Today we resume our Meet a Mom Series. We chose an incredibly special Mom to kick off the series, one who has touched my heart with her story and continues to inspire everyone around her. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Today’s Meet a Mom – Jen Petroskey – is a warrior of a Mom. Moms are the backbone of a family, the ones that help lead the way. This Mama embodies hope, strength and realness. 2 years ago this month, her son Declan started chemo treatments for tumors in each eye for Bi-lateral Retinoblastoma. This Mama is truly inspiring to me because though I know her journey the past few years has not been easy, she has chosen to go through it with such strength and grace. Juggling all things motherhood can be challenging in itself, and when life takes you to unprecedented roads there are Mothers that show you what true grace looks like. This Mama, along with her family, show so much will and hope to keep pushing forward despite the challenges, and it is truly remarkable. I feel truly fortunate to have met this Mama. The valuable lessons she shows those around her, without even knowing it, is why I knew she needed to be showcased as today’s Meet a Mom feature.
Where are you from originally and how long have you lived in town?
I am from St. Louis, Missouri. I have lived in NW Houston since July 2015, moving as we followed my husbands job.
How many children do you have and what are their ages?
I have 3 boys & 1 dog. Alexander is 8.5 years old, Nicholas is 6.5 years old, Declan is 3 years old, and Victor is our German Shepard who just turned 9 years old.
One thing people would be surprised to know about you…
I am a Type 1 Diabetic and have been since age 10.
Anyone special you’d like to thank for helping you through parenthood?
Moms Club of NW Houston has helped me so much since I moved to Texas. There is always someone with advice, recommendations, playdates, mom-dates, and who understand that motherhood makes you laugh through your tears.
Favorite things to do with your kids around town?
We love exploring all the different parks around town or going to visit the zoo or space center.
Favorite local things to do in the Cypress area (Cypress/Copperfield/Jersey Village/Cyfair)??
The boys enjoy the indoor play places as well as Copperfield Bowling, they really enjoyed the summer bowling program last year.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Can you tell us about your and your family’s journey with Childhood Cancer?
Our youngest son, Declan, was noticed to be just a slight bit off whenever he would crawl. He crawled right into a chair and seemed completely surprised it was there. He was also taking an awfully long time to walk, so since the older boys had eye appointments for school, I included one for our 15-month-old Declan. Dr. Pitts at Eyes on Cypress looked at Declan first and could not pin-point exactly what was wrong, but immediately got us a specialist appointment at Texas Children’s Hospital. That afternoon as our friend Stacey watched our older boys we found out, through an ultrasound of both eyes, that Declan had a mass at the back of each eye. The following week Declan had his first appointment with Dr. Dan Gombos, which was his first Exam Under Anesthesia and confirmed that Declan had tumors at the back of each eye, also known at Bi-lateral Retinoblastoma.
At 15 months old Declan began a treatment of traditional chemotherapy, sometimes made difficult by the fact that he was so young and did not like sitting still for hours on end to receive the chemo drugs. 4 months later we switched to inter-arterial chemotherapy to concentrate the drug more directly to his eyes. Declan’s July 5th, 2019 EUA showed the tumor in his left eye was not accepting treatment anymore, and to stop the tumor from spreading into his brain, Dr. Gombos removed Declan’s left eye. Chemo treatments were able to stop since his right-eye tumor was stable.
There are still appointments, EUA’s, blood draws, MRI’s, and check-ins, but they have thankfully slowed down. The tumor is still there in Declan’s right eye, and he has been fitted with a prosthetic eye for his left. His right-eye tumor had a growth that was noticed in January 2020, and Declan received more inter-arterial treatments. During his first treatment he was also infected with a blood disease and was forced to stay in the hospital for 7-14 days to receive treatment. Thankfully, Declan has not had many other problems and other than a vocal dislike of the hospital now, he is a very happy/emotional/wild/daring 3-year-old.
What helped when managing doctor visits and a busy household with other kids?
Having 3 young kids in different schools made life around appointments busy and complicated, especially since all our family lives up north. We had a lot of utterly amazing friends who were able to help us by getting our oldest off the bus if appointments downtown ran long, or if we got stuck in traffic. Our Pre-K son would attend appointments with us a lot of the time and would help keep Declan occupied. There were several appointments where my husband would take Declan to his appointment downtown and I would meet him halfway to pick Declan up and let Matt continue to his job at FedEx. Calendars, alarms, communication, and any number of notes helped me to keep everything organized. We also made sure that our kids always understood what was going on, and how bad things could be. Their spirits and optimistic outlook always helped to make the chaos feel a bit better.
Is there something that helped you stay hopeful that might help Moms going through something similar?
We focused on getting through one day at a time. My husband was strong enough to investigate what the future would hold, but as the Mom and constant support for everyone I would look at what the day would bring. It is the old saying, “don’t borrow trouble if you don’t have to”.
Talking to a friend, Christina, who is going through this with her son helped me understand where she was and how she coped. It helped to follow her son’s Facebook page and see how he was living life. I have also reached out to people my friends know in the hopes that they can know I am here to help them vent or understand.
How can we help spread awareness? Is there a specific foundation or a benefit we can donate to?
Texas Children’s Hospital has an amazing Cancer section, but they are truly blessed to have a non-profit organization set up on their Cancer & Hematology floor. Candlelighters Houston is a group that was developed by moms of cancer patients. They had been through the cancer scene and knew what was needed, like help paying for parking, or food, or just someone to listen. They hold events for the kids themselves to participate in, and they always know someone in the hospital to get in touch with.
MD Anderson Boot Walk to End cancer helps raise funds for all types of cancers. Dr. Gombos is employed at MD Anderson but donates himself to TCH to help children affected by retinoblastoma. Last year Declan had a boot-walk team, and next year we will have another team and encourage all who are interested to join us.
Are you involved in a business venture, a local organization, a creative endeavor, or in the corporate world?
The boys joined their school Cub Scout Pack, and so I volunteer within the Pack. Also, keeping our family and friends informed of Declan’s progress quickly became overwhelming. My friend, Rachel, listened and helped me work out a great way to contact everyone and spread the word on Retinoblastoma — a Facebook page. Declan’s story can be found on Facebook @DeclansOdyssey for anyone who would like to know more or who would like to keep up with Declan’s story. We always welcome questions, as cancer can be very encompassing and confusing.
How has this community been instrumental in getting you to where you are now?
The Cypress area offers a great opportunity to experience small town events while living in a large city. There are always fun events scheduled for local areas, and I always see friends at the different events. The boys love attending the Halloween festivals, Christmas lightings, or 4th of July events put on in our area. We never have to travel far to find entertainment for the family.