My story is born out of sad events but my story is about hope. It is about believing anything is possible. It is about teaching people they have the ability to make a difference. It is about letting everyone know that an individual can change the world and if those same individuals come together as one, changing the world is inevitable. That is how this project was born. Below you will read my story but this site is not about ‘me’……………it is about ‘WE’ because together We Will Find A Cure.
My story began in September 2002 when my father was diagnosed with Leukemia. It was a tough time. Hardship had not knocked on my door many times in my life up until this point but the next 18 months would certainly change this. To preface this story, I am an only child and my Dad was my best friend. We talked every day. He was the best man at my wedding. He was all I aspired to be. For this, I consider myself lucky.
After the C word knocked on my father’s door, all of the unpleasant things that accompany a cancer diagnosis began. Initially he was not responsive to the chemotherapy but ultimately his body fought back and he was given a ticket home for Christmas. That was great timing because my wife became pregnant with what would be our first child together and we wanted to choose Christmas day to share the news. We wrapped a box full of clues which included an ultrasound photo of the baby. It made for a very exciting Christmas day and to my recollection was only the second time I had ever heard my father cry. Isabella was hope. Isabella was one more reason to fight.
The first half of 2003 consisted of a lot of trips to the hospital. My parents lived in Bluffton, South Carolina but my Dad was being treated in Charleston. It was a 2 hour drive each way and my parents did this twice a week. It was a very stressful time sitting in a car hoping you get the news that cancer had given up and was heading the o ther direction…….2 hours wondering whether you were going to live or whether you were going to die. My Dad appeared to be getting better during this time but he always told me something felt wrong to him and in the summer of 2003, his feelings proved right as his health took a turn for the worse. I was very scared and it was starting to appear like a race to get the baby in my Dad’s arms before he passed. My wife, Crea, and I actually had conversations about driving Isabella cross country as soon as she was released from the hospital so that my Dad could hold her before he passed away. It was dooms day planning and just the start of some dark times.
July 2003 comes around. It is time for me to head back to California for an extended period of time. It was difficult to be away from my father but Isabella was due to arrive soon and I was not about to miss the birth of this little angel. On July 31, 2003, I was at work waiting to go home and celebrate a)my 4th wedding anniversary and b)the soon to be birth of our child.
About midday at the office….my phone rings. It is my wife who is telling me she is heading to the hospital. I was waiting for this call. I had planned for it a million times in my head but something was wrong. We had a plan about when it was time to go to the hospital………none of the plan involved her heading to the hospital without me. Although these words were spoken many years ago, they often haunt my dreams to this day………”I cannot feel the baby kicking anymore” is what my wife said. I ran out of the office and drove as fast as I could to the hospital where I met my wife. We sat in a room while doctors and nurses wheeled in ultrasound equipment and searched for a heartbeat. Isabella must just be on her side. Please dear God let my baby be okay. I was screaming all of this in my head but God had other plans for Isabella on this day…………or as I like to believe, Isabella had other plans. Our little girl, Isabella Soleil Wilno had moved on. Nine months in the safety and comfort of her Mom’s care straight to the hands of God. It is a blessed life if you stop to think about it but this was a tough day………..the worst day I have ever endured. I cried harder than I thought humanly possible. I tried to comfort my wife. I made unpleasant phone calls to share the news. The toughest phone call I had to make was to my Dad. He had been waiting to hold his granddaughter but that was not going to happen.
Later that night my wife went into labor. She was induced of course. I remember thinking it all seemed so unfair. All of the pain of labor is supposed to be rewarded by the sound of a crying baby at the end of it all. That was not going to happen this time. My wife was strong and stubborn through the process. She fought hard not to push because, as a reminder, this was all taking place on our wedding anniversary. Crea did not want Isabella’s life/death to conclude on the same day so despite the urge to push…..she absolutely would not. When the clock struck midnight and August 1st arrived……….. my wife allowed herself to push and shortly thereafter Isabella was in our arms. She was so beautiful to us. Blond hair. Crimson lips. No sound came from her lips though and that silence was deafening. August 1st……………forever to us will be Isabella’s Day.
“Strength is born in the deep silence of long-suffering hearts not amid joy” Arthur Helps
A few days after the loss of our daughter, we were released from the hospital. We had to share the news with all of those unaware of what had transpired and we had to plan the Memorial Service. I clearly remember sitting down at my computer to draft an email and sitting down in a Manhattan Beach park to write my speech to be shared at the service. While all of this may seem irrelevant, I present this part of the story to you because I truly believe this time was my defining moment. We all have one. It can go to the good or it can go to the bad. That moment where who you truly are is born. I could have written a sad email but I didn’t. I could have written a sad speech but I didn’t. Instead I talked about the blessings that came from such a sad story. If you ever want to read a longer version about Isabella’s Day or read my Memorial Service speech, you can do so by clicking HERE.
