What I Learned from Luke John

Courtesy Bridget Hylak

When our first child arrived in September 1992, my husband and I had very little -- just a lot of hope, a lot of faith and a newborn baby boy. We lived in a run-down farmhouse in the middle of Pennsylvania's mushroom country and were barely able to make the rent. But because of that child, we felt like millionaires. Watching him sleep in his borrowed crib, we told ourselves nothing could ever really be wrong so long as we had Luke John. His eyes penetrated our hearts, and his smile illuminated our lives.

I remember the first time he hurt himself. He fell and cut his lip; I panicked when I saw the blood. A year later, I looked back on that cut lip wistfully in light of what the doctors were telling us: "Luke John has liver cancer, and it doesn't look good."

The diagnosis came just hours after I had given birth to his baby sister. The next two years blurred into a nightmare of surgeries and chemotherapy. We kept agonizing over the thought of life without Luke John. Could we ever survive that? Then, after an excruciating final month, he died at the age of 4. I was in the midst of another pregnancy. Overwhelmed by memories of our son's struggle, we wondered how to continue, or even why.

Last winter, as the second anniversary of his death passed, we found ourselves slowly regaining strength. Yes, we lived through a horror we will never forget. But through his example, Luke John taught us to endure.

While fighting a painful battle with an invisible enemy, he bore no bitterness and issued few complaints. He tried to be happy, to smile, to hope. Even after barely surviving his fourth Christmas, in the final weeks of his life, this gentle child continued to talk about "next year, when my cancer's all gone."

Now, as I look around this old farmhouse, its walls cracked and stained with age, I know that soon it will be time to move on -- to a new home, a new future. Our daughter, now 4, has a 2-year-old brother, and another baby is on the way. It will be hard to leave the place where Luke John lived and died, but I am fueled by his hope and courage. So I hold his siblings close, and we struggle to push ahead.