Believe in Miracles: 5 Lessons from Raising a Cancer Survivor

by Adam Bolling

I get to be a dad.

There are many fulfilling things in life, but being a dad takes the cake. Honestly, I never thought I would ever be so blessed as to be the father of five sons—that’s right, five boys! It’s part coaching, part military, and a whole lot of chaotic fun.

My story and my journey as a father are somewhat unique because I have all boys, but more than that, because my oldest son, Kellen, who is now 10, is a cancer survivor. And I would never say that I have handled the various challenges perfectly, but there are some important things I have learned along the way, and I hope you will benefit from them too:

Bolling familyDon’t let it take over your family.

Kellen was diagnosed with Leukemia when he was three-and-a-half, and at the time he had a younger brother who was one. “Shocking” doesn’t do justice to the news we received, but it quickly became our reality. And we were determined to not let it slow down our family.

We caught our breath, did a crash course in cancer 101, and made some necessary adjustments. Then we tried to roll all our energy toward becoming and remaining positive. Childhood cancer is a harsh reality, and we definitely respected that threat; the thought of losing our son was ever-present. But we knew we couldn’t let it get the best of us. We stayed focused on getting our son healed, healthy and happy. Together we would dominate this challenge.

Don’t stop being a parent.

Kellen’s treatments began immediately, and our lives became a roller-coaster. The side effects were very hard on him, and on our entire family. Thankfully, our doctor and his staff prepared us for what may happen. Probably the best advice we received was about handling discipline issues with him. The nurse practitioner told us, “Whatever you were doing, keep doing it. Don’t let your guard down because of what may be brought on by the side effects. Stick to your guns.”

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Worldwide, a child is diagnosed with cancer every 3 minutes adding up to 175,000 children being diagnosed each year. Unfortunately, one in five children diagnosed in the United States will die. NCF is proud to spread awareness about the #1 disease killer of our children and proud to share survivor Kellen’s story from Adam. Get more information about Childhood Cancer here.

As a dad, it was so tough to watch what the medicine was turning our son into—sometimes he was such a monster. So often, we felt sorry for him; we wanted to ease his pain and let him act however he pleased, even if it made things difficult for everyone else. In some ways that would have been easier for us at the time. But we took the approach that he and our whole family deserved something better, and so we held him to a higher standard and stuck with it. It was never easy, and there were many tiring and stressful days—like many areas of being a dad. But now we can see that it paid off. Kellen not only survived the cancer, but he became a really great kid.

Lean on others.

I knew I had a big job to do: protect my son and get him healthy. That might sound like I was strong and in control, but I wasn’t. I quickly learned that I couldn’t handle it alone. Family and friends were major sources of support along the way. During the three-year treatment protocol, we received meals, gifts, donations, and best of all, some free babysitting. It was so amazing to see a team of people who were eager to lighten our load a little bit, and being able to take short detours from our reality of cancer was greatly appreciated.

I must also say that my wife is a saint. Through the ups and downs, we found ways to be good teammates—comforting and encouraging each other and helping each other become better people. A strong marriage will be a huge advantage during whatever difficulties may come your way.

Believe in miracles.

One morning when I was sitting with Kellen at the hospital, my wife walked in with a little stack of pictures. Twins! We had just doubled our kids. Several weeks later, we found out that both babies were boys. Maybe that doesn’t seem that amazing, but at the time, I was overwhelmed at how blessed I was: one son winning his battle against cancer, the other healthy as can be and providing lots of distraction and comic relief (what cancer families call a SuperSib), and then twins on the way.

We continue to celebrate miracles. August 26, 2011, was Kellen’s final day of treatment, and has become what we call “Domination Day.” We celebrate it like a birthday because it means we get to have more birthdays with my oldest son. Later that year, Kellen received a Dream Factory wish trip, and we all went to Orlando. The day we returned, we found out son number five was on the way. All children are miracles in their own way; we must never take that for granted. Maybe it’s just a matter of perspective.

Be a devoted dad.

I am so proud to tell people I have five boys and then watch their reactions. They are certainly healthy and active boys. Most nights at our house it’s somewhere between UFC and the NFL, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sometimes “organized chaos” is where things really get fun!

Although my fathering journey is somewhat unique, I have tried to view each challenge as an opportunity to take my fathering up to a whole new level. For example:

  • I’m in charge of raising five boys to be men, husbands and fathers themselves someday. (Later than sooner would be great.)
  • Balancing time between the five of them can be exhausting, even while there are great rewards, too.
  • I’m trying to train them to be well-mannered, strong individuals that also understand what a family is. Maybe my biggest challenge is seeing them as individuals and not so much a team.
  • I’m frustrated that they don’t learn more from each other’s mistakes. Redirecting and repeating has become my life around them, but it is all part of the bigger picture.
  • I want them to grow up and know how to take care of themselves, how to treat a lady, respect the elderly, and honor veterans and others who protect them and take care of them.
  • I hope they are grateful for what they have. We give them jobs to do at home, and we do a variety of community service projects as well as fundraising for causes fighting childhood cancer.
  • I try to be firm but fair with them, but we really can’t be that lenient—we’re badly outnumbered!

Surely you can identify with many of these day-to-day challenges. It’s all about “bend but don’t break,” right? I love being a dad! It is truly an honor.

Adam BollingAdam Bolling is an elementary PE teacher and coaches high school football and track. He grew up in Nebraska and currently lives with his family in Kansas City.

Watch the replay of the Fathering Breakthrough Event

Join Dr. Ken Canfield and a handful of friends and partners as we give an update about our efforts to inspire and equip fathers all over the world.

There may be no more important work than turning the hearts of fathers to their children, and that’s what this is all about. We’re seeking to repair, rebuild and restore effective fathering for the benefit of children and families everywhere.

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