After Isabella passed away, my Dad’s health began to deteriorate rapidly. I really believe that with Isabella went my Dad’s desire to fight. His disease was pronounced terminal and I packed my bags to go be with my best friend until his time on this planet was over. We had some good times over his last few months. Whatever my Dad wanted to do…….we did. One day, as an example, he woke up wanting to go fishing. We did not own anything to go fishing with so I drove all over town sharing my story and people helped make sure my Dad was able to catch that fish. On January 12, 2004, cancer won this battle. On January 12, 2004, I enlisted into the #BeatCancer Army having promised my Dad to fight back and help find a cure.
Shortly after my Dad lost his battle, my wife became pregnant again with my son Jaden. Simultaneous to all of this, a lot of tests had been performed on Crea tied to Isabella’s passing. Over time those tests guided doctors to the cancer growing inside of my wife. An already high-risk pregnancy immediately became more complicated. As parents we had a tough decision to make…………….fight the cancer first and risk the baby or have the baby first and risk the cancer getting worse. We enlisted a lot of help in making this decision and over time we decided to have the baby first. On October 29, 2004, our son Jaden was born fat and healthy. Two weeks later……..my wife was back in the hospital to deal with the cancer. It was a tough time and I was certainly getting tired of hospitals. My wife had it much worse though. She was going through all the procedures and she was the one that had to be separated from her newborn baby. Radiation was a part of her treatment and this forced us to quarantine her away from Jaden. I vividly remember standing in the doorway to her room holding our son just so she was able to catch a glimpse of him…..separating a new born from her Mom is just not the way life is supposed to work.
I am happy to say my wife won this battle with cancer and for five years my story had ended here. Unfortunately though, almost 5 years later to the day, cancer knocked on our door once again. On the day we were supposed to learn that my wife was officially cancer free, the doctor walked in to share that her cancer had returned. It was a surreal time. We were settling in to a life without bad news but Crea would have to fight for her life one more time. Two times in a cage match is not fair but my wife was the victor on both occasions and I can only hope that we get those cancer free words sometime soon.
Well, that is my story. That is how we are coming to meet via this website. I made a promise to my Dad to fight cancer. I made that same promise to my wife and I promised my little angel Isabella that I would try to live a life that makes her proud. Out of these sad events have come amazing things. It lead me to the mantra I try to teach as a coach for Team in Training: Blessings can come from the worst of times:
- Because Isabella passed away, my Dad had strength in his final days knowing he was going to meet his granddaughter and be the first to hold her.
- Because Isabella passed away, tests were performed that ultimately led doctors to the cancer that invaded my wife. Had Isabella not passed away, this cancer might have grown undetected and my wife might not be here today. As I mentioned above, I like to believe that Isabella volunteered for Heaven so she could be there for my Dad and so her Mom might be spared.
- During the last few months with my Dad, there were many times I felt helpless. On one of those occasions, I thought of the idea to run a marathon in his honor. I had run in high school and the thought of a marathon had always scared me. This would be the perfect way to honor my father because he believed in doing the things we are afraid of. I went to a store to buy shoes, was introduced to Team in Training, the endurance sports fundraising arm of The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and found a way to run the marathon while raising money to fight cancer. I went on to finish my 26.2 mile promise to my father but I did not stop there. Within me I found the power to help people and the desire to do more. I ran many more marathons. I completed Century Rides and even completed 4 Ironman distance triathlons. Beyond these personal events to raise money, I became a Team in Training coach for the marathon program and have trained hundreds, if not thousands, of people who collectively have raised millions of dollars towards cancer research. Many of these people have gone on to coach others and complete amazing journeys. It is my legacy as I like to think of it.
- Thalia Soleil Wilno. She is my daughter. She recently turned 6 and is capable of changing the world with her smile. Had Isabella not passed away, Thalia would not be here. Not a single day passes that I do not miss Isabella but I cannot imagine a life without Thalia. Blessings come from the worst of times!
Thanks for reading my story. I hope it inspires you to join our mission and make a financial ( tax deductible) donation. Even if it doesn’t, I hope some of my message will stay in your heart and make a difference in your life. We are all capable of changing the world and making a difference. Isabella never spoke one word nor did she ever take one step on this planet but she has affected lives. If she can do that…………..what can you do!!! Go Make It Happen!!!!