Shaun Thornhill and his daughter. Picture: Supplied

It is not often we get to appreciate the things fathers do for their children except on Father’s Day. A day where kids can’t wait another moment to give dad a hand-drawn card and start lavishing special love and attention on the man who gave them life. 

Most often it takes a true disaster in our lives’ to help us appreciate the blessings we have been missing all along. To appreciate this day we share the story of Shaun Thornhill in his own words, whose one-year-old daughter was affected by cancer.

I will never forget what I said to my wife early in the year 2016 before it all started. Life was really busy with work, renovation projects at home and every other spare time was sucked up by the kids. I remember sitting an entire Saturday at a school chess tournament with my son Blake. I was frustrated as it felt like I never had any time to do what I wanted to do. I remember saying to my wife, I am sick of not having any time to do anything As I said that, I had a bad feeling inside and realized life could be a lot worse. Soon after that life would never be the same again.

2016 will be a year I will never forget, my son Blake was seven-years-old, my daughter Peyton 5 years old and my youngest daughter Shaye had just turned one. Our baby girl Shaye started to suffer badly from constipation; it got so bad she was admitted into the hospital, after our second time in hospital for constipation, my wife was very persistent with the doctors that something was not right, fortunately, we were blessed with fantastic doctors who soon realised what was wrong with Shaye.

Forever in my mind, I will dread the day the Paediatric surgeon sat my wife and I down and explained, Shaye needed to go to Cape Town Red Cross Hospital ASAP to have a “tumour” removed from below her coccyx. Reality never really hit me until the next day, I remember breaking down in tears in front on my boss when I had to explain what was going to happen. 

From then onwards I never was concerned about my own time, our lives were consumed up by trying to keep Shaye alive.  As a father we like to fix problems, when life brings challenges we feel that we need to make decisions on what needs to be done. This time I felt so helpless. 

Cancer was a challenge like no other. Many times we saw our daughter in screaming pain, starting with an eight-hour surgery in Cape Town, another five operations that followed within the space or three months, chemotherapy were my little 18-month-old girl would be screaming from the many needles that would hurt her little body. As a parent, you never got used to the fear that your daughter might catch an illness that would definitely send her to the hospital or even once so close to death that she needed a blood transfusion to boost her white blood cells so she could stay alive. 

You never get over the helplessness. It really felt like we were out of control, never knowing when it would be over, if it will be over. Fortunately, this story does have a happy ending were Shaye is healthy and happy today. Not forgetting to mention the superb support we received from CHOC childhood cancer foundation SA, from the moment of diagnosis onwards the CHOC Social Worker was an integral part of our journey and she assisted us enormously. We didn’t require accommodation from CHOC, however, their staff and volunteers were always so warm and caring at the ward and with follow ups and just seemed to make everything lighter. My wife and I are both now CHOC volunteers so that we can be a support to others who have to go through a similar experience to ours.

I know this experience has made my wife and I better people, we realized that we were so caught up in our own little bubbles, full of selfish needs.
We as a family feel so blessed to all be healthy and together, we can never take for granted  our time we have with our families and loved ones. Life can change in the blink of an eye. Always pray with gratitude for every blessing and help others whenever you can. Never ask someone, Please let me know if there is anything I can help you with? just do it!
As a father, on this day I am always reminded of our cancer experience with Shaye and every time I receive a hand drawn card from Shaye, I feel so blessed to be a father.