Facing a family member’s cancer diagnosis is hard. Being the parents of a child diagnosed with cancer may be one of the hardest challenges on Earth. That is the challenge faced by Fox8 news anchor and Emmy-award winning journalist Chad Tucker and his wife, Meredith, following their daughter Peal Monroe “Roe Roe” Tucker having been diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) three years ago.
During Roe Roe Tucker’s 858 days of Leukemia treatment, she endured:
• 10 chemo shots
• 17 Spinal Tap Infusion Treatments
• 1,388.5 chemo pills
• 211 blood draws
• 48 Port accesses
• 40 IV chemotherapy
• 2 Blood transfusions
• 3 hospital admissions for a total of 8 days
• 6 ER visits
Thankfully, Roe Roe is currently in remission, and she was able to “ring the bell” to celebrate the end of her cancer treatments on March 28th (her 6th birthday). However, her fight is far from over. Roe Roe will be monitored for 5 years, and the long-term effects may not show up for a few years.
DocWire News sat down with parents of Roe Roe Tucker to discuss her journey, the journey of Chad’s stepsister, who is also battling ALL, and the V Foundation’s Victory Ride to Cure Cancer, which takes place this Saturday, May 21, 2022, with the start/finish line at NC State’s Centennial Campus.
Here is their story.
DocWire News: Can you talk to us about yourselves, and about “Roe Roe” and her cancer journey?
Chad and Meredith Tucker: I’m Meredith. This is Chad. We’ve been married for 10 years. Just had an anniversary. We’ve got three kids. All of our kids have double names, Carson Perry, she is eight. We’ve got Pearl Monroe who is affectionately called Roe Roe, her nickname that stuck from birth, she is six. And then we’ve got Franklin Reeves who is two.
It keeps us very busy. We got three kids.
Two girls and a boy.
Two girls and a boy. And our daughter, I don’t know if you want to go into that yet but our daughter was diagnosed in the fall of 2019, on November 21st of 2019 with leukemia.
And she was three and a half.
Three and a half years old, our middle child, Roe Roe. And a lot of people ask, how did you see the symptoms and things like that? And it’s basically, she started complaining of bone pain, leg pain.
It was about three weeks of ping ponging between doctors getting x-rays. She had a rare cheek infection, in a healthy