Every Mother’s Day is special for Heights resident Renee Blaize – mom to Lizzy, age 8, and 5-year-old Clara – but this year will be noteworthy for a number of reasons.
The most welcome is that Renee doesn’t have to spend the holiday in the hospital. Currently undergoing treatment for chondrosarcoma, a rare type of cancer that affects the bones and joints, Renee got to come home in late April from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
After a 49-day hospital stay, she finally got to give her babies a hug on April 26.
“It reminded me that Lizzy gives the best hugs,” Renee wrote on her Facebook page. “Clara was tickled by me giving her mask kisses (kisses with our masks on). I love FaceTime, but nothing beats the real thing!”
Renee continues outpatient treatment after a roller coaster journey that started last July, when persistent lower back pain was first diagnosed as two herniated discs. When physical therapy and pain medication did not entirely resolve the symptoms and new ones began to emerge, Renee went to Memorial Hermann Hospital around Thanksgiving for more scans, which revealed a tumor in her pelvis. Doctors operated on Renee and removed the tumor, after which she continued outpatient therapy at home, hoping for just one more surgery to clean up any errant cells.
When she experienced an increased loss of balance in late February, Renee went to the emergency room at M.D. Anderson and learned that the tumor had rapidly regenerated and was starting to spread to other parts of her body. That revelation mandated the extended hospital stay along with chemotherapy and radiation.
Along the way, Renee and husband Billy have had to explain to their daughters what is happening. Lizzy has been able to grasp it more fully than Clara, but both understand in their own way. When Billy shaved his wife’s head, he made a video of it to show the girls.
“Clara was scared about my shaved head, but seeing the video helped her understand better,” Renee said. “She now tells me that she likes my hairdo.”
When she was first admitted, Renee was able to have visitors, including her girls. But because of social distancing precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the visitor list dwindled down to none.
So the reunion in late April was cherished. The other gift that Renee has received is support from her mother-in-law and her parents.
Her mother-in-law, Betty Blaize, spent several weeks in Houston after Renee’s surgery to take care of the girls. She would take them to school at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Community and pick them up at their after-school activities, like dance lessons at Houston Dance Works and swimming lessons at Pengu.
“She split these responsibilities with my parents right up to the COVID-19 outbreak but has self-quarantined in Louisiana since then,” Renee said.
Renee’s own mom and dad, Paul and Alice Templet, have relocated from their home in Louisiana to their condo in The Woodlands to help take care of their grandchildren. What started out as weekend visits and the shared support after Renee’s surgery has become an extended stay for her daughters in The Woodlands.
Once brick-and-mortar schools were closed, the Templets became homeschoolers.
Both retired biology professors at Nicholls State University, the Templets are navigating the online schooling world with their grandchildren.
Renee said she is profoundly grateful, both to her parents and her mother-in-law who are giving her the space to focus on her recovery and to her husband, who is balancing work as a mortgage broker with supporting her through the cancer journey.
“I don’t know how I will ever be able to thank them,” Renee said.
The family is also appreciative of the local community, which has provided meals, gift cards and other thoughtful gifts such as flowers, warm socks, journals and the gift of time by running errands and having their girls over for sleepovers and play dates. Their neighbors also have supported an online fundraising effort started by Billy’s family.
“No one told us ‘no,’ and for that, we are extremely grateful,” Renee said.
Renee’s mobility is now improving and her hair is starting to grow back. She continues chemotherapy with a best-case scenario of finishing those treatments in July.
“I have good days and bad days,” she said.
A good day was when Clara sent a picture she had painted of a rainbow and flowers and when her parents sent a video of a dance that Lizzy had choreographed. Another highlight was when Billy worked with their Houston Dance Works family to coordinate a drive-by parade to boost Renee’s spirits.
There are no firm plans for Mother’s Day on Sunday, other than a visit from her parents and children in their masks.
But that, for now, is enough.