Family, Friends Help Carry ‘Burdens of Life’

O'Donnell Family with son Davis, cancer patient

When Davis O’Donnell of Fulshear, TX, was diagnosed at 4 months with retinoblastoma, cancer in both eyes, his parents, Lianne and Doug, questioned the expression, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

“We felt really overwhelmed; this was not a world we were ready to walk into,” Lianne said. “‘Cancer’ is not a word you really want to hear, especially with your child.”

While her mother-intuition had picked up on “something different” about Davis’s eyes—she and Doug noticed it in pictures of those first baby smiles—the diagnosis of bilateral retinoblastoma came as a shock.

“There was some relief to have this diagnosis, and to know what we were dealing with,” Lianne said. “But it was extremely overwhelming.” And because both of Davis’s eyes are affected, the O’Donnells aren’t just fighting cancer. They are fighting for their son’s vision.

The battle is well underway, with a baby not yet walking having one round of chemo behind him and another to come, with examinations under anesthesia every four weeks to treat with lasers and cryotherapy the stubborn tumors typical of retinoblastoma.

“We’re still in the thick of it,” Lianne said.

But there have been victories, maybe the biggest of which was Davis marking his first birthday in November. And that the young family has not been alone in navigating Davis’s health journey.

“So many people have come alongside of us,” Lianne said. “They have been carrying the burden of life so that we can focus on Davis.”

Davis, retinoblastoma patient, with Mom.

Even before Davis’s eye-cancer diagnosis, Lianne O’Donnell said she had a feeling that “something was up” with her son’s vision.

“Burden-carrying” has ranged from providing meals, housecleaning and helping with uncovered medical expenses using GoFundMe to taking care of 3-year-old daughter, Evelyn, when Davis needs his parents’ undivided attention. Deeply appreciative of every form of support, Lianne said she and Doug now believe that “God gives you only as much as your family and friends can handle.”

And family and friends of the O’Donnells are clearly up to the challenge.

Lianne and Doug have a particularly close circle of friends—the group numbers about 30, counting the kids—that regularly gathers at a centrally located family-friendly brew pub.

There is somewhat of a standing date after Davis’s monthly examinations under anesthesia, which everyone knows as EUA. Lianne said that being able to sit and relax with friends, and watch kids on the playscapes, especially after a stressful medical day, offers a break from thinking down the road of “what-ifs.”

Davis with Mom and retinoblastoma team.

Dr. Amy Schefler, with the Retina Consultants of Houston team, and Davis, on his Mom’s lap.

As much as they can, Lianne and Doug said they try to leave the “what-ifs” to Davis’s medical team at Retina Consultants of Houston. “They’ve really become part of our family,” Lianne said. “They have just walked with us through this.”

Among the things that have mattered the most to the O’Donnells is having a medical team that approaches them first as a family, and looks at Davis as their son, and not just a patient. “They check up on him, and they check up on us.”

Lianne said if there is a single message she and Doug might share with other families in similar situations, it is to  always let people walk beside you through a health journey. She said, “It’s easy to feel alone, and you don’t want to ask for help because you feel it is your burden to carry. But there is so much victory in being able to go through this with other people. You don’t have to carry this alone.”

Start a Personal Fundraiser to Help with Expenses

During Davis’s health journey, Lianne and Doug used CaringBridge to update family and friends and a GoFundMe campaign for financial support. CaringBridge has partnered with GoFundMe to allow families to easily raise money in times of medical need. You can either start a personal fundraiser directly from your CaringBridge site or link an existing GoFundMe campaign to your CaringBridge site. Let your friends and family know that you need their financial support through journal posts and direct them to contribute by going to the Ways to Help section of your CaringBridge site.

