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Love conquers all…most of the time

When real love is involved, parents can face some of the toughest challenges imaginable and still come out on the other side stronger, tougher and wiser.

By Danielle Braff

Nine months after they got married, Laura and Steve Lutarewych’svows were put to the challenge. Laura-in her 20s and alwayshealthy-was diagnosed with skin cancer. Doctors gave her a 40percent chance of surviving.

“I thought my life was over,” she says. “I thought that this was mydeath sentence and I was terrified. I was so sad. I had just gottenmarried, and I had my whole life in front of me.”

A partial finger amputation, the removal of her lymph nodes and ayear of treatment saved her life, and just a few months after beingdeclared cancer-free, Lutarewych was pregnant.

“I was so over the moon. It was everything that I had workedthrough my treatment for. I had done it, and now I was getting thegreatest gift. I got my life, and now I was getting my child,” shesays.

But her baby, Atia, would face her own crisis. At 17 months old,she crumpled to the floor and screamed in pain when Lutarewychchanged her diaper. Three trips to the emergency room in 1½ weeksfinally left them with an official diagnosis: Atia had AcuteLymphoblastic Leukemia and she had to start chemotherapyimmediately to save her life.

“I couldn’t catch my breath,” Lutarewych says, remembering theutter nightmare that her life became once again. “Is my baby goingto have to die?”

Atia would undergo daily chemotherapy for 2½ years until July2011.

“When I was weak, Steve was strong,” Lutarewych says of her husbandand their family survival technique. “When he had his breakingpoints, I was strong. And we had tons of family surrounding us.It’s kind of like the old days, where it takes a community. Ourmission as a family was to get our daughter through this.”

Now, Atia, 6, has two younger siblings. The cancer, which once tookaway her ability to walk, didn’t stop her for long. She is now onher gymnastics pre-team and she wants to be a doctor.

“I thought my life was over,” she says. “I thought that this wasmy death sentence and I was terrified. I was so sad. I had justgotten married, and I had my whole life in front of me.”

A partial finger amputation, the removal of her lymph nodes anda year of treatment saved her life, and just a few months afterbeing declared cancer-free, Lutarewych was pregnant.

“I was so over the moon. It was everything that I had workedthrough my treatment for. I had done it, and now I was getting thegreatest gift. I got my life, and now I was getting my child,” shesays.

But her baby, Atia, would face her own crisis. At 17 months old,she crumpled to the floor and screamed in pain when Lutarewychchanged her diaper. Three trips to the emergency room in 1½ weeksfinally left them with an official diagnosis: Atia had AcuteLymphoblastic Leukemia and she had to start chemotherapyimmediately to save her life.

“I couldn’t catch my breath,” Lutarewych says, remembering theutter nightmare that her life became once again. “Is my baby goingto have to die?”

Atia would undergo daily chemotherapy for 2½ years until

‘I had my whole life in front of me’


Just before he turned 6, Isaac Parris, of Montgomery, startedcomplaining of headaches. His mom April Schippers took him to thepediatrician, who sent him to the chiropractor, who sent him to theemergency room doctor, who sent him by ambulance to LutheranGeneral Hospital.

“Here I am getting crazy news that you’re never expecting to getfrom a headache,” says Schippers, who learned in June 2011 thatIsaac had a brain tumor.

“When I found out that Isaac had a mass in his head, I didn’treally get it,” Schippers says. But when she was told he would havetwo weeks to live without surgery and a 25 percent chance that hewould die during the surgery, it all sunk in.

“It became very real and beyond frightening,” she says.

But Isaac was a survivor.

He underwent 30 days of radiation to his brain and spine andnine rounds of chemo for his stage 4 Medulloblastoma.

As bad luck would have it, Schippers, a first-grade teacher, hadbroken up with her boyfriend, Pat, just before Isaac’s diagnosis.When Schippers’s sister called him to tell him that Isaac was beingrushed by ambulance to the hospital, Pat raced there evenfaster-and he never left Isaac’s side.

In fact, he never left anyone’s side ever again.

Isaac finished his treatment Aug. 24, 2012, and was officiallydeclared cancer-free. April and Pat Schippers married Oct. 20,2012, with Isaac and his sister, Ivy, walking them down theaisle.

“It’s a really hard thing to understand, and we wouldn’t wish thison anyone, but it was the best year of our lives because it broughteverything into perspective,” April Schippers says. “We trulycherished everything.”

They’re sharing their blessings with care packages called Camp OutFrom Cancer. So far, the Schippers-Parris family and theirsupporters have donated 35 care packages with a camping theme tochildren in the hospital. The packages include a tent, flashlight,glow sticks, books and popcorn.

