Tyran and her husband Paul are empty nesters with four adult children, three married and the youngest in college. I went to school with her oldest daughter, Summer, and Tyran’s caregiving story involves Summer as well as Summer’s son.
When Summer was at BYU in her early twenties, she fell in love and got engaged to her sweetheart George. Tyran and her husband went up to celebrate with them and go to dinner. A few days afterward, Summer called Tyran saying that she couldn’t make it up the steps on campus to some of her classes. Tyran thought Summer must have had pneumonia, and told her to go to the doctor.
A few hours later Summer called to report shocking sad news. The ER doctor had found a large mass in her chest, and they were confident it was cancer. The doctors were very encouraging with the diagnosis of Hodgkins Lymphoma. They cited high survival rates, and hoped that after five months of chemo she would not have to look back.
George and Summer had planned to marry in the fall, because Summer had planned to go to Africa with a humanitarian group. With the diagnosis, she could no longer go. They decided to get married the following weekend in May, just a month after their engagement. George stepped up and said, “We are going to do this together.” They had a beautiful wedding at the Manti LDS Temple, and a luncheon with just family. The couple had a weekend honeymoon in Park City, and then Summer started chemotherapy on Monday.
Tyran began travelling to visit them on the weekends, helping with cooking and housework. Summer stayed in school, and changed majors from medicine to English Teaching in order to finish her coursework more quickly. She felt like going to school helped her forget and not dwell on her illness. She would miss a few days on her chemo weeks, but otherwise kept up.
Summer did not respond as well as doctors hoped to her first round, and had to take an additional few months. Soon she received the devastating blow that she would not be able to have children due to her treatments. She kept working away at her degree, and graduated with honors.
While Summer was sick the first time, a leader from her church, Neal A. Maxwell, spoke to her several times. He was sick at the same time, and would walk through the halls administering to patients. Tyran said he was just remarkable. One time Summer was sobbing to him about her grief at not having children, and he basically said, “I think you will.” Summer was very comforted by that, and took it at face value.
Just before graduation, Summer called Tyran with a huge surprise. It was less than a year after she had completed chemo, and she was pregnant. The doctors were so surprised that they had Summer come to study her from a medical standpoint.
When they found out the baby was a boy, they decided to name him Maxwell.
Ultrasound showed that the baby would have a cleft lip and palate. Repairing them would take quite a few surgeries. Summer felt guilty that her treatments had left chemicals in her body that might damage her baby. Her obstetrician and oncologist assured her that was not the case.
They called Tyran the October morning Summer went into labor, and she traveled to northern Utah to attend the birth. The birth and delivery went smoothly. Summer had had a mourning period about the cleft palate, but when he was born she said, “I loved you before you drew your first breath, and when I saw you, you were perfect to me.” It didn’t matter. Tyran describes him as “incredibly beautiful. All of my grandchildren are—his coloring and his eyes.” They were thrilled to have him in their lives.
Tyran had a premonition during the delivery that Summer was sick again. She didn’t say anything, and wondered why she was thinking that. She went home with Summer and Max. It was her first time being a grandma, changing diapers, helping, encouraging with the breastfeeding and everything. Then, three or four days after Max was born, Summer told Tyran she didn’t feel well. She was so weak and not herself. They went to the doctor immediately. Summer was diagnosed with terminal stage four cancer.
Tyran says she’ll always have this picture in her head of that tiny little baby carrier, and Summer sitting in a chair, not even recovered from giving birth to her son. They started very intense chemotherapy that same day. Summer was hooked up to IVs. Tyran remembers that little baby in a little carrier next to her on the floor.
Doctors said Summer’s only chance for survival was a bone marrow transplant, and even at that her chances were slim. Summer was willing to do anything to have the chance to stay here and be her baby’s mother. That was really when things took off as far as caregiving for Tyran, because she had a grandson who had a birth defect who required several surgeries, and a daughter who was undergoing a bone marrow transplant at the same time.
Tyran divided her time between attending Max in Primary Children’s Hospital, and Summer at the University of Utah. A bridge connects the two hospitals, so they went from one end of the hospital to the other. During that time it was really hard for Summer to not be with her son. She was in isolation for several weeks. They had to be very careful of her immune system.
After Max’s first few surgeries, Tyran brought him home with her. “Basically, I had Summer up there doing bone marrow, and my grandson down here with us.” It was an exhausting year because she wanted to be with her daughter, but her grandson needed her care. George spent time with Summer, and Tyran and her family traveled to be with them as often as they could.
“Very often I would just put the phone by Max, and she would sing to him because she wanted him to know she was with him, even though she wasn’t. It was a very difficult year.” Summer’s brother came home from an LDS mission two months early to donate bone marrow, because he suspected he would be the match, and he was right. However, the transplant was not successful.
