Macey’s marvelous mess

I’ve often thought that someday I should go back to the beginning and read and print all the saved emails, print out all the stories I’ve shared on the blog I started to keep friends and family in the loop when Macey was diagnosed with cancer. Writing this piece for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month seemed like the perfect opportunity to start this project. So I printed 176 pages of the blog and then started reading over emails. It brought me to tears. And it brought me back to the beginning. The beginning of what seemed a nightmare.

The little tidbits I read were enough. I’m not ready yet. I will be someday, but not now. I’m not ready to read every word yet. It feels like a long time ago that we were at the beginning, but reading back in time, it also feels fresh—that time of sinking heart, amazing love and the start of a great, big, awful battle.

My ‘give-chemo’ alarm just went off. It’s become so normal, but I do remember the thought striking me many months ago that not every mom has alarms to remind her to go upstairs and administer oral chemo medicine to their now three-year old daughter. I also remember how quickly I went from feeling lost and new to the cancer journey, to feeling like I should somehow comfort others who had just received the horrific news that their baby or child has cancer.


The worst night of our lives was Monday, December 1, 2014. On that night we arrived at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary with our daughter Macey, who was 21-months old. She had slept the entire day. She also had bruising on her face and body that wouldn’t go away and, over the weekend, she’d had some mild nose-bleeds. For three months prior, she had also had a series of illnesses that wouldn’t let up — an extended hospital stay for what they thought was dehydration/infection, a lymph node infection that landed us in emergency. Macey had stopped crawling and did not like to be put down, probably because of bone pain we were unaware of.

When we arrived at the hospital, Macey was the pale colour of the hospital walls and she was lying over our shoulder like a rag doll. She was limp and lifeless. The triage nurse ushered us in immediately to see a doctor and our hearts felt the impending doom of something serious.

That night of tests was excruciatingly long. It was so difficult to get blood samples. Macey ended up looking like a pin cushion and was poked in every possible location multiple times — feet, hands, elbows, head. They had many people and specialized teams attempting. There were X-rays and tests with names I cannot even remember now. We walked her and rocked her and tried to soothe her.

A lovely doctor came in around midnight and suggested we sit down. I cannot even write this without reliving that life-altering moment and the emotion that came with it. She told us, with tears in her eyes, that our daughter had leukemia. Cancer. Our baby. They don’t belong together. We were devastated.


We didn’t sleep that night and were transferred to the ICU because Macey was having some complications, including pneumonia. It took a few days to isolate what type of leukemia she had and to start treatment. She was so sick that they couldn’t administer chemo until her health had improved. It is possible that if we hadn’t taken Macey in on December 1st she may not have woken up the following morning. That is how low her red blood cell count was at that point. She was diagnosed with high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia and she received her first dose of chemo on December 4, 2014, which was my birthday—one I will never forget.

Not only are those initial days a blur, but also the last year and half. There are some things I remember, such as when she lost her first tuft of hair. I remember the generosity and kindness of family, friends, and strangers. My husband Josh’s office created The Macey Project and showered us with support in practical, financial and emotional capacities. They continue their support today and really seem to understand that the burden of childhood cancer is carried for much longer than at the front end of diagnosis.

Macey spent the entire month of December in the hospital and, later, at a friend’s home in Calgary, so we could be closer to the hospital (a total of seven weeks).We have two boys, Hudson and Sawyer, who were five and four years old at the time. It was difficult for them to have their mom and baby sister gone for such a long time. Even harder than that first month, were the many months to follow where, at any given moment, Macey and Mom were off to the hospital.

Fevers and illness came often and came at inopportune times. The logistical nightmare of childhood cancer is something so real for families. Having to pull yourself away from your boys, who are clinging to your leg in tears, to take your sick daughter to the hospital, is heartbreaking. Missing fun things or planned things or things the boys would have enjoyed became par for the course. For example, in May 2015, I wrote in our blog: “Today Hudson (my oldest) turns 6. And, sadly, we are doing present-opening over FaceTime because Macey ended up at the hospital with a fever.”

Macey’s cancer experience was also emotionally tough on her big brothers Sawyer (left) and Hudson

After six months of treatment, I wrote: “It has been 6 months now since Macey was diagnosed on December 1, 2014. I cannot believe that amount of time has gone by. If one way of measuring life’s success is based on accomplishments, travel, fun adventures, books read, or miles run, we don’t have too many successes to speak of. But, our yardstick has changed. And, if you measure our success in smiles and strength from Macey, milestones that she has newly reached, and pure survival of our family unit, then I think we are successful. Praise God for getting us to this point.”

A visit from big brother Hudson

We attended the Kids Cancer Care Parents’ Quest for the Cure gala in March 2015 (and we had the privilege of attending again in 2016). At the gala, they played a video — the sad and touching kind of video that makes you wonder why the injustice of kids having cancer exists. It was in that moment that I realized I was living that. We were one of those stories. We had lived a blurry three months of holding a bald baby and watching her suffer and fight. And fight she did. Her strength is inspirational. At that gala one of the speakers was talking to us at the end of the evening and encouraged us several times to not overlook the impact this was having and could have on our boys. That stuck with us and from that moment on we took advantage of all the Kids Cancer Care opportunities we could.

