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Seventeen years ago, authors Tom and Vonne Barnett were suddenly confronted with every parent’s worst medical “bolt from the blue”: their only child, 30-month-old Emily, was diagnosed with an advanced – meaning metastasized – pediatric cancer. At the time, the thirty-something couple was living in northern Virginia.
What followed was the defining crisis of their now 25-year union: an intense 20-month battle to keep their first-born alive. About six months into the struggle, Tom started writing a weekly update on Emily’s progress (or lack thereof) for interested parties. Vonne contributed to this blog-like diary, and it was sent out by email, fax and regular mail to several hundred relatives and friends who spontaneously organized themselves into the family’s extended support network. Over time, the couple came to view the updates as something more important: a real-time memoir that would someday prove crucial to Emily’s understanding of how she became whom Tom and Vonne hoped she would become.
The family now hails from the Indianapolis area, and besides 19-year-old Emily – the girl who lived, it boasts five additional children: sons Kevin (16) and Jerome (11), an adopted Chinese daughter Vonne Mei (7), and adopted Ethiopian sisters Metsuwat (4) and Abebu (3).
What you are about to read in this series of eBooks are the original weekly updates as Tom wrote them – with Vonne’s continuous inputs – across all of 1995 and into early 1996, a period encompassing the last 14 months of Emily’s treatment protocol. Those 45 updates constitute Chapters 3 through 9 in the series: Chapter 3, which concludes with the birth of their second child, in included in Volume I, along with two opening chapters that recreate Tom’s discovery of Emily’s cancer and her initial hospitalization; Chapters 4 and 5, which cover the difficult summer of 1995, make up Volume II; Chapters 6 and 7, which chronicle the family’s final push on the chemotherapy, fill out Volume III; and Chapters 8 and 9, which encompass the post-treatment diagnostics – and Make-a-Wish trip to Disney World, constitute Volume IV.
This final volume differs dramatically from all the rest, because it’s written from the perspective of today and because both Vonne and Emily have written their own sections. It is meant to serve as their collective retrospective on the tumultuous events covered in the first four volumes.
The volume features six chapters: first Tom will offer a quick rundown of our family’s path since Emily’s protocol ended. Then he’ll offer his personal confessions regarding The Emily Updates, meaning he’ll come clear on a number of issues that sprang to his mind upon rereading the updates all these years later. Tom will follow that with a distillation of “lessons learned” from the pediatric oncology experience. The final three chapters will offer individual “looking back” remembrances: Vonne will make clear how she’s come to frame all those events into her continuing life story as the mother of six; then Tom explores his estimations of how Emily’s cancer proved to be the defining pivot in our family’s historical path; and finally, Emily herself will provide her own recollections of the events detailed in the first four volumes, along with her analysis of how she’s adapted to the unwanted legacy of long-term survivorship.
If this series of eBooks helps you better understand an analogous past experience or ongoing crisis in your life, then the authors will have accomplished what they set out to achieve with this storytelling effort.
About the Author
Vonne Meussling was born in Fort Wayne IN in 1960 but grew up across the state line in Payne OH on her family's farm until she left the area with her mother and younger brother in the early 1970s. Vonne attended high school in Eau Claire WI and Fredonia NY, and then went on to a BA in journalism and an MS in Urban Planning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She met Tom while waitressing at an Italian restaurant where he was a cook. While Vonne stayed behind to finish her Master's degree, Tom went to Harvard for grad school. After a year apart, they got engaged and Vonne joined Tom out East. They married in 1986 in Madison WI and celebrated their 25th anniversary earlier this year. While Tom was in grad school at Harvard, Vonne worked in elder affairs (service supervisor) in Boston (North End) and later as a nursing home ombudsman for the South Shore and Cape Cod. Following her move to the Washington DC area with Tom in 1990, Vonne attended law school but withdrew when she became pregnant with her first child, Emily. While the family lived in northern Virgina, Vonne worked part-time in retail and then as a unit secretary in a major regional hospital following the birth of her second child, Kevin in 1995. Vonne has been a stay-at-home mom since mom since 1998, through her third child's birth, Jerome, in 2000, and the international adoptions of three daughters: Vonne Mei from China in 2004, and sisters Metsuwat and Abebu from Ethiopia in 2010. Vonne is now getting her Master of Social Work from Indiana University/Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI).
Emily is now a student at Indiana University, pursuing a double major in English and East Asian Studies.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was such a touching thing for the family to share. Written like a blog, these weekly letters to family and friends bring you into the life of parents Vonne and Tom. Their young child Emily has been diagnosed with an advanced pediatric cancer. An inspiring story that will give hope to many.