It's hard enough to learn you have Stage IV cancer at just 35. But to learn your 2-year-old daughter does, too, just a week later? The thought is too terrible to imagine.
Sadly, though, that's exactly what happened to Oregon mother Summar Ruelle, and her daughter Sapphire.
Just a year ago, Ruelle had dropped a whopping 60 pounds off her post-baby body when she suddenly discovered a mass in her left breast. Further tests revealed she had Stage IV breast cancer, and that it had taken over her body, spreading to her lymph nodes, spine, ribs, hips and collar bone. Then, after a week of nonstop chatter about mastectomies and chemo, Ruelle was hit with the worst news of all: her daughter Sapphire, who had recently suffered from excessive bruising and idiopathic fevers, was diagnosed with leukemia.
“I was absolutely devastated,” Ruelle, now 36, told the Today show. “It was like my diagnosis became nonexistent at that moment. I wanted to cancel everything—my surgery, my treatments. I wanted to forget all of that. I felt I needed to be there for her.”
Wondering what the odds are of such a devastating double-diagnosis? According to Ruelle's oncologist, Dr. Alison Conlin, they're pretty slim. “For a daughter and mom to simultaneously be going through this and for a mom to be that young and have advanced disease from the get-go, that’s very rare,” she told Today. “It all adds up to make it fairly unique, although I’m sure it’s not one of a kind, sadly.”
But regardless of the grim circumstances, the family is focused on life. Ruelle's opted to undergo radiation as well as remove her ovaries, one breast and 17 lymph nodes. In the process, the former runner and successful business analyst has had to endure everything from infections to extreme leg pain—but it's all been worth it to get more moments in with her family.
For her part, little Sapphire has been just as brave. She's undergone rigorous chemotherapy, which has caused her to lose all of her hair, and steroid injections, which her mom admits has led to some not-so-pleasant "'roid rage." Even worse, Sapphire's had to stay away from her friends (because of the risk of illness or infection), which is probably one of the hardest things to ask a kid to understand at that age.
Still, mom and daughter are getting each other through the tough times like no one else can.
“Even though she’s 3, she gets this thing to a degree that she can comfort me and I can comfort her,” says Ruelle. “She can totally go and see me get my blood drawn and my seroma drained and be supportive. She told me, ‘Mom, you go to all of my appointments, why can’t I go to yours?’”
And according to Sue Harden, a psychologist who specializes in chronic illness, all that mom-and-daughter time is definitely therapeutic.
“Being able to see what happens to her mom when she goes to those appointments is going to help reduce stress for [Sapphire],” Harden told Today.
Another positive to come from this sad story? The family is working hard to raise money and spread awareness. Learn more about the incredible story—and what you can do to help—on the family's blog, TheRuelleFamily.com. Watch the moving Today show interview below.