell, who passed away from brain cancer at 20 months old in October 2013. To date we have given $225,000 to pediatric cancer research in just three years. To learn more or to donate please visit www.oliviacaldwellfoundation.org. This post was originally posted on the Olivia Caldwell Foundation blog. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Katie Caldwell

On Missing My Daughter, but Finally Being at Peace

People ask me often how I can cling to my faith the way I do after losing my only daughter to brain cancer before she even made it to her second birthday. And the answer to that question always takes me back to the night Olivia died. Watching a loved one — especially your child — die is excruciating. I will never forget the sound of her breathing that began just after Olivia slipped into her final sleep. For almost exactly 24 hours we listened intently to that heart-wrenching sound and waited for it to stop. We knew we were in the final stages of her life. And then it happened. At 7:09 p.m. on October 22, 2013 Olivia stopped breathing altogether. For more than a minute there was no sound. Then suddenly, without warning, Olivia opened her eyes and let our three beautiful, soft breaths and then closed her eyes one final time. She was gone and I was absolutely devastated. But even in my devastation I knew I had just witnessed a miraculous healing. I had watched my daughter’s face as she came face-to-face with Jesus, took his hand and left her cancer-filled body behind. The look of complete peace, joy and contentment on her face is something I will never, ever forget. When I feel depressed and my soul aches for my girl my mind travels back to those precious moments. I no longer need to worry and wonder if Olivia will ever be healed or if she’s safe. I miss my daughter endlessly, but I have peace in knowing I will see her again. And when I do she will be healthy, happy and running free in a body no longer overtaken by disease. Until then my angel, I will continue to love you and treasure being your mama. The Olivia Caldwell Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit that raises money for pediatric cancer research in memory of Olivia Caldwell, who passed away from brain cancer at 20 months old in October 2013. Since then we have given $225,000 to pediatric cancer research. To learn more or to donate please visit www.oliviacaldwellfoundation.org. This post was originally posted on the Olivia Caldwell Foundation Blog. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Katie Caldwell

On Remembering the Last Snow Storm Spent With My Baby Girl

The first snow storm of the season blanketed Casper earlier this week. As I watched the snow fall, silently covering the city in white, my mind took me back in time to the first Casper snow four years ago. Ironically, just as I am this week, I was fighting my first cold of the season during that snow storm in early October 2013. We still lived in Rawlins at the time, but we were in Casper for a few days so Olivia could receive her weekly chemo treatment at an oncology facility. The snow storm hit unexpectedly, leaving behind more than a foot of early season snow. We couldn’t make the trip back home and instead spent a few days shut inside my parents home. Rather than feel frustrated by our change in plans, I decided to enjoy the gift of those lazy days with my little family. I curled up in a recliner next to the fire and held Olivia on my chest for hours at a time. She slept so peacefully with her little head pressed into the crook of my neck. That was always her favorite spot to sleep. Occasionally, she would let out a little whimper and snuggle in closer. Even with my bright red nose and constant sniffling, being close to her mommy was all my baby wanted. Those days were so precious. That unexpected snow storm in early fall 2013 gave me the opportunity to slow down and truly enjoy just cuddling with my daughter. There was absolutely nowhere else I had to be or anything else I had to do. I could simply enjoy her. Breathe her in. Take the time to memorize what it felt like to have her sleeping so close. Little did I know that would be my very last snow storm with Olivia. Just a short week and a half later I got the news that Olivia’s cancer was now terminal. And five days after that on October 22, 2013 my 20-month-old baby took her last breath in my arms. That last snow storm is now a memory I treasure. I am so glad that I embraced those days. What I would give to feel her head pressed against me one more time, just cuddled on the couch, watching the snow fall. The Olivia Caldwell Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit that raises money for pediatric cancer research in memory of Olivia Caldwell, who passed away from brain cancer at 20 months old in October 2013. To date we have given $155,000 to pediatric cancer research. You can learn more and donate by visiting www.oliviacaldwellfoundation.org. This post was originally published on the Olivia Caldwell Foundation blog. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .