Year 3 Day 0

March is a tough month for us.
On this day three years ago we pushed a button to start an infusion of stem cells donated by Jack to his sister.

I haven’t been sleeping the past several days. A friend’s message letting me know they were ‘thinking of me today on Day 0’ was the trigger to understand why my sleep hasn’t been great, why I am repeatedly reviewing in my mind what happened to Kate, and why my mood has been low. The body remembers trauma, and my mind is still coping with what we experienced with Kate.

The week leading up to Day 0, and Day 0 itself are weighed heavily in emotion. In the world of bone marrow/stem cell transplant, Day 0 is referred to as your “re-birthday”. I’m going to share the story of that day here for the first time. It won’t be emotional. I can’t go there. It is the narrative of what I remember.


Kate had already been through a week of intensive preparatory chemotherapy to ablate her bone marrow and prepare her for this transplant. Even writing these words now…the fear and anxiety I felt that day push to the surface. It’s an overwhelming feeling – which makes me question why I am writing this.

What I want to share is how we experienced that day. Something that isn’t recorded in a chart anywhere.

The bone marrow transplant team had clearly done this time and again over the years. The mood they set in the room was one of celebration and excitement. I tried to play along as we typically do as parents. You want to engage with your team and show you understand what is happening. You fear showing emotion, or the wrong emotion. So I put a smile on, though I felt confused and scared and had an odd sense of dread mixed with what I can only describe as hope. I wondered if we should be taking a different approach and if I could ask questions, but the train seemed to be rolling and I felt like I had to get onboard.

Maybe if I caught some of their positive energy I would feel better?

The day had already been beyond intense and emotionally draining. Kate and I had been through a week of getting used to living in full isolation, while she was being infused with chemotherapy agents to prepare her for the transplant. The days were long with an energetic little girl enclosed in a room that was 12×15 with a few toys and stickers to entertain her. I was not sleeping much at night as I got used to the lights it the room, the noises of the machines, the nurses coming in and out, and of course waking often with Kate to support her through nausea and diarrhea.

I was worried about her and how this transplant would go. We were getting used to all the new faces of nurses and doctors we were working with. I was quickly learning all the medical terminology in both english and french. We were trying to find a routine in our days. I was already very tired.

12:00 p.m.

Earlier that day I had escorted a very brave and scared 10 year old into the surgical unit to donate his bone marrow. Out of respect for Jack, I will not share details of that experience here. He was incredible and I was devastated with emotion. I am still in awe of him.

They did not let me greet Jack in recovery. He was not placed on the same floor as Kate (as had been promised us). They were separated by a couple of floors. He had very bad nausea as he recovered from his anesthetic and I was not able to be with him – we had to send his aunt instead. 10 years old and his first time in a hospital as patient.

I remember feeling torn about which child I should be with. Who needed me more. Who was more vulnerable. Jack hated to be alone and had significant separation issues. Kate did better with whomever she was with, but I was concerned about her and how she was coping with her infusion. She was the more fragile of the two.

2:00 p.m.

As I sat in Kate’s room, wondering how Jack was doing and trying to text with his aunt for updates, the transplant nurse came into the room. She had a massive 1 litre bag full of blood in her hand. Holding it up, with a huge smile, she said “Look at this! Isn’t this great”. I looked on, feeling anxious and scared, and asked, “What is that?”. She replied, “It’s Jack donation”.

In that moment I felt this rise of dizziness and horror. “What did you do?” I said. I didn’t understand the volume of stem cells they would be taking from Jack. I hadn’t processed what that might look like. It looked like he had been drained dry. No one had prepared me for that. I was separated from my little boy, I hadn’t even seen him yet, and had no idea how he was doing. I looked at that bag of blood and thought, “What have I done”.

(I did recover from that moment. I got a better understanding of the procedure and that this was a good volume and Jack was stable. I also realized how naive and unprepared I was for this procedure and what was to come).

Late evening Day 0

I eventually made my way to the other floor to be with Jack. After pressing the infusion button for Kate, it seemed that she would be fine and Brian could stay with her. I was reassured by the nurse that stem cell infusion was pretty inconsequential.

I was worried about Jack with his nausea, and chose to sleep in his room. Unfortunately sleep didn’t happen as he was in a shared room with another child – and another ‘sleeping’ parent who snored so loudly I could not get to sleep. I asked the nurses for help or a rearrangement of rooms. I told them I really needed to sleep. They said there was nothing they could do (and of course there wasn’t). They offered me another room to sleep in away from both of my kids. I didn’t choose that option.

I am glad I chose not to sleep elsewhere. That night a nurse entered Jack’s room. I woke to find the nurse preparing to poke Jack – to draw blood or infuse something, I wasn’t sure. I intervened before Jack was poked. It turns out the nurse had the wrong child. The intention was to take blood, but Jack was not the patient. This type of thing happens often in hospitals. It is the unacknowledged role of parents/caregivers to catch situations like this before they occur, despite policy and procedures in place. After over 7 years of caring for Kate in hospital, I was well aware of the need to be vigilant. It also reinforced for me that Jack could not be alone. No one said anything to us about the incident.

Meanwhile in Kate’s room

The team encouraged us to take pictures of the ‘moment’ when we pushed the button on the infusion pump.
Kate looked around – her mask on – her hair in cute little ponytails – her torso naked. She was also confused, but used to being compliant. She seemed to be trying to understand the energy in the room and was trying to take her cues as to what was happening from us. She was so innocent.

The large bag of stem cells hanging from the IV pole.

We posed for a picture. We posed with the team and Kate for a picture. We smiled. Someone gave the thumbs up. This was supposed to be a good moment, an exciting one. The transition from fearing SIFD and the catastrophic effect it might have on Kate, to pushing through the other side and finding a place of better health and a life journey that should be less impacted by this disease. In that moment, I’m not sure I believed that would happen. But the moment had already come and gone and the decision was taken. It was a horrible and helpless feeling wrapped up in trying to be brave and hopeful.

That moment, the confusion and doubt, started a seed deep inside me that planted doubt and regret. Even if this went well, I knew I would regret this choice. These are words I never shared with the team.

While I was downstairs with Jack, things were not going well for Kate. Brian began texting me and telling me she was not doing well. Her blood pressure was sky rocketing. Kate was clearly in pain. The nurse was less than helpful – she seemed to be unsure of what to do. Unfortunately it was one of the nurses we were least comfortable with and had a challenge communicating with because of the language barrier.

I decided to leave Jack briefly and go to the bone marrow unit to see what was going on.

Kate was writhing in Brian’s arms. He had that look of desperation, fear and frustration on his face. He didn’t know what to do and he didn’t know what was happening. He was just trying to cope. I realized he had not been in hospital with us very often, and this was his first experience on the floor in the bone marrow unit with Kate. I understood that look on his face. I felt it too, but at least I had been there with Kate the previous 10 days and was maybe a little less disoriented. I felt so sorry for him. I also felt frustrated that he had let the situation escalate to this point and that Kate was in so much pain. It was totally irrational to blame him. The nurse and staff should have been in better control and addressing things sooner. I was used to taking control and knew Kate so intimately. I likely would have realized sooner something was not right. I couldn’t blame Brian for that. I was blaming myself.

The nurse was there but not doing anything that seemed to be addressing the situation. We asked for the team to be called, but it was late at night and they were not available. This also hadn’t been part of the plan as the infusion was meant to start earlier in the day to allow for better observation and the team being available to address any issues. I’m not sure who came, or who the nurse consulted, it may have occurred over the phone, but the infusion rate was adjusted – more than once. We asked for pain medication for Kate,  morphine was prescribed and she settled a bit. It was an extremely long night and not the ‘basic infusion’ we were told it would be. We were trying to pull on all of our experiences with Kate to figure out how best to support her – we were poorly poorly equipped for that experience. It was not a smooth situation for anyone.

The next morning, Jack was up and feeling better. He was discharged and able to come and see his sister. We were grateful that there were no restrictions on him visiting – something we had been very clear about before we agreed to the transplant. Jack visiting Kate and being with her was not negotiable. To be honest, I was so proud of how vigilant he was with hand washing, putting on his mask and gown and understanding isolation and infection control  protocols. Institutions that arbitrarily separate siblings have a LOT to learn.

