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One Hundred and Twenty-Six Days: The Unthinkable Journey

It was early December 2018. Our family had so much to look forward to and spending the holidays together gave me so much to be grateful for. My son Derek came home in April that year after serving our country for nine years in the Army, 82nd Airborne. Thanksgiving was special with everyone around the table. The following weekend we bought and decorated the Christmas tree. Derek’s trip to New York to watch the ball drop with his Army buddies was just weeks away. With his GI bill, Derek enrolled in Atlanta Institute for Music and Media to pursue his love for music, starting on Jan. 7. He was stoked!

The Unthinkable Journey Began

Then the unimaginable happened, and our lives were thrown onto a battlefield that was instantaneous and unrecognizable. Our Derek, who was once jumping out of airplanes in the Army and getting ready to attend college in three weeks, was now fighting for his life against glioblastoma, a vicious and relentless brain tumor. Derek fought courageously as the soldier he was and after all the treatments, the tumors were gone and then in a matter of days, more tumors emerged and invaded his now exhausted body. There I was, his mom, in the back of the ambulance with my son, taking him to Transitions LifeCare, his final destination here on earth. With his family by his side, Derek peacefully took his last breath, seven days later on April 17, 2019, at 5:48 a.m.   

There are no words to describe just how horribly gut-wrenching brain cancer is and what it does to people, to little children, to strong men and women. Brain tumors are one of the deadliest forms of cancer and now the leading cause in cancer-related deaths in children (yes, children!) and brain tumors are now the leading cause of cancer related deaths in males, 20-39 years of age. There is no early detection, no prevention, little to no treatment options, and no cure for brain cancer.

After Derek’s death, the world turned cold and colorless, the pain was deafening, grief was raging, and faith was lost. I could not process this out-of-order death. Parents are not supposed to bury their child, write the obituary for their child, and plan their funeral. How would I ever survive this total annihilation of a parent’s heart and soul? I have screamed and hollered, kicked and punched, begged and clawed everything in my being to get off this unthinkable journey. But there is not another path; the only way to continue is to somehow move forward. But how does one do that? Life had moved on for the world and I was left in the charred forest, where darkness engulfed my lifeless body. I have accepted, by pure exhaustion, that grief will be forever with me. I have learned that losing a child hurts like nothing you can ever fully put to words. I have learned that grief comes in all shapes and sizes. I have learned that people grieve in their own way, and in their own time. I have also learned how to be more caring and have learned that losing anyone you love hurts like hell, and it is painful because it is YOUR person.

About "One Hundred and Twenty-Six Days"

I started writing a book two weeks into this unthinkable journey and in my darkest days. My hope is this book continues to raise awareness and is a call to action for additional and long overdue funding for brain cancer research and clinical trials that give people hope and a quality of life until there is a cure. I also hope the book helps all the grieving hearts out there who lost loved ones so near and dear to them.

I will be forever grateful for the heroes at Duke University Hospital, The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center, and WakeMed Hospital (Raleigh campus) who fought alongside Derek and our family every day. When all hope was lost, we had the gift from the compassionate angels at Transitions LifeCare who wrapped their arms around Derek and my family in Derek’s final days here on earth. The grief care Transitions offered at no charge opened the door for my grieving heart to share my pain with other grieving hearts who have walked in my shoes. I learned that the bombardment of twisted thoughts and feelings I was experiencing – that were foreign to me – were OK and a part of my grief and helped me find the courage to inch forward on grief’s winding road.

Holly’s book One Hundred and Twenty-Six Days: The Unthinkable Journey started as raging on a page and after three years and working for six months with a publisher and editor, the book is published and on Amazon. To reach out to Holly to share your own experiences or to receive updates on events and advocacy, contact us at D-REX DEFENDERS.

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Thank you, Ken Stearns, for the opportunity to be a guest on your podcast. I appreciated your thoughtful questions and dialog about losing my son Derek to brain cancer, grief and mental health. Your m


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