Macey and Mom, inseparable at the hospital

Kids Cancer Care gave my boys a reason to smile, while their parents lived a distracted life. Acquaintances and friends did that too — taking our boys for a day or a night or for a fun activity. They’ve been able to attend many fun things courtesy of Kids Cancer Care, such as camp, Family Ski Day, the Polar Express adventure, and more. Macey even got to experience two days of camp this summer, 2016!

Sawyer and Hudson joined Kids Cancer Care for a week at our SunRise day camp this summer. Macey was sick, so she could only join us for two days.

Feeling a bit under the weather, Macey gets a little shut-eye at SunRise day camp

“Two days with Macey gave me enough magical moments to fill an entire year,” says Jenna Schwanke, childlife specialist at Kids Cancer Care. “Macey’s mom hadn’t planned on her going, because she’d just fractured her leg the night before, but we assured Mom that we had the support to care for her and, if Macey was up for it, we were definitely up for it.”

In her purple tutu and orange cast, Macey was carried in the arms of one volunteer after another. She later joined in on the activities as best she could.

“Amid the pain, she giggled and laughed and became our little hero of the day on Friday,” says Jenna. “I was blown away by the support of her big brothers. No distance was far enough to prevent these little guys from hearing Macey call their names, to which, they came a running and rushed to her side. The three Bangsund kids make up one incredible team and we can’t wait for Macey and her brothers to return for a full week of camp next year.”

The Bangsund boys hit the slopes at Family Ski Day

There are Beads of Courage that Macey has been collecting since the beginning. This is also a Kids Cancer Care initiative and it is an amazing way to tell her story. It is a visual representation of all that she has endured. There is more treatment left for Macey and yet she already has 500 beads. These beads are different colours and shapes, each representing a medical procedure or milestone such as blood transfusions, needle pokes, surgery, chemo, hospital overnights, hair loss, lumbar punctures, X-rays, MRIs, birthdays, isolation, clinic visits, and more. One day, when she is older, Macey will learn all about her strength, represented by these beautiful beads.

The unpredictability and disruptiveness of life with childhood cancer has been a lesson in disguise for our family. In the very early days we learned that our plans are not our own. We are not in control and the strength we need to brave this journey would be provided in small doses by a force much greater than the strength we could ever muster on our own. We learned to live in the moment in a way that only something like this can teach. Joy could be found in heartache and hope was hidden in the darkness. The support around us bolstered us and helped us crawl through the unknown life-territory we had been forced to travel.

The sensitivity and love of Macey’s brothers is something truly beautiful. I’ve heard her oldest brother Hudson say a couple of times, “I wish it was I who was sick instead of Macey.” I wrote in the blog in September of 2015: “They are learning compassion and patience in a way that no 5- or 6-year-old should have to. I am learning the same. My daughter is learning strength and resilience, while teaching the same to me. She shows the doctors and nurses and strangers love, because somehow she has love to share.”

In the last phase of treatment, Macey is now enjoying regular toddler adventures such as walking, climbing and leaving behind a welcome trail of toys where ever she goes

There were many hospital stays, scares, and dark times. Even with all the support it can feel like a lonely journey. Sometimes hospital stays would be reminiscent of the beginning, her being so sick. She lost her hair, it grew, and she lost it again. Now it is amazing and beautiful and has grown so much! It is almost time for a ponytail. I still remember the day her immune-fighting cells were of a count high enough that I could take Macey to Walmart or Costco and the joy that filled my heart. Oh, to show off my beautiful daughter and not have her isolated from the world! This is a mundane activity that became a great pleasure. Contrast that activity with Macey being on a morphine infusion (through IV) to manage pain, along with IV nutrition to give nourishment, and you see how amazing these small victories are!

This year, we saw Macey take her first steps, which was very exciting. She also climbed our stairs for the first time in July, 2016. Her words are coming now and it is the cutest thing to hear: Music to our ears. She has a mind of her own and lets us know what she needs and wants. Any mess she makes in our home is welcome because it means she is home and healthy and making a mess, like a regular toddler. We are thankful for the messes and we are thankful for how far she has come and the battle she has most valiantly fought so far.

You don’t come through this and remain the same person you were. Things change — perspective, priorities, friendships and more. As I wrote in my blog on July 15, 2016, “Sometimes the joy gets overshadowed, but writing this snapshot today, celebrating Macey, reminds me of all of the good — of how far Macey has come. There was a time not long ago, where there wasn’t a toddler trail of toys all over the house and where hospital stays were more prevalent than milestones. Watching Macey trouble-make, mess-make and noise-make is what dreams are made of. My prayer is to not lose sight of that. Some days the gloom overshadows the joy, but the real miracle is Macey and watching her develop into a delightful, beautiful and loving child.”

Caitlin Joyce, Macey’s Mom

You can view Caitlin’s complete blog on Macey’s journey here

Macey’s photo gallery