In this episode:
April fell in love with Billy when she was 16 and they married three years later. Just two months into their marriage, April discovered she was unexpectedly pregnant. April had big plans: she was going to earn her doctorate, conduct research, move to a big city. Being pregnant was not part of this plan. Although initially scared and angry, April would quickly come to realize the gift this baby boy Tyler was to be.
Before Tyler’s second birthday, an aggressive cancerous tumor was discovered in his foot. April and Billy were faced with the agonizing decision of choosing the best course of therapy. As Tyler’s tumor did not respond optimally to chemotherapy, April and Billy elected to proceed with a below-the-knee amputation. At just 22 years of age, this decision and process were overwhelming for April and Billy. Not only were they navigating a serious cancer diagnosis, April and Billy realized they needed to learn to care for a child with a disability.
April and Billy sought out resources and opportunities for Tyler to ensure he had the support he needed to continue to heal. Tyler’s first meeting with other children with disabilities was life-changing. However, though she recognized Tyler’s need for support, April didn’t see her own need.
“Empathy is more meaningful than sympathy. “
Initially, April didn’t appreciate the value of leaning on others, and she allowed her pain to isolate her. With time, April came to accept feeling broken and recognize that life circumstances can be difficult. April advises those going through a challenging time to allow others to encourage and support you. It was the smallest gestures of kindness – a note, a meal, a cap for a bald head – that strengthened April.
Prior to his amputation, April asked Tyler if he’d like to run down the hospital hallway one last time. What did April feel watching Tyler run down the hall for the last time on his own two legs? Defeat. She felt like she was saying goodbye to a sense of normalcy and that with amputation, they were taking from Tyler his innocence and those things he loved about life. Tyler is now a healthy, cancer-free, 18-year old, and he wouldn’t change a thing in his life. He feels that he is the person he is because of his cancer and disability. He possesses resilience, a unique perspective, a strong sense of purpose, and meaningful relationships not otherwise possible. Although some things in life can be more challenging for Tyler, he views this as a small sacrifice for what he’s gained.
April has gone from feeling defeat to amazement at how far Tyler has come. With tears in her eyes, April watched Tyler cross the finish line of a 10-mile hill run in a triathlon for the Challenged Athletes Foundation. He completed his first para-triathlon last summer and competed in Ireland for the USA IWAS team in track and field where he brought home 3 bronze medals.
“No matter how bad things seem, you can overcome what is thrown your way.“
Watching Tyler thrive as a young adult gives April strength and encouragement.
Tyler boldly lives his life with purpose. He competes, volunteers, mentors, uplifts, and encourages. He’s driven by the memory of his friends who lost their lives to cancer; he takes his life opportunity seriously. He knows life is a gift, and he strives to make the most impact he can.
April recently published her first book, No Mess, No Message. Her biggest dream is that people will find hope and recognize that whatever stage of their journey they are in, the situation will change their lives for the better.
“Do something with your special traits. Be the story that inspires someone else.”
The biggest gift of their journey has been gaining perspective, truly knowing people on a deeper level. April acknowledges that it’s humbling being with people who have stories to tell. With Tyler’s cancer and disability, she knows first-hand how valuable life is and how important it is to avoid getting caught up in the small stuff.
April advises against comparing ourselves to others.
“It’s in the comparison that we don’t give ourselves grace. We each have unique gifts and talents. For every person it’s different: it could be your art, words, science, your smile. Whatever brings you joy, do more of that and share it with those around you. You have a purpose that is special and unique to only you. Allow yourself grace, forgive yourself, think about all of the things that are beautiful about you and use that to start your day. You can heal from your pain.”
Thank you for listening!
May our stories help forge your path forward. I hope you’ll stay tuned for our next episode and in the meantime, learn more about my story on my blog.