Thanks for the nice comments guys! It really does mean a lot to me
I'll post the rest of the essay now. Its a little lengthy, but I hope it keeps your attention. Once again, all feedback is welcome!
February 25, 2007 started out as a typical Saturday for the Holwegner family. Renee went with her younger daughter Sadie to a volleyball tournament in Wenatchee while her husband Michael went to a different volleyball tournament with their older daughter Shayla in Pasco. The morning started out fine with parents cheering for their daughters and exchanges of phone calls back and forth to keep up with each daughter’s progress. Unfortunately, things didn’t go this smoothly all day. Renee got a call from Michael who told her that Shayla had broken her leg while playing volleyball and was on her way to the hospital and would be going into surgery shortly. Renee immediately found Sadie and told her that her sister had been hurt, and she was going to drive to Pasco to be with her. The hardest part for Renee was the unknown; she had no idea how Shayla was doing, what the extent of the injury was, if she wanted her mom, or if she was in surgery. While Renee was telling me this, she looked directly at me and said, “I knew something was wrong.” To me, this is amazing in itself. Only loving mothers have this “sixth sense” of knowing if their child is going to be okay or not. Sadly, Renee was right in thinking that something wasn’t right. The surgeon had found an unknown substance on Shayla’s femur while in surgery and sent it in to get a biopsy. Shayla was sent home and Renee was promised a phone call within three days to let her know what the biopsy showed. Three days later Renee got the phone call and it changed her life.
The biopsy showed that Shayla had a form of cancer called Osteosarcoma. The doctor then proceeded to tell her that she would need to take Shayla to Children’s Hospital in Seattle to get further testing done. Renee told me that while the doctor was telling her this, she was trying to figure out a way to tell Shayla. Two days later Shayla and Renee drove to Seattle to meet with the doctors who would tell them the full extent of the situation and what their options were. These doctors told them that they would have to live the next eight months in a facility called the Ronald McDonald House while Shayla received chemotherapy treatments. Renee told me that Shayla was extremely strong throughout the whole meeting and she didn’t break down until she asked if she would lose her hair and the answer was yes. Renee said that she tried to comfort Shayla but Shayla wouldn’t let her. She just pushed her away. This was very hard for Renee because she just wanted to be able to comfort her daughter and try to make things better. While Shayla was talking to the doctor alone, Renee talked with a counselor. The counselor told Renee that the only thing Shayla had control over at this point were her emotions. Renee had to know that Shayla needed her space and would let her know when she was needed. The next twenty one months of Shayla’s life would determine how much Renee was really needed.
To me, Renee is the strongest person and mother I have ever met. She stayed by Shayla’s side throughout this horrible time and never left once. She did everything in her power to make sure Shayla was comfortable and was living her life as best as she possibly could. I asked Renee how she stayed so strong for Shayla during this trying time. She just looked at me and said,
"Strength is not something to be judged. I can’t tell you the number of people that have come up to me and said they couldn’t handle a situation as well as I have with Shayla. I think people give up their strength prematurely. If someone were to be put into the same situation we were, they would have done everything they could to make it work."
When I asked Renee if she learned anything about herself while staying next to Shayla’s side, she just smiled and laughed quietly as if to say “Oh, more than you can even imagine.” She thought for a minute and then told me the first thing she learned was how to be quiet. She and Shayla spent about a year and a half living in either the hospital or the Ronald McDonald House. Most of the time they would sit in silence together, just thinking. Thinking about the future, what would happen next, what the ultimate outcome would be, worrying about her other daughter who was living at home with her dad. She said many times people would comment that sitting in a hospital chair for hours on end just wouldn’t be something they could do. Renee said that learning how to be tolerant of their situation and being quiet was a very valuable skill to learn.
The next thing Renee learned about was grief. I’m sure this was probably the hardest thing she has ever had to learn to deal with. While Shayla was getting closer and closer to death Renee said she had no idea how she was going to deal with it. She was so worried that she wouldn’t be able to keep living after watching her daughter’s life be taken away from her. Renee was so worried that she sent her sister an e-mail asking her to remind her to get up and brush her teeth everyday. Luckily she didn’t need those emails, but it was an extremely difficult time for her. Not only was this a difficult time for her, she had to be the strength for her daughter Sadie. Sadie would not let her leave her side for two weeks after her sister had passed away. Only after those two weeks did Renee sleep in her own bed after almost two years. While Renee was telling me this, I noticed that she got a faraway look in her eyes, almost as if she were being transported back to those days where she didn’t know how she was going to carry on. This was the first and only time during the interview where her voice cracked a little and her eyes got watery. I wanted to just go over and give her a big hug but I felt as if I would be invading her thoughts. I can’t believe the amazing amount of strength she had to even be able to talk to me about this.
Renee continues to have strength by sharing her and Shayla’s story with anyone that asks. She encourages Shayla’s friends to still come over and call if any of us are having a hard time. She has expressed her feelings to me about wanting to still be close to me as I continue on with my life. In watching Renee deal with the worst nightmare a mother could possibly imagine, has inspired me to try to be the kind of person and mother that she is. I want to be able to have the strength to take on any challenge like Renee does. When I have children someday, I want them to be able to trust that I will take care of them until I can no longer. I can tell the amount of love Renee has for her daughters, and I can only hope that I too will be able to express that.
Even while Shayla was dying Renee put her life on hold to be by Shayla’s side and to be Shayla’s advocate. Not only was she Shayla’s advocate, she continued to be a mother to Sadie, a wife to Michael, and a source of strength to Shayla’s friends who were dealing with the fact that Shayla was dying. I can only hope to be the kind of person that Renee Holwegner is in any situation.