We were all exhausted from the long and wakeful night. Kate was not feeling much better the following morning. Her blood pressure was still very high and never settled to her baseline.

Day 0 and all the emotions that went along with it came and went.

Day 1 had begun.

I Wonder

Jack has been wanting to watch the movie ‘Wonder’. We read the book together years ago. Bedtime reading was a regular routine of ours after I had Kate settled and into bed. It was a time for me to have time with Jack. I loved reading as a child, I loved reading to my kids.

If you’ve seen the movie ‘Wonder’ or read the book, you’ll know all about the main character Auggie who had Treacher Collins Syndrome. I have views on the casting for this movie, a story about inclusiveness, the judging of others, compassion for one another, where the lead character is a ‘typical’ child who sat in a makeup chair for several hours a day. Jacob Tremblay, the actor who plays Auggie Pullman, does an amazing job – but I ‘wonder’ if a child with Treacher Collins Syndrome might also have been equally amazing.

This was not the point of this post – but something I wanted to share.

The point of this post is the secondary story in the movie, the story of Auggie’s sister ‘Via’. She is an incredible big sister by all accounts. A champion of Auggie, a confidante, a cheerleader – she’s stoic and she knows that the needs of her brother supersede hers. He has greater needs, that are often more immediate. It’s just that simple. And this affects Via deeply, particularly when she is going through her own teenage issues and has that basic need of time and attention from her parents. Her parents are distracted and they are simply not available to Via. As you watch Via try to cope on her own, if you are a parent who understands that dynamic of caring for a medically fragile or complex child, your heart breaks for her with the knowing.

As ‘Via’ tells the story from her perspective, my eyes welled with tears. “Is this how Jack felt”? He was three when Kate was born and toddlers typically take a back seat to their infant siblings out of short term necessity, but often the balance is righted again eventually. That never really happened for us, or Jack. Kate’s health, mini-crises, big crises, changes in her needs, were all consuming.

Jack had access to many things, he had friends, I arranged playdates, he played sports…but it was different. The expectations around independence were different. I was often gone unexpectedly with Kate to the hospital – sometimes leaving for the ED in the middle of night. I was there with Kate over his birthday and Hallowe’en… Mother’s Day. Special days when that connection with your kids is so fundamental. Jack had to help a lot more than would be typical. He did a lot of the work of a caregiver to support me in helping with his sister. He understood this and he never questioned. It was normal to him, and as he grew older he took on more and more responsibility – often unasked. I also don’t ever remember it being an issue, but now I wonder if it was having an impact on Jack that I wasn’t aware of – or didn’t have the time or energy to attend to.

I know I am not the only one in this. It’s a common worry – a valid one – of many families with medically complex kids in their lives.

Our family settled into a life of revolving around Kate. She took up so much space in our lives. It was out of necessity. To take a line from Wonder, she was our sun and we were planets orbiting around her. 

Was I there for Jack? Was Jack a Subplot?

I’m not sure. I think I was. At the really important times, but did I pay careful attention, did I miss critical points to support him?

Recently we attended an event in Kate’s honour as a family. The boys did not want to be there – especially Jack. I thought it was important (I still do) that we were there together. But now I wonder if Jack needs to spend that time still orbiting his sister and her memory?

There has certainly been a lot of attention on Jack in the past while, but it has taken time. I was not a very functional mom for some time after Kate’s death. Jack is still vigilant of my energy, my sadness, my ability to get through the day. He watches his dad too. I know it, and it saddens me that this boy is still accommodating others so much. I am trying to teach him now that he can put himself first, he can advocate for himself, and that we are there for him. We are fully present. He is our priority.

Wonder has many messages. Powerful ones about what it means to be a friend, and what it means to have true strength. Auggie is the hero of the story, but when I watched it my eyes were on Via.



November 30th

Every night, before I went to bed, or even in the middle of the night if I had woken, I would check on my kids. Go into their rooms and watch them sleep for a moment. Hear their gentle breathing and sometimes put my hand on them to feel their chest rise and fall. Then I would settle back into my own bed and have a sense of warmth, safety, comfort, and feel that all was right with our world. If you can do this, you should.


