A Cancer Mom’s Strength Comes Full Circle

In one split second, their world changed forever.   A scary and isolating job that no woman could ever prepare for.  Regardless of the type of cancer, the experience is long and difficult. Regardless of remissions, cures or unimaginable loss, cancer is part of their lives forever.  Their moments in life are now marked by haunting memories and inconceivable feelings.  Their family’s timeline is now marked by ‘before’ or ‘after cancer’. We are working during the month of May in honor of Cancer Moms everywhere, fighting for their kids. We will share stories of many incredible Cancer Moms this month and how they define support.  We want to be their voices, reminding you all that the ONLY way we can make things better for kids fighting cancer is to do something about it. We hope we all find ways to lighten the load for our friends, neighbors and family members struggling quietly, valiantly, every single day, to keep their children alive. Donate today in honor of a mom. Donate in honor of a child. Your donation to ISF helps fund pediatric cancer research in our local community.

Sarah Fruendt Sadler has many titles.  She is a pediatric oncology nurse at Levine Children’s Hospital, a wife and just recently added the title, Mom, to her name.  You would never know that she also holds the title for two-time childhood cancer survivor.  Diagnosed with Leukemia at two years old and relapsed when she was eight, Sarah vividly remembers the pain, the treatments, and most importantly, the strength of her Mom.

This is a little different kind of Cancer Mom story… 

By Sarah Fruendt Sadler

When people learn that I am a pediatric oncology nurse, they always cringe and ask why I would choose to work in this speciality. What they don’t know is that I am a two-time childhood cancer survivor myself. When I was two years old, I was diagnosed with Leukemia and spent the next two years in and out of the hospital completing treatments. 

Then at age eight, approximately five years in remission and three years off of treatment, the unthinkable happened – after a routine check, we received the phone call from my oncologist that the cancer had returned. If you ask me what I remember about that night, I’ll tell you that I remember my parents acting very serious and my mom crying as my dad sat us all down on the couch and told us the news. I couldn’t truly comprehend what this meant as I was so young the first time and I simply told them, “Well, I beat this thing once, I will do it again.”

My mother, however, had a strong memory of the cancer life before and was devastated it was going start all over again. She kept journal entries written to us kids and from that night, the entry dated June 4th, 2001 at 2:30am she wrote: 

“Our lives will never be the same, at least not for a while after our phone call from the doctor tonight. You were so young last time, you don’t remember how chemotherapy made you feel. Oh how I wish this was happening to me or daddy, not you. You’ve gone through so much already and you were just getting used to a normal life. And now we have to go through it all again and more intensive this time. You don’t understand how your beautiful looks will change, how weak & sick you will feel, and especially how you will no longer be able to be around your friends. Goodbye normal life.” 

As a mother now, I can’t imagine having to think these thoughts about my own son, knowing the truth of the difficult days that lie ahead. Although we had a huge network of support from our friends & church, no one can take the place of a mother as she spends each day taking her child back and forth to the hospital, keeping up with all of the medications, and trying to hold on to the smallest bit of hope that normal life will return someday. Not only does she have to use her strength and energy to continuously fight for her child with cancer, but daily puts on a brave face and works tirelessly to care for her other children and family as a whole along the way. It’s a tough journey for each and every child facing a cancer diagnosis, but it is too often forgotten how much a parent must sacrifice, especially a mother, as they watch their child suffer and feel helpless to control it. 

During my treatment, there was one particular point in time that I had become very sick and the idea of a full recovery seemed very distant. It still is extremely difficult to go back and read her journal entry to me that day as it said:

“We know that if you were to ultimately die from the Leukemia, that you would go to be with the Lord in Heaven. Oh how I would miss you terribly and it would be so hard – but I know you would be in a better place, the best place, and that I would see you again in Heaven some day.”

Can you imagine thinking those thoughts for your own child, knowing there is nothing you can do to help and you are forced to accept whatever happens? I truly hope that no mother ever does. But childhood cancer surrounds each and every one of us in some way and so much support is needed to help those facing these realities. 

I am 16 years cancer free, as a normal, healthy young adult with a wonderful family and such a rewarding career because of the support of groups advocating for children with cancer like the Isabella Santos Foundation. 

Raising funds for new, upcoming cancer treatments and research for those yet to be discovered means that more success stories like my own are possible for children in the future. Despite having battled cancer twice as a child, I have been able to live my dreams to the fullest. I was given the chance at a normal life – going to school, attending college, studying nursing, marrying the best husband a woman could ever hope for, and even starting a family of my own with our beautiful son. Now I spend my time giving back in the best way I know how, caring for patients and their families at the same hospital where I experienced it all firsthand many years ago. 

Although I have been gifted this amazing opportunity of a normal life, I still rely on the love and support of my mom as it shaped me to be the person I am today.  I know it fills my mother’s heart with joy to see how I have become a mother myself and she’ll never fully know how much her strength and courage has significantly impacted my life. We must all join the fight for not only the children with cancer but the families and especially the moms. We must do what we can to give them hope that their own child will get through this and have a normal life someday – it’s all we can sincerely hope for.

Donate and help us fund upcoming cancer treatments and research so that more kids have success stories like Sarah’s… that they are able to become Mother’s themselves one day.  We are working to help them BEAT cancer, GROW hair and LIVE their dreams.  Your donation to the Isabella Santos Foundation helps fund research so desperately needed for rare pediatric cancer patients.

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