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In sickness and in health

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It has been nearly three months since Oliver, our 2-year-old son, was diagnosed with cancer. In February, the news devastated me, my wife, our families and friends; life as we knew it changed with a simple doctor's visit. Our shock has subsided, and just as we knew we must, we've found a new "normal" way of life, albeit one surrounded by medical equipment and absolutely centered around Oliver's recovery.

Indeed, helping to heal Oliver is now our central job as parents. We dedicate each day to keeping him as healthy, happy and strong as possible by performing duties we never imagined we'd perform—dispensing multiple medications, giving him daily injections, administering IVs overnight. We've pushed aside decorative knickknacks to make room for his mountain of medical supplies. Though we were overwhelmed in the beginning, these new tasks have become part of our routines.

We've also been thrust into a subculture of sick families and hospital staff. Childhood cancer and Oliver's specific treatment, a combination of chemotherapy and surgery, have become more than the stuff of shows on the Discovery Channel. These topics were completely abstract to us beforehand; now, they're our life. This is a subculture we wouldn't have chosen, but we find it invaluable every day. Our crash course in cancer has been intellectually challenging and emotionally exhausting, but we press on for Oliver.

When my wife and I said "in sickness and in health" while reciting our wedding vows, we never imagined a situation like this. But we are making the best of our new normal lifestyle as a family. Translating our home environment into a hospital building was a challenge at first, but over time, we have made it as comfortable as possible. We bring along familiar books, toys and movies for Oliver and pack snacks and re-create meals we know he enjoys. At home, there are day trips to a local park; at the hospital, journeys upstairs each day for play sessions in the dedicated playroom are frequent. Attaching our hospital life to these life routines gives us a sense of normalcy.

Indeed, Oliver remains a typical toddler, obsessed with rockets, robots and trains. He plays until he drops, and his spunky spirit continues to amaze and motivate his tired parents. As a family, we have grown closer emotionally and physically. We spend much more time together, and one of our relatives is always here to help. Oliver has flourished in this enriching, multigenerational environment. We call this crew of helpers Oliver's Army; they've sustained us with encouragement and home-cooked meals.

Writing this article was something I could not have imagined last year when I started writing a series of columns about being a new father. Many of those old entries have been fun stories about how Oliver and I have grown and experienced special moments together over the past two years. We've played records, taken naps, watched the World Cup and started school together. This one, I'm realizing, is no different: Oliver's recovery is a short story in the long list of memories we will make together in the years to come.

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