Yea, though I walk through the valley

This is a fair warning to all you readers…this blog just got real personal & vulnerable real fast. What was initially meant to primarily be a blog to promote my handmade business with tidbits of our life has quickly become a means to update everyone following along with our journey after being told yesterday that our youngest daughter, Willa(2 months), has Retinoblastoma (eye cancer of the retina). This is also the easiest way for me to document this season to look back on and show Willa how strong she was and how much the Lord used her to sanctify us all and make us more like Him.


We had noticed from very early on that Willa’s eyes weren’t focusing together as they should. I called them “wonky” eyes because one was always wandering off to the outside. We thought she would be diagnosed with strabismus and after eye-patching or glasses her eyes would be totally normal. We got a referral from our Pediatrician and great family friend, Dr. Gill, to go see Johnson City’s only Pediatric Ophthalmologist, Dr Carlson.

But, our appointment wasn’t scheduled until the end of March. In the meantime,  I began to notice that her right pupil had an odd color to it that I couldn’t even really describe. It was just an unsettling feeling of something not being quite right.

Yesterday, by providential events, we were able to get Willa in to see Dr. Carlson. Thank you Lord for snow storms and cancelled appointments.

At that appointment, Dr. Carlson found that Willa’s left eye was perfect, however, the retina was detached in her right eye and she had no sight in that eye. He told us that with multiple surgeries and treatments, she would possibly be able to see with her right eye. Or, there was a chance that she would be blind in that eye indefinitely.  We needed to find out the cause of the detached retina, so he referred us to the Med Center for a CT Scan.

The CT Scan was very hard to experience. The nurses couldn’t find any good veins, so an IV was inserted into a vein in her scalp. As you can imagine, that’s a lot to endure for a 2 month old.

Willa before her CT Scan with IV. You can see the odd coloring of her right pupil-the affected eye.

They bundled her up under lots of warm blankets, strapped her to the table and then I stepped out….just in case I was miraculously pregnant.

Being in the hallway and hearing her cry left me feeling completely hopeless as a mama bear. But, we survived it. And after waiting for about an hour a lifetime we still didn’t have results. We were sent home and weren’t sure when we would hear something.

Later that night, as I was feeding Johnnie June goldfish and blackberries, Chris Gill and Dr. Gill walked through the door and my heart sank. I think I remember Chris saying “It isn’t good Steve”. And then I grabbed Willa and lost it.

Retinoblastoma occurs in about 1 out of every 20,000 children. It’s a rare from of cancer, but it is the most common form of eye cancer in children. The tumor in Willa’s eye has begun to cause enough pressure to detach the retina. She will more than likely lose her right eye to get rid of the tumor and might need chemotherapy and radiation treatment as well.

Dr. Cook at Nisewonger is incredible and I feel a lot more empowered for the trip ahead after meeting with her. We are headed to St. Jude’s in Memphis on Sunday to arrive no later than Monday evening. Willa will be seeing a world renowned retinoblastoma specialist and surgeon, Dr. Matthew Wilson.

Today at the Med Center, it felt bizarre and surreal to pull up right next door to the Birthing Center where Willa was brought into this world. So many people commented on how beautiful she is and how much hair she had and I wanted to scream “She has cancer!!!!!” I’ve screamed it over and over in my head countless times already.

One of the hardest things to think about as we prepare to leave for Memphis is leaving Finn and Johnnie behind. We might be there as little as two weeks, but more than likely longer. I’m watching Johnnie prance around the living room with her juice tucked up under her arm as I’m typing this. I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to endure this. I don’t want to see her in pain again. I don’t want my daughter to lose her eye and grow up with self-image issues just like every girl, but with the added hurdle of having only one eye. I don’t want to await more results after Willa’s MRI on Thursday. I don’t want to admit that my baby daughter has cancer. CANCER. In my honest and real and selfish heart, I don’t want any of this.

But, we have been called to endure this. And we are not alone. There are moments for each of us that God designs to stretch our faith and further His kingdom and this is definitely one of those for not just me and Steven, but all of us. Reality is reality and I can either press ahead with my fists closed tightly, or with hands open.

26 thoughts on “Yea, though I walk through the valley

  1. Pam Blosser says:

    My prayers go with you. My love and support embraces you and offers comfort. This huge soul in this tiny body is bringing all of us the opportunity to love more deeply, to accept, to endure and to shine in the brilliance of our Creator’s light.

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  2. agochneaur11 says:

    Allison you have such a wonderfully beautiful heart. You and your family, especially little Willa have been in my thoughts and prayers constantly today and I will continue to be. I know He will bring yall through this and I have faith that Willa will beat this.

