Julia Cate just turned four years old. She enjoyed a Paw Patrol birthday cake decorated in pink and turquoise icing—it even had a lavender belt. Friends sent their birthday wishes and love over Facebook, which isn’t all that uncommon during the COVID-19 pandemic, when millions of birthdays have gone uncelebrated in the traditional ways. But for Julia Cate, it’s a little different. She isn’t just weathering a global pandemic; she’s healing from a bone marrow transplant.
Earlier in 2020, Julia Cate’s parents, Jessica and Chuck, noticed that Julia Cate had swollen lymph nodes. She hadn’t been acting sick or unusual, but labs told an unexpected story. Julia Cate had T-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia (T-ALL).
“She had a really tough case,” Chuck said. Months of drugs and chemotherapy induction didn’t produce the desired results and ultimately failed in curing Julia Cate’s cancer. Doctors then tried another drug and, finally, Julia Cate went into remission during the summer. Her family was more than ready to rejoice, and rejoice they did, but their celebration was cut short. Julia checked in for her bone marrow transplant just two weeks after receiving the good news.
Camille, Julia Cate’s ten-year-old sister, had prayed that she could be the bone marrow match for her sister. Bone marrow transplants are more likely to succeed if siblings are able to donate. Much to Camille’s joy, the doctors declared her a ten-out-of-ten match for Julia Cate. Jessica had stayed with Julia Cate in Houston for the majority of her time in treatment, then Chuck and Camille traded places with her for the transplant.
His Grace Foundation provided a His Grace Place apartment to Julia Cate’s family so that they could have a home away from home while Julia Cate recovered from her transplant. Julia Cate and Jessica intended to stay there on their own at first, but then the little haven became doubly meaningful. When Hurricane Laura hit, Julia Cate’s family had to evacuate their home. School was delayed due to the natural disaster, so Julia Cate’s siblings—Camille, Charlie, and William—got to stay with her and her mom for six weeks straight. They relished the time together in such a tumultuous year.
“My boys are mama’s boys,” Chuck smiled. And he said that, even now, when their family has returned home, Julia Cate calls His Grace Place “the new apartment.”
Reflecting on how much she enjoyed the apartment, Jessica said, “I feel like it was hardly even a sacrifice.”
Chuck and Jessica have long supported organizations that care for people in crisis, or families facing challenges. Moved by compassion, conviction, and Catholicism, they reach out to hurting people and seek to alleviate their pain as a part of living a purposeful life. But Chuck says that since Julia Cate’s illness, even with their past support of others, things have changed.
“Now we know,” Chuck said. Now they know how long the weeks in the hospital can feel, how cancer can disrupt a family. And now they know how much it matters when friends and organizations come alongside children and families who are suffering, because they’ve cared for such a child, and been such a family.