Tyran said, “Then we had a lot of conversations you never want to have as far as, ‘What’s going to happen to my baby?’” George was not well equipped to take care of the baby, with his family living in Europe. Summer wanted her mother to care for Max. “There was no question that we would step in and do that for them, and for him.” Tyran quit her job at an elementary school to take care of Max full time. She said, “That was the greatest blessing of my life.”
It was hard to go back to baby care mode when she had not been there for awhile. Max had many needs with his surgeries. He had difficulty eating and drinking because of his cleft lip and palate. He could choke, and had to have special bottles. Tyran’s younger daughter Lindy was a great help at the time. She remembers one night when both of them were up just crying in exhaustion. She said, “You have to help me. I can’t keep my eyes open.” And Lindy said, “I have a test tomorrow.” They wondered how they would do this.
Everyone in town, in their church community, and in their family loved and doted on the baby. He was very popular, loved, and cherished. Tyran’s sisters, mother, congregation, and extended family rallied around her. There were certain times when she took Max up to be with her sister for a weekend to get a little breather.
When he was three months old, Max would sniff his palate apparatus out, and giggle, making his grandma and aunt laugh. He brought a lot of sunshine with him. “I felt rewarded in the respect that Max was and is a complete replica of his mother. His personality, his mannerisms, his quirks—he is a replica. That brought so much comfort. It was like I got to start over with her son. He brought so much laughter into our home. Summer was witty, and that was what my kids missed the most. She was so witty and clever and funny, and her siblings would just laugh. Max had the same thing.”
George and Summer stayed with Tyran and her family between hospital stays. Summer’s goal was to live to Max’s first birthday in October. In the June before that, George was driving in a nearby town and saw a beautiful Victorian home for rent. He knew Summer would love it, so he took it. At first Tyran was slightly offended, but when she saw how excited Summer was that made it okay. Summer, George, and Max moved there for her last few months.
Tyran and her family were still very much involved with caregiving. The house was huge, and they stayed there a lot. Especially during Summer’s last month she wanted her family all around her. “For her it erased a lot of the fear to have, not just me and her dad and her siblings, but my sisters, her cousins. That house was full most of the time.” At the end there was a feeling of sacred space in the home. Summer lived three days past Max’s first birthday.
Once Summer was gone, George went back to school a few months later, and Max stayed with Tyran as Summer had desired. George came down to visit his son on the weekends. Tyran was grateful to have Max. “I was so devastated to lose Summer, but at the same time I had someone to focus on that was part of her. It was like she was gone, but a big part of her was here. And I got to have him. It was like she wasn’t completely gone.” She and the family had several experiences where they felt Summer’s presence very strongly. “She was gone, but I knew she was very much involved in his life.”
Before she passed, Summer had struggled with why God would give her the miracle of a child only to take her away from him. Dallin H. Oaks, another leader in her church, told her that she would be part of her son’s life. “I know that gave great joy to her that there would not be some sort of iron curtain. That she would be part of his life, and I know that she was.”
After Summer passed away, George took their wedding rings and wore them on a chain around his neck, telling Tyran, “There is no way I will even consider dating or remarriage for several years.” She admired that. She felt that it just spoke volumes of his love for Summer.
The hardest part for Tyran came two and a half years later, when George met a woman who had also lost a spouse to cancer. They decided to marry, enabling Max to live with his dad again, as well as a new mom and two siblings. After losing her daughter, Tyran had to let go of Max as well. “As far as handling the grief, it was as if everything descended on me when George remarried, because then they were both gone.” While the transition was a bittersweet time for Tyran, she felt happy that George could marry another widow. Tyran and her family were pleased for George to find someone so special after all of the grief and loneliness he had endured. Because of their unique situations, their family can include the deceased parents as a part of their new blended family.
Tyran doesn’t know that she has any advice. She attended the LDS temple, and relied on the support of family a lot. “When you’re going through it you’re just on automatic. You just do because you have to do. You don’t think too much about it or you’d probably go crazy thinking, “I can’t do this.” But again, I think we were really blessed and watched over because it was so unusual to have both the loss and watching her suffer.” Tyran said the very hardest part was watching someone she loved suffer and not be able to do anything to relieve it.
Now that time has passed, it is not so hard. She just heard from one of her other sons that he and his wife are expecting a baby girl. They plan to name her Summer.
“I know that whatever we have to do in life, that we don’t have to do it alone.” She says, “It was the greatest honor of my life to have him. I think it is an honor for anyone to be a caregiver in whatever level. It is the greatest thing we can do whether for our children, our parents, our neighbors. That is what it is all about.”
I totally agree. It was a privilege for me to know Summer and to hear your story. Thank you for sharing, Tyran. I honor you.