It's every parent's worst fear, lived out by Charlotte mom, Meg McElwain, as her son, Mitchell, was diagnosed with pediatric cancer at just 3 months of age. Join Meg as she courageously shares her family's story in a eight-part guest blog series, Witness to a Miracle: Mitchell's fight against pediatric cancer.
Written by Meg McElwain
I am mother to Frank and Mitchell, two very special little boys. Each of them has a special story and a special place in my heart. My blog over the next few weeks will focus on my second child, Mitchell, and how his birth, baptism and life have changed our family in an extreme way in just two short years.
Part three: a new reality
The first week in the hospital was a blur. To protect Mitchell, we had to place a no visitors sign on the door. Chemotherapy drugs are designed to attack the cancer cells, but they kill the good blood cells in the body, too. This made Mitchells immune system and level of strength very low. He needed a sterile and isolated environment.
The stress of this new reality and all the responsibilities that came with it was starting to show in all of us. The intensity of this stress should have been debilitating for me, but I kept moving. There were times my body was in action doing things to care for my two children, but my mind was frozen and blank.
I did not cry until Wednesday of the week Mitchell was diagnosed. I only allowed it for a minute and did not let it happen again for over six months. I did not have time to cry. I focused on being strong and faithful that God would take care of us. Each time I left the hospital, I listened to Carrie Underwoods rendition of How Great Thou Art over and over in my car. It gave me strength. The words of this hymn tell a beautiful story of how great our God is and how wonderful life can be if you fully put your trust in him.
I would be lying if I said I never feared that I might lose my baby. Ive buried both my parents and have a lingering intimacy with grief. In those moments of fear, I focused back on the promise that, no matter what, God would not leave me.
As the weeks moved on, Frank and I both went back to work and tried to create stability for our two children in this new normal we had for our life. We were fortunate to have Mitchells nanny Pat on our team. She stayed with Mitchell every day while I took my laptop down the hallway to a makeshift office Id set up in the teen activity room at Novant Health Hemby Childrens Hospital.
Frank and I both stayed in the hospital every night for the first 3 weeks, but when my mother in law needed to return to her home in Virginia, Frank started staying home at night with Little Frank. We switched off some, but it was extremely difficult for me to leave the hospital for long periods of time. I love and adore both my boys, yet when one is fighting for his life, it was easy to determine where I am needed most.
Having to make this decision still brought me guilt.
Mitchell fought hard to live. He barely weighed fifteen pounds. He had daily infusions of chemotherapy in the port in his heart. The drugs would cause diarrhea so severe that it would cause internal ulcers and burn the skin off his bottom. His diapers were deemed toxic because of the chemotherapy, so I had to wear double layers of gloves and masks when changing him. We put diapers in hazardous waste bags.
Once, Mitchell was transferred to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit for skin burns so bad that there was almost no skin left on his bottom. He was completely neutropenic; which means his immune system was at zero. He was so tiny. He could have easily died from the slightest hint of infection.
Through all this, Frank and I seemed keep it together. At least that is what it looked like on the outside. Adrenaline and strong coffee kept me going until I finally reached what I now know was my breaking point.
Meg McElwain is wife to Frank Turner, III, and mother to 4 ½ year old Frank and 2 year old Mitchell. Lucy is her loyal Labrador retriever. Meg has owned and operated Magnolia Marketing in Charlotte for over a decade. She volunteers and serves the community. After, Mitchell was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at only 3 months old, Meg felt God calling her to use Mitchells fight to beat cancer and her journey as his mother to inspire and help others. Meg and Frank established the Mitchell Bays Turner Pediatric Fund within the Novant Health Foundation and raise money to support, educate and advocate for families facing challenging pediatric diagnosis.