Childhood Cancer :: Traci and Iris’s Story

This is the first in a series of posts brought to you by Northwestern Mutual as part of its Mother’s Day Campaign and Childhood Cancer Program. Although financially compensated for the creation of this series, all writing, thoughts and opinions are our own.

Motherhood is HARD. We all know that. When our kids get sick, it’s even worse. For many mothers, their Mother’s Day is spent holding their child’s hand as they prepare for surgery, sit through chemo, or awaiting life-changing test results. In Milwaukee, we are fortunate enough have one of the leading hospitals in the nation for treating childhood cancer right in our backyard, yet childhood cancer remains the leading cause of death by disease past infancy among children under the age of 19 in the United States. 

We are thrilled to partner with Northwestern Mutual this Mother’s Day to raise awareness about childhood cancer through its Childhood Cancer Program that seeks to support the search for cures for a variety of cancers. This Mother’s Day, the Northwestern Mutual Foundation is shining the spotlight on several local Milwaukee families who have been bravely battling cancer, as well as making a $50,000 donation to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation in their honor to help find a cure. To date, Northwestern Mutual and its network of financial representatives have raised more than $10 million and funded more than 105 hours of research devoted to discovering life-saving treatments. 

Today we are sharing Traci and Iris’ story. 

childhood cancer

“The hardest thing to accept is that it never goes away. Every day was a bad day for the first three months.”

Imagine life with a newborn. Constantly waking up every few hours to check on them, rushing to their side to make sure they’re okay and trying to figure out what they need without being able to understand them. Imagine all the scary emotions of raising a newborn like fear, tiredness and anxiety. However, there’s an emptiness where the exhilaration and happiness that carries you through those months is supposed to be. That is what life is like caring for a son or daughter who has cancer.  

Iris’ pain started off mild. Everyone believed it was a sports injury. After multiple visits to pediatricians, physical therapists, pain management specialists and more at Children’s Hospital, they found out the real problem. Iris’ mom, Traci, recalls, “When Iris’ diagnosis came in, we dropped everything to the floor.” Traci and her family have been living this life for the past year. Iris, 18, is currently battling Ewing’s Sarcoma and fortunately she is nearing the end of treatment this summer.  

Treatment doesn’t only affect Iris. While she may be the patient, her whole family is affected.

The hardest thing to accept is you’re not the one going through this. I’m along for the ride, that’s all. As a parent you want to take away any pain your child has, but you realize you can’t. It’s a hard pill to swallow. There is no option but to be strong for your child. — Traci 

Battling pediatric cancer is difficult because you don’t realize how much it consumes your life. Cancer doesn’t stop at the hospital door. It comes home with you. Those who have not experienced this journey may assume that the days you aren’t undergoing treatment, or spending time in the hospital, life goes back to normal. But, that’s not true. The cancer is always there. It turns your life upside down.  

Traci and her husband, Weber, have learned how to sort responsibilities, how to split up the duties in their household, and how to live a life where the unexpected is the expected. Traci says, “I went from working 50 hours a week to five.”  In the beginning, Weber took time off work. He went to every doctor’s visit with Traci and Iris. He would sit next to Traci, watching Iris sleep. However, after a while Traci sent him back to work and each plays their individual role within the family. 

“I told him to go back to work. There’s no use in both of us watching her sleep, and health insurance is crucial to beating this cancer.”

For Iris, this journey has done nothing short of showing off her resilient spirit. She had her good days and bad, but she knows she has to stay strong through treatment to get her life back. She’s only been to school once this entire year and plans on repeating her senior year next year. She was an honor roll student ready to take AP classes, enjoy homecoming, and celebrating prom. Next year will be the year she gets to do it. 

Iris’ younger sister, Ella, is also an unsung hero. “She’s not the kind of girl who likes to be touched, but sometimes I pretend I need help walking so she’ll hold my hand,” Iris admits with a giggle. In the beginning Ella was often found in the hospital room with Iris, but after a while it was obvious to the family that a hospital wasn’t the best place to do schoolwork. However, Ella is part of every family conversation when it comes to discussing Iris and the upcoming plans for her treatment. Traci says, “We don’t shield anyone from anything. Everything’s on the table and Iris and Ella get to help make decisions.”  

While the silver linings are small and few, it’s what the family has to keep them going. “We don’t have many of them, and they’re small in comparison…” Traci drifts off, thinking about the hardships they’ve been through in the past year, but she bounces back, with “However, you take what you can get and celebrate it.” It’s not hard to see where Iris gets her spirit and resilience from. 

Iris considers her mom her best friend. Traci knows what Iris needs without any questions or comments. Traci can sense when Iris is sad, angry, or scared. She knows exactly what to say.

While cancer is something no one would wish upon anyone, for this family, it has helped their spirit shine and their love only to grow for each other.  

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Join us next week and we share the story of another Milwaukee area family as well as additional information about childhood cancer and the growing fight to end it. 


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