Comments (12)

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Maria Evans Jun 15, 2019 3:08am
I taught several pupils who had retinoblastoma. It is hard for parents having to attend hospital and decide on treatment. The children, however, can flourish and become very successful. For some reason, those with this condition are usually highly intelligent. Your baby's condition has been diagnosed early, which is a good thing. It may not feel like it now, but there is much cause for hope.
Er Ravi Gupta Apr 17, 2019 5:29am
Hey great post i liked your post and it is very informative too,thanks for sharing.
don marshall Apr 15, 2019 7:30pm
We have that incredible opinion of you Nancy because the whole Wheaton family has seen you in ACTION and cherish the memory of our one on one conversations. And thank you for admitting the fear you are feeling now. We are feeling it too. But we want you to know how great you are and have been and will be. Love Dale
Jan Mar 30, 2019 3:56am
Well I understand so well three years ago our second granddaughter was diagnosed with thyroid cancer she was 10. I had noticed a few things an asked my son to take her to the doctor I was worried an that was the results of grandma bugging. But for the last 15 years I had been taking care of my husband he was run down by a drunk driver on our Harley an had his left leg ripped off. Tom an I were together 36 yrs., but December 26 of 2017 my Tommy died he had an embolism an he had just asked me to bring him home for Christmas so I did we had a wonderful life together he was my best friend. We did everything together an I just want to tell you live every day together doing everything you can to cause life is short an sweet I never dreamed I would be widowed so young. I spent more than half my life with that man but now I am lost. We spent so much time together an me taking care of him I'm having to learn how to be single that's the hardest part of this cause he said he would always be here with me cause I took such good care of him. When he died it was because his doctor quit caring about him an he gave up. Sounds like you have a great support system I guess after fifteen years his doctor just got old an tired but he should have passed Tom on to another that could care he was hurting so bad an couldn't get another doctor to care an Tom was a good man. But with the government so worried about the young on drugs they forget about the old that need the meds because of some young drunk driver that did something foolish an took another person vibrance away.Tom only had 8cm. of a leg bone so he couldn't wear a prosthetic. God bless you all and your little ones an live life to the fullest love ya . Jan
Mary Raffenetti Mar 21, 2019 1:12pm
May God bless and watch over all of you--yours is an unbelievable burden and my thoughts and prayers are with you
Debbie Lewis Mar 20, 2019 8:59pm
you are so loved by so many you don't even know, God bless you and your HUGE FAMILY
Brandee Rockett Mar 17, 2019 9:26am
In thick of my own cancer journey and second surgery I cannot love this enough. You are as strong as your loved ones around you. I couldn't agree more. I am sorry you are going through this and pray you have continued support, love, and help as you navigate through such uncertainty and difficulties. Prayers with you and your beautiful family.
Kristen Jinguji Mar 13, 2019 2:17pm
Your story is beautiful. . . My heart hurts with yours but it is also filled with love! Our daughter, Karianna Jinguji was diagnosed in July of 2016 with cancer. It is slow-growing and for that we are so thankful. You will be lifted in my prayers. Please hug your blessing from a Montana family. He is beautiful! 💕
Philippa Decuir Mar 02, 2019 4:17am
What a beautiful and inspiring story—though steeped in cancer devastation, the hope, love and support that surround you lighten the heavy burden. Thank you for sharing your life with the world, you’ve touched many and as for me I have you and your precious baby in my heart, thoughts and prayers. You are not alone, I am routing for Baby Davis’ Healing! God Bless and Strenthen you!
Steph Johnson Mar 01, 2019 9:53am
Praying for your family
Marcy Nitke Jan 31, 2019 9:50pm
I pray for your family as I know what it is like to have a child grow up with medical needs. Also to have another child that needs attention from somewhere. My daughter is now 19, but had to have 57 surgeries between the ages of 6 and 17. It is very important to have family and friends to walk along side you through your journey. God is good. God will not give you more than you can handle. Praying for a miracle for Davis!!!
Judi Dickstein Kenter Dec 12, 2018 8:31pm
I am a contributor because what you do is so very important and helpful for families at a very difficult time in their lives. Thank you