My 6-year-old daughter has been diagnosed with cancer, I struggle as a single mom

  • Mahogany Howard is a single mother to 5-year-old Bryson.
  • Bryson was diagnosed with leukemia in April, challenging the family emotionally and financially.
  • This is a mahogany story, as told to Kelly Burch.

This article is said to be based on a conversation with Mahogany Howard. Edited for length and clarity.

Last April, I was in the emergency room at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital. I’ve been there a lot that year with my 5-year-old son, Bryson, who has been struggling strange symptoms For six months.

On previous visits, I felt that the staff ignored my concerns. Now, all of a sudden I felt like I was in a five-star hotel: Nurses Bryson brought a stuffed animal, made sure I had a phone charger, and took me to get food. It was the first sign that my life was about to change.

After my stomach was full, the medical team asked me to go into another room. I said no. Any conversation we were going to have could happen in front of my son. But they insisted. In that room, I heard numbers, blood counts, and Medical terms. I told them I needed information on layman’s terms. This is when one word cuts everything: cancer.

I lost my mind. I insisted Bryson was healthy enough to go home. But in his room, doctors were already preparing him for surgery. Within days, my baby had two surgeries, IV tubes in his arms, and a splint to stop him from pulling his ports.

Balancing therapy, parenting, and work felt impossible

Four months before Bryson gave birth, I lost my first pregnancy. I thought about this kid when Bryson was accepted. I grieved deeply for that child – a child I could not touch or hold. How hard is it for me to grieve for my son after five years of being everything to each other?

When I got pregnant from Bryson, I was in the military. Once he was born, that was the end of my career. I didn’t want to be a soldier. I wanted to be a mother. I moved home in Connecticut to be near family and started working nights in the postal service. I count for him when his eyes are closed even when his eyes are open, the mother is there.

As a single mother, everything falls on me. My sister-in-law watches Bryson while I work, but all the financial responsibility rests with me. Bryson is an old school kid: loves the outdoors, mud, and dirt. For his birthday last year, I got a house with a yard where he can play safely until his heart is satisfied. When he fell ill, I was determined not to let this house slip away.

Applying for financial support is time consuming and inefficient

The night Bryson was admitted to the hospital, I called my job and told them I would be back when I could. I realized over the summer that it’s actually easier when Bryson is in the hospital. When he’s at home, I’m a mom, a nurse, a teacher, and an employee. When he’s in the hospital, I have at least some help in these roles.

I exhausted myself applying for government support, grants and relief. I fill out orders while Bryson sleeps with his head on my chest. When he moves, my shirt is covered in his hair, which falls out again with each round of chemo.

$30 from Social Security was approved to cover expenses while Bryson was hospitalized. It was after an interview that lasted more than two hours: two hours of caring for my sick child that I would never return to.

The hospital told me to start GoFundMe Campaign. It was out of my comfort zone, but I did it for Bryson. I don’t have social media, so I had a hard time crowdsourcing, but I got a huge boost when my employer sent the campaign to everyone in our building.

It is horrible to worry about finances when I only have to worry about my son. But through it all, Bryson is my strength. When he collapsed, he told me he would take care of me. It’s a weight he shouldn’t be carrying, but his inner spirit is amazing.