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  3. Sarah Rideoit says:

    Sweet sweet Allison. I am heartbroken for you. I wept reading this for the second time tonight. I know the pain and the fear is deep. Hold on, and keep trudging. I will pray for you all continually. May peace reign in your spirit as you wrestle with the whys and how’s and may Willa’s little body be strong and withstand all that is ahead. I’m praying God wraps his arms around you with each new step you take. I love you sister 😉

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  4. 2teachtn says:

    I am a retinoblastoma survivor! My thoughts and prayers are with you. If it is any comfort, no that Willa will still have a wonderful life. It has only made me stronger. She, like myself, will never miss something she never had. That is hard to understand, but totally true. You do and will always have a beautiful child, people will barely notice the eye. I was 5 when my surgery occurred, 40 years ago! I adjusted well and became stronger for it! Stay strong!

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  5. Mimi Simpson says:

    Sweet Blackburn Family!
    I have woken up each morning since I heard the news praying for Yall and gone to bed doing the same! I pray Yall feel his sovereign hands wrapped tightly around you as you prepare to leave and walk this difficult journey he has called you to! Hunter and I both are praying without ceasing! love to each of you!!
    Hunter and Mimi Simpson

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  6. Linda Robbins says:

    My heart is aching for you and Willa. I pray that God will comfort you and give you that peace that passes all understanding. May God give the doctors wisdom as they care for this precious Willa.
    “Fear not, for I am with you;
    Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
    I will strengthen you,
    Yes, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
    Isaiah 41:10
    New King James Version

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  7. Rosanna Gibson says:

    Allison and Steven we are praying for you! We have dealt with cancer in our little family too. I will pray for much needed strength and healing. God will provide for your every need!

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  8. Shaunah & JD Scott says:

    Praying for you all. We love you and are tearful with you. Praying for God’s strength and healing for baby Willa and the whole family.

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  9. Eileen Weeks says:

    Thank you brave girl for sharing your heart with us. You and your whole family are so loved. I will be praying for you, Steven and Willa as you travel and receive wonderful medical care. I have asked my Bibke study group to pray for Willa and her parents. You have an army praying for your little angel. One friend shared that her nephew had the same form of cancer as a child and he is now 20, in college, and doing beautifully. There is hope and God will walk with you as he heals Willa. I love you. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

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  10. Teagan Jacobson says:

    Praying for precious Willa, and for your heart as well. If our babies are in pain, we mommas feel it tenfold. Praying this journey strengthens your family and your marriage, and that starting her little life out with such a big battle results in a girl that’s destined to be a feisty little firecracker. Love ya, sweet momma.
    “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. ” Romans 8:18

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  11. jsgillenwater says:

    Allison & Steven,
    You do not know me, but I want you to know that I am praying for you and your sweet Willa. This did not take God by surprise. He will be with you and will be your strength when you feel you have no strength left. He formed Willa in the womb and will continue to care for her small body. Please know of my continued prayers for your family.

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  12. Cara Chute says:

    Steven and Allison, I woke up praying for you and your sweet Willa. Praying for God to hold you all in the palm of His hand and continue to bring you His peace as you walk this path. His love and care for Willa is deep and everlasting.

    Cara and Earle Chute

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  13. Janice Cowan says:

    I just read this, and I am so sorry. I just prayed a special prayer little Willa and for you Steven. You and your family have been put on my daily prayer sheet. God bless and may you find the comfort that only He can give.

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  14. Dylan and Whitney says:

    Your family and baby girl has been in our thoughts and prayers all day today. We are so sorry to hear of this news, but God will strengthen and comfort your family and baby Willa through the days ahead. We want you to know that we will continue to pray for your family and your sweet, beautiful baby girl. ❤️

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  15. Lisa Catherine Basinger Goff says:

    God bless you! St. Judges is the place to go! They work wonders there. They have warm loving staff, caring, knowledgeable doctors and really love the children under their care. God is with you through all of this. He will be there during your brightest moments and your darkest hours. He will love and support you. Many people will be praying for you all and there is power in prayer. Good luck on your journey and remember God goes with you!

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  16. linda miller says:

    god bless you as you go thru this terrible ordeal. just hold tight to jesus and, he will take you both thru all this. he is the great physician. prayers going up . god bless.

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  17. Bobbie Sullivan says:

    You do not know me but I will be praying for your family. I am related to Lois Greenwell and Brenda Greenwell Peterson. May God grant you the strength to stay strong and keep faith in his will. (Bobbie Sullivan, Sumter SC)

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  18. Deana Morganstern says:

    I was the tech in the room with you that day in Dr. Carlsen’s office. What a sweet family you have. I have thought of you all and Willa several times a day since we meet. I pray for you daily. God is the ultimate healer and he is going to guide you all through this.

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  19. Karen says:

    Please share anything you feel of great importance. My friend just found out her baby has it. She has a little older son also. She is feeling she is veing punished through her sons….this baby will have his eye removed. They are talking a implant….does anyone know of those that have this cancer ever sees with a implanted eye ?? Where did you start how did you get the surgery .my belived friend has no health insurance. She is barely 25 uears old….
    Thank you for sharing your story it helps many people…..

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