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Our Families

The Thompson Family

Sweet, bubbly, one-of-a-kind Cori Kennedy Thompson was born on December 19th, 2018. Her mama, Brittani, and big brothers, Caleb and Caden, were in love. She brought a light to their lives with her infectious smile and sparkling eyes. In early 2020, however, her light seemed dimmer than usual–she was having consistent fevers and unexplained bruises. “She’s probably just teething, not to worry,” her pediatrician told Brittani. But on July 27th, after noticing how fatigued and pale her little girl was becoming over the passing months, she brought Cori to the local ER. Here they ran a blood test that indicated that Cori had cancer.

After being admitted to the Children’s National Hospital in Washington DC, further tests proved that she indeed had leukemia. The type of leukemia was harder to identify, and her records had to be sent to experts at St. Jude, the NIH, and specialists in Mexico. Finally, two weeks later, they gave her the diagnosis of AML with an Erythroid predominance. This diagnosis was devastating because of how rare and aggressive it is in children.

As a single mom of three, Brittani was overwhelmed and pulled in many directions, all which felt helpless and unsupported. She was asked to make extremely difficult decisions about Cori’s complex treatment without enough time or guidance. This is very common for parents of children with cancer. Because of medical liabilities, unfortunately, much of the decision-making is left to the parents who have no background in medicine. Not only was she trying to save her baby girl, but her teen sons needed their mom too. The boys, who we met at our retreat this summer, love their mom and their sister to the ends of the earth, but the entire situation was disorienting and scary to them.

After three aggressive rounds of high dose chemotherapy, Cori still had not achieved remission (which is what should happen with leukemia patients at the start of chemotherapy). The doctors were not giving up though and continued to try different types of treatments over the next 11 months. But it was futile. On June 2nd, 2021, Cori was taken home on hospice, with no options left. And on July 17th, just under one year since she was diagnosed, Cori transitioned at home in her mother’s arms.

The grief has been tremendous for Brittani, and she has struggled to find the support she needs from her family. It’s been an extremely hard time for them over the past year and a half, and as Cori’s 4th birthday approached Brittani told us, “I am broken as a mother, defeated. I often feel as if I failed my child, even though deep in my heart I know I did everything I could to try and save her, but everything was not enough. The cancer was too aggressive.”

Cori was a blessing to all that knew her. She had big beautiful curly hair, which she loved to adorn with huge bows. She was well mature for her age and knew just how to make her big brothers smile. As the family struggles to find footing in a life that is split between heaven and earth, they hold on to each other. The boys are doing the best they can, and Brittani too is taking one day at a time navigating the excrutiating process of losing a child.

Rett’s Roost provided the family with a financial grant when Cori was sick during the pandemic, and after she transitioned Brittani attended our online Grief is Love retreat for parents. This summer, we got to meet them all at our Open to Healing Retreat in Maine. We’re so grateful they would trust their complicated grief and shattered hearts with us. Brittani expressed in appreciation, “You all welcomed Cori, my boys, and myself with open arms. You have always been genuine and shown so much compassion, love, and understanding. It’s difficult for me to talk about Cori and what she went through but without me saying much of anything you know my heart, you know my children, and you will always hold a little piece of Cori.”

The Rouleau Family

When was your child diagnosed with cancer? What type of cancer diagnosis were they given?

Eliana was diagnosed at 5 months old on December 24th, 2017 with Acute Myeloid Leukemia .

How did their treatment progress? If you can, tell us a bit about their final days and end of life.

Eliana started initial chemo treatment in February 2018, which the cancer didn’t respond to. She almost died from a staph infection. We were able to start palliative care after the cancer came back. She was able to come home and enjoy experiences every baby gets to have. After being home from March through September with no complications, she woke up one day not feeling well and having her eyes cross. After having a scan done, it was found that the cancer had spread to her brain. Within a week of the scan, she passed away. We were given the chance to bring her home under hospice care, and are still so grateful for her medical team who went above and beyond to help us bring her home to die. She passed away in our arms and in no pain on September 17th, at 14 months old. 

What did this devastating tragedy feel like for your family? What was early grief like?

There is a missing part in our family. We take peace in knowing what our faith teaches regarding where Eliana is, but it still doesn’t take the pain away. There were times where we had no words to express how we felt, or how we could move on in our lives without Eliana. Adrian and I are grateful to have each other to share the burden and cry together. Thankfully, we had a very good support system that checked in with us and reached out through the first year. We still have good connections with those individuals, and they help keep Eliana’s memory alive.

What helps you in your grief now?

Our faith has been integral during the journey we went through with Eliana, as much as after her passing. Adrian and I talk about her and tell our friends and family to not be afraid to share their memories with us. Counseling continues to give me a safe place to process all we went through. Running is another outlet for me to take care of myself and let out the sadness in a positive way.

If you have other children, how did they handle the whole experience? If it has been over a year, how are they now?

No other children, at the time. We have been blessed with another child since Eliana’s passing, though.

What made your child with cancer unique?

So many people say that she was a bright light in this world. Our pastor told us stories of parishioners that came back to the church because of her presence, as well as what she was going through. There was a sense of peace and joy when being with her. She loved life, and did not let her cancer stop her from exploring the world and enjoying all things. In her 14 months, she experienced more than what many get to do in a lifetime.

What were some of your child’s favorite things to do? Did they have heroes, sources of comfort & joy?

Eliana loved to snuggle, eat ice cream, tubby time, visit friends and family, cuddle with Mr. Monkey, read, go to the library, watch the fish in her fish tank, dance, eat bananas or pancakes, and play with her little people toys.

What is the one thing you wish you could tell everyone about childhood cancer?

That more research needs to happen for infant (and childhood) cancer cases.

What is your favorite memory or the most positive outcome of attending a Rett’s Roost retreat? 

Knowing that we were not alone in our grief- other families can relate to the journey we went through, and continue on.

What other organizations, if any, did you utilize during and/or after treatment?

Joy’s Network (NH)
B+ Foundation
Partners in Health
Childhood Cancer Lifeline (NH)
Aubrielle’s Hope (NH)