“The kids can have their own campout in their hospital room and getaway from everything else that’s going on from all the craziness,”April Schippers say

Isaac finished his treatment Aug. 24, 2012, and was officiallydeclared cancer-free. April and Pat Schippers married Oct. 20,2012, with Isaac and his sister, Ivy, walking them down theaisle.

“It’s a really hard thing to understand, and we wouldn’t wishthis on anyone, but it was the best year of our lives because itbrought everything into perspective,” April Schippers says. “Wetruly cherished everything.”

They’re sharing their blessings with care packages called CampOut From Cancer. So far, the Schippers-Parris family and theirsupporters have donated 35 care packages with a camping theme tochildren in the hospital. The packages include a tent, flashlight,glow sticks, books and popcorn.

“The kids can have their own campout in their hospital room andget away from everything else that’s going on from all thecraziness,” April Schippers says.

‘It brought everything into perspective’


When they were married back in 1969, Nancy and Paul Dunn nevercould have guessed how much their married life would be put to thetest. Their first child was born in 1971 and was healthy. But threeyears later, when Nancy was pregnant with their second daughter,their OB/GYN immediately noticed a problem.

“He says, ‘We should have a pediatrician look at her,”’ NancyDunn recalls. Within an hour after little baby Regina’s birth, shewas diagnosed with Spina bifida, a developmental congenitaldisorder caused by the incomplete closing of her embryonic neuraltube.

Eight hours later, Regina had her first surgery to correct wateron her brain. She was paralyzed from her waist down and would haveanother 40 surgeries throughout her life.

Regina died in 2008, but Nancy Dunn was grateful for Regina’sshort life.

“She was a joy. Probably to other people, if you gave them thisstory about her, I understand that it can sound very down. But youtake a day at a time, and a step at a time, and when you havesomeone you love and they love you, she was a very happy person,and I can’t imagine my life if I hadn’t had her.”

Twelve years before she died, Regina embraced Michelle RoseKing, her full-term stillborn niece, who passed away due to herumbilical cord being wrapped around her neck.

“We talked about how life was a gift from God, and he would helpus through this no matter what the outcome was,” Nancy Dunn says.”We are there with and for each other. We had one another, and youknow that life does continue.”

It does, though Nancy and her family have had even more struggles.In 2001, Nancy was diagnosed with breast cancer and is now inremission. And in 2010, her husband, Paul, had a stroke and isunable to speak.

“Are we going to face struggles that other people are not going toface?” she asks. “Yes. It’s just something you have to work throughwhen you’re in it, and you take a deep breath and you step forward.I have a choice to be happy with what I have, and where I am-or Ican feel defeated and angry-and none of that is going to make mylife any better. So we thank the Lord for what he’s given us and wemove on.”

It does, though Nancy and her family have had even morestruggles. In 2001, Nancy was diagnosed with breast cancer and isnow in remission. And in 2010, her husband, Paul, had a stroke andis unable to speak.

“Are we going to face struggles that other people are not goingto face?” she asks. “Yes. It’s just something you have to workthrough when you’re in it, and you take a deep breath and you stepforward. I have a choice to be happy with what I have, and where Iam-or I can feel defeated and angry-and none of that is going tomake my life any better. So we thank the Lord for what he’s givenus and we move on.”

‘We are there with and for each other’


Elizabeth Handler’s first dreadful pregnancy set the tone forall the rest. After getting pregnant while on birth control, her3-pound, 2-ounce baby was born when Handler, of Wheaton, was 27weeks pregnant.

When she realized she’d have to take care of this little bundle,the harsh reality set in.

“How are we going to do this? How is this going to work? When wegot to take her home, I remember thinking, ‘Are you seriously goingto let me take this child home with me?”’

About 17 months later, Handler found herself pregnant again. Shewas still on birth control, and this time, she suffered from anextreme form of morning sickness called hyperemesis. Since herhusband, Brian, is a firefighter, Elizabeth took her IV fluids,vomited and took care of her other baby mostly on her own.

After her second child was born-early again-she found herselfpregnant. Again. And again. And again. All while on birthcontrol.

The cycle continued. Handler had a total of five live births,each one premature, and she’s had hyperemesis in four of them.

She also had 12 miscarriages, a stroke, and is likely going toneed to have a kidney removed. She tries to stay strong for herchildren and she knows that she has her husband’s support, evenwhen he’s not physically by her side every night.

“We’re in this together. There’s no other way to think aboutit,” she says. “I couldn’t do it without him, and he couldn’t takecare of five kids without me.”

Handler has learned how to survive it all while taking care ofher home and her children.

“Our house doesn’t have to be clean. So what if there’s a pileof laundry? The dishes will always be there,” Handler says.

“We had to really shift our priorities from trying to keep upwith the housework to trying to work on communicating with eachother and with the kids. The biggest thing was understanding thatit doesn’t have to be pretty. We just have to make it through.”

‘It doesn’t have to be pretty’


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