Strong and Brave

After Raelyn was dealt a devastating diagnosis, Jenni Cutbirth realized that her daughter could teach her more about life than she ever thought possible

Written by Jenni Cutbirth | Select photography by Candace Cook

Cypress, TX News - Like many women, I always dreamed of being a mother. Little did I know what a challenge it would be to conceive a child. After many years of trying, I was gifted with a beautiful baby girl. From the time she was born, she would wake up excited and ready to experience the joys of life. There was no way to know that by Raelyn’s second birthday, her life and ours were going to change forever.

Amidst the visits to and from the doctor Raelyn still wears a smile

Amidst the visits to and from the doctor Raelyn still wears a smile

Fight of Our Lives
One day, her dad noticed a lump on her jaw. We were between insurance, so it was a challenge to get the expensive scans done to identify what was happening. Finally, we were able to schedule tests, and that same day we ended up at Texas Children’s Hospital. A team of doctors informed us that Raelyn had rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare solid tumor cancer. The doctors told us that treatment had to start immediately. There was no time to even process the news. We were in for the fight of our lives.

First, there was surgery for a PICC so our beautiful baby girl could begin treatment, then surgery was scheduled for bone marrow aspiration, a feeding tube, and a port catheter. While in recovery, we anxiously waited for her to wake up, but instead, she stopped breathing. Alarms sounded, nurses and doctors performed chest compressions, and we were quickly escorted out while they worked to revive our baby girl. When they succeeded, I knew that Raelyn was a fighter, and her love of life and sparkling personality were going to get her through this. At that time, I couldn’t have predicted how much of an inspiration she would be to others.

Raelyn endured 28 days of radiation, 11 months of various chemotherapies, daily medications, countless pokes in her surgically inserted port, and yet another surgery to insert a feeding tube. This little girl went through more in one year than some people do in a lifetime.

A Bright Light
When this journey began, I didn’t want Raelyn to know she was sick. I didn’t want her to know she was “different” than any other child. Her immune system was compromised throughout much of her treatment and recovery, so she wasn’t able to be involved in many activities enjoyed by “healthy” children, and she couldn’t be in contact with much of the outside world.

I have such admiration for this strong, brave princess. During her weekly treatments at Texas Children’s, Raelyn could be found in the infusion room singing, dancing, and giggling – much to the amusement of the staff and other patients. I was in awe as I watched her sheer determination to enjoy every moment. Odds don’t matter to a 2-year-old, so lack of understanding about her situation allows her to avoid the fear that so often paralyzes adults.

What an amazing blessing she is to us. She teaches me every day about life and how it should be lived. Dancing on tip toes, twirling, playing hide-and-seek, and singing her heart out are just a few of the ways Raelyn spends her time. She is a bright light everywhere she goes.

Despite the challenges she faces on a daily basis, Raelyn is determined to demonstrate joy and hope to everyone she meets

Despite the challenges she
faces on a daily basis, Raelyn is
determined to demonstrate joy
and hope to everyone she meets

Our “Normal”
I was given the opportunity to stay at home so that I could give her the best environment to fight this disease. My amazing employer, GoStephens Office Supply, gifted me this opportunity. They have been a loving family and an incredible supportive community for us. Raelyn and I have been learning, drawing, painting, dancing, singing, exploring, and staying very active, even if it has been mostly within our four walls, in the car, or at the hospital. This has become our “normal.”

As we begin the phase of post treatment and monitoring, I find myself filled with anxiety. But it only takes one giggle from the happiest little girl I know to calm me down and remind me to enjoy today. When I find myself stressed, Raelyn grounds me by asking, “Do you want to dance, Mommy?” Who can resist dancing their worries away?

Raelyn’s favorite saying is, “I am strong, and I am brave!” This simple quote, from a child who has gone through so much, reminds me that I too can be strong and brave. Every moment is a blessing. That doesn’t mean every moment is easy, but I am grateful for every smile, laugh, hug, cry, kiss – and yes, even those occasional temper tantrums. She is my inspiration, my shining light, and the love of my life. CFM

EDITOR’S NOTE: We would like to thank Jenni Cutbirth for sharing Raelyn’s story with us. Do you have an encouraging story to share? Email editor@cyfairmagazine.com.