Kate died on this date 2 years ago. I watch it creep closer on the calendar and I both wonder and dread what it will feel like. And now it is here. It’s a Thursday (not a Monday). It is cold and crisp outside. It’s a bright sunny day. Cars drive by. Kids walk to school. Brian has already left for the day, and Jack is off to school. The world keeps turning, and I ask myself the same question I ask every day – how is it possible that the world keeps turning?

My mind slips back to the few days leading up to Kate’s death, and as last Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday came and went, I found myself reliving and remembering the events that led to November 30th, 2015. I didn’t greet those memories and let them in, but I also didn’t try to shut them out. They are there and they were simply surfacing. I acknowledged them, and let them come and go. I may have even shared one or two in a trusted space.

There is a term used in the bereavement world called “grief bursts”. They are short periods of intense grief and sadness often brought on by a memory; auditory, visual, smell, touch. The feeling is intense and overwhelming. That would be the past few days for me. It’s not lost on me that I was a hot snotty mess at Bridgehead on Monday, or that I cried in front of peers on Saturday, or cried with a friend who had come to ‘check in’ on Sunday. To feel so much numbness and pain wrapped together today. I knew these days were coming and I tried to steel myself to the memories. It’s a ridiculous space to be in – to seem ‘normal’ to the outside world, to know that few friends  ‘get it’, to notice others who carry on, to try and function.

I work really hard every day to move through the thick dense fog that has become my way of feeling and sensing through the world. Some days the sun peeks through and there is light. Sensing and feeling become easier. Other days, most days, I sink and the numbness sets in, and I feel like I am moving through time and space at a fraction of time different than everyone else in this world. Like my world is shifted. It’s imperceptible to others, but it affects how I see things.

There is so much I want to share about what happened, about Kate, this journey, the coping (the not coping), what needs to change, what I understand will never change. There are so many words and sentences, paragraph rants rolling through my mind, wanting to get out and be shared. It takes energy, and I often don’t have it. It takes courage, and I am not there yet with sharing parts of the story and journey.

What can I share…

I am broken and that will never change. The ripped and shredded heart in my chest is scarred and maimed and bleeding. I place my hands on it. I can feel it. I try to nurture some healing toward it.
There is no cure – I am told – maybe time. Maybe.

I am hurt, and I am angry. And that story needs to be told another time in another space.

I live with intense regret peppered with shame and enveloped in grief. I want to turn the clock back everyday. I. Want. Her. Back.
And I can’t have her. And when I realize this, everyday, it stuns me.
I want to change the decision, the information, the conversation, the guidance, the momentum around the bone marrow transplant. I want another person to step up in the storyline, someone that would speak up – with authority – and state the reasons that this should not proceed. I want to shift the timeline to a point where I make a different choice, at any point along this journey, and where I allow myself to be scared, vulnerable, and upset, and can say No to those pressing us forward. Where I take that tour of the bone marrow transplant unit and say No. Where I sit around a table with 20+ doctors who I feel I am trying to educate about Kate, and say No. Where I sit in any one of the meetings and discussions about the bone marrow transplant and I remember how amazing Kate is, how we are coping, how fragile she is to any change, and I say No. Where I ask the question, “should we do this” and someone says No.

I want a chance to make another choice. I want to have learned from someone else, not others learning because of Kate.

I want to be able to go back and say No.

I want. And I can’t.

And it breaks me every single moment of every single day.

So there it is. Massive grief burst, but only a big wave amongst the smaller waves that I live with every day.
When I read about grief journeys, or hear about them, mine seems spectacularly far to the right on the spectrum. An outlier of intense pain, sadness, and intense regret.

Kate died at 10 p.m. on November 30th. Brian, Jack and I were with her. She didn’t look like herself, her hair only slightly grown back from her chemotherapy, face puffy and distorted from medication, tubes sticking out of her, oxygen shoved into her face. The denial of what was happening had been stripped away, but also remained. We sang to her, told her stories, held her hand, we told her we loved her. She was so intensely loved.

We watched our beautiful child die over 9 short months. She lived in isolation in a hospital away from home, she was poked, prodded, examined by strangers, put through painful procedures. Some people took great care of her, others did not. And she was endearing the entire time.

