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A mother’s heart empathizes with little Emily Ward’s family

My heart ached when I heard about little Emily Ward this week. Emily, one of Johnson County’s youngest residents, is just four years old. She has been diagnosed with a form of leukemia known as T-cell ALL, a cancer of the lymphocytes, a type of white-blood cell.
Emily went to her doctor with a knot behind her left ear, an enlarged lymph node. It was an ordinary visit with no expectations that life would suddenly change forever. The last thing her parents expected was a diagnosis of cancer. As a parent who survived a child whose heart stopped beating shortly after birth, a life-threatening blood disorder and a broken neck, I cannot even begin to explain the depth of pain and fear that overcomes you when your child becomes stricken with a grave disease or injury. You hear the doctors and nurses tell you the words, but your brain can only absorb a little at a time. It’s as if a powerful and protective mechanism kicks in, allowing you to process a little bit of information at a time. With waves of gut-wrenching fear in your heart, it slowly begins to sink in.
The whole time you are waiting for test results, your heart is pounding with fear. Time seems to stand still. Your child is sick and our protective instincts kick into high gear. Trying not to show your fear to your child, inside you are crying. Over and over, you begin to plead. You begin to pray, “Dear God, please, not my child, not my baby. Please God, let it be me, not my child.” When I heard about Emily, all these memories came back, released from some storage box inside my brain. It’s a fear so raw it’s almost palpable. In one moment, your entire world changes. Your entire life changes and nothing will ever be the same. The priorities in your life change in a blink of an eye, in the short amount of time you receive that dreaded diagnosis. In one brief and intense moment, you know you will never take a loved one for granted again.
Emily was quickly flown to St. Jude’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. She immediately began chemotherapy. Her mother, Marlana, recently happily shared that Emily’s first bone marrow draw 15 days after treatment began shows negative for her particular type of cancer. Little Emily, described by her mother as very girlie, quiet, shy and sensitive, will receive cancer treatments for the next two and a half years. It will have amounted to a third of her young life. For Emily and her family, the fight is just beginning.
The community has stepped forward and has been incredibly supportive of the Ward family, offering prayers and their service to help out this family in a time of need. Johnson County is a deeply religious community, with churches just about at every turn in the road. Imagine if just one person from each church could ask their pastor and church family to pray for Emily, her parents, Marlana and Mark, and her little sister, Abigail. Imagine if those same people also prayed for the doctors and nurses who are taking care of Emily. Imagine all these people praying at the same time for this little girl, their voices raised in prayer. Psalm 100:1 states “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.” We as a community can continue to help Emily in powerful ways. We can pray.