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 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.”

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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