Kate was amazing. She was the best parts of Brian and I.

I marvelled at how happy she was, how much she loved, how much she was loved. She exuded an incredible light that came straight from her soul. You couldn’t meet Kate and not love her. The loss of that love is so wrong.

I want to take it all back Kate-o.
I’m so so sorry dolly.


Telling Kate’s story, and the story of our health care journey together. (KickAss Canadians event 2011)

I came across this article today about storytelling. It was inspiring and I wanted to share it with you and reflect on why I continue to share my story and Kate’s story.

I have been sharing the story of my journey as Kate’s mom, the evolution of her health journey, and our experiences as mother and daughter navigating an often challenging health care system since I started this blog several years ago.

I’ve shared with you triumphs, challenges, sadness, and joy. I’ve reflected on the ‘system’ and what works / doesn’t work in my humble opinion as a mom. I have been open and reflective. I have been raw and tragically honest. I have told the truth as we have lived it. It is our story.

Sharing our stories is incredibly important. I regularly encourage other families and patients that I speak with and mentor to share their story, the tale of their journey, the highs and lows, and what they have learned along the way. The stories resonate with others. The stories empower and encourage. Stories make the path more travelled and less lonely.

When I read your stories, I nod my head in agreement or understanding. Your stories make me cry when you share your heartache, or when you touch on a knowledge or experience that few others could possible understand. I feel empowered when you share your stories about challenges you have faced because I know I am not alone. Your stories lead and they mentor.

In sharing our story, I was looking for a way of connecting and sharing, but also creating. Sharing Kate’s story has helped us to connect to a community of SIFD families internationally. It has allowed us to celebrate Kate’s life. Our story has served as a guide for others on a rare disease and medically complex journey. Our story has helped educate those willing to engage and to listen.

I am proud of our story, and how I have shared it.


There is incredible power in storytelling. You can literally change someone’s life, change an opinion, change a system, change a person’s perspective. It doesn’t have to be as public as ours or written in a book, but I encourage you to share your story – with a friend, family member, or even with yourself in the form of journalling. It is incredibly powerful and it creates community.

This video was part of the story told by Rogers TV as Kate’s story was featured as part of Ottawa Race Weekend. Part of the community I built through story telling is our Team MitoCanada running community.



Your story is yours, no one else’s . No one has lived this experience but you. Your story is important.
I want to thank the incredible story tellers I have the privilege of knowing and connecting with over the past few years. They have amazing stories and have been courageous to share them. I encourage you to have a read through their journey. Their stories.

Donna Thompson

The incomparable DonnaThompson, who has become a mentor and friend. Wife of Jim, mother to Nicholas and Nathalie. An author, blogger, speaker, educator, writer (The Four Walls of My Freedom), actor, director, teacher…Wow. And a passionate story teller.

Jennifer Johannesen

Author of, No Ordinary Boy, Jennifer is a speaker, writer, and academic with a Masters of Science in Bioethics. She studies and comments on the intersection of the caregiver, the health provider and the health care system. She’s absolutely fascinating to read and to hear speak as she weaves in vignettes from her personal journey and story to share her knowledge and expertise.

Julie Keon

Julie is a LifeCycle Celebrant and Officiant, she is also a wife, and dedicated mother to Meredith. Julie tells her story in the book What I Would Tell You. A long time storyteller, Julie’s storytelling evolved from an essay written to a mom who Julie observed in a hospital waiting room one day. Julie continues to share her story and wisdom via her blog of the same name, and is an incredible mentor to the HIE community.

Christine Chambers

Wait, a researcher who uses storytelling to share her knowledge?! Yes, Christine has discovered how she can harness and use storytelling to better facilitate knowledge transfer. Dr.Chambers has had incredible success with #itdoesnthavetohurt and has engaged parents and caregivers to help her share research into pain management for children via their stories.

Sue Robins

A published writer, speaker, storytelling and mother. Sue has been a strong voice for patient and family centred care in BC and across Canada. One of the few to occupy a paid position as a patient advisor in a health care centre. Newly diagnosed with breast cancer, Sue is now telling her personal story of her journey. It is powerful and moving.

12 months, 55 days later


Wow. What a really bad selfie. Why on earth would I post this? I am sharing it because I want you to know what devastation, loss, intense grief and sadness look like. This is me longing for my daughter. Wishing her back. It is a picture important to share because I am not interested in hiding how I feel. It is raw, in the moment and unedited – just like this blog post.

What is it about grief, sadness, extreme loss…depression (gasp!) that people seem to shy away from? Why does it seem so hard for many of us to wrap our arms around those people and show great patience, compassion, and support (beyond just texting about it). I think it is because it takes a lot of energy and time. Both very limited commodities in our very busy lives. It also takes a great deal of compassion.

I am grateful. Grateful because I have that support from very key people in my life. I am getting the space and time I need. I have had the attention and people following up when I have gone ‘quiet’. The friends who know the right thing to say, and when to say it. The friends who continue to reach out, even when I don’t answer, or repeatedly say ‘no’. The friends who sit with me and listen.

It is powerful, and I am grateful.

Kate’s loss rocked my world in many ways. I functioned in a state of shock for many months after. I couldn’t process that she was gone. Honestly, I still feel like she’ll come back, or I can bring her back. Like I am waiting for her.

The incredible amount of time, physical energy, cognitive energy, and emotional energy it took to parent Kate and take care of her left an incredible vacuous void in my life. The routine and relationships we had developed with her medical teams and our children’s hospital were wiped from our calendar. The relationships with therapists, schools, pharmacists, caregivers, nurses, personal support workers ended abruptly. The regular, ongoing advocacy and coordination of care to ensure this complicated little girl got the help she needed to live a full life had gone quiet. The intense medical needs of the last few months of her life just stopped.

I was exhausted from 8 years of intense caregiving to a happy, active little girl who was chronically unwell and medically complex, but when I closed my eyes I couldn’t sleep. Extreme exhaustion and sleep deprivation had put me into a state of insomnia. My body couldn’t adjust to the adrenal overload high I had been riding to simply keep me functioning day to day. My mind couldn’t settle from the trauma of the last 9 months of Kate’s life – what she had endured, and what we had experienced.

And with all this, I miss my daughter. The little girl I brought into this world. I love her and would do anything for her. I wanted so much for her. I miss her smell, her soft hair, the laughter in her eyes, her giggle, her soft hands, her hugs, her voice, the feel of her body when I held her. I could go on and on. In my thoughts I do, every moment of every day.

I talk to Kate often, usually she comes to me, and her words bring tears to my eyes. I know she misses me as much as I miss her. I know she left us too soon, because of decisions and under circumstances that I feel could have been different. I know she suffered because those charged with caring for her did not always do their best for her. Those thoughts haunt me. They cycle around in my head and they are constantly present.
It has been an intensely complicated grief. I would need time. A lot of time.

I cry. A lot.
I am slowly regaining my strength. But it has taken an incredible amount of time, and patience. Having the courage to be patient with myself, and understanding that I am forever changed is something I have had to learn, accommodate, assimilate. There are things that I no longer enjoy. There are situations that are uncomfortable and that I now avoid. There are people I have had to forgive, knowing that what they did was not ok. There are some things that are not forgivable.

There are also days that have some laughter, some light. I love being a mom. My children mean the world to me, and the relationship I have with my son Jack is one that I treasure beyond anything else. Time spent outdoors, connecting with this world and myself, running, skiing, cycling, yoga, surfing and more. There are moments when I think of Kate, ‘wouldn’t she love to be doing this’, and they are happy and reflective of her time in this world. There is some light and that is what I work on every day. Moving toward that light and the love, energy, and people that reside there.

I am writing this post today because on this day many of us are talking about mental health. I want to add my story, because story telling is how we share and learn best. This is a truth.

I want other complex care moms (and dads) out there to know I understand. I get it.
I want you to know you can call me. I will listen. I will try to guide you based on my own experience.
I want you to know that you are not alone and there are people who will listen, sit with you, hold your hand. Keep asking until you find that person. You will know them when you find them. They are the helpers, the ones you can lean on, the ones who will come without you even asking.

Don’t try and do this alone. It is too hard.

Thank you to my helpers, the ones who listen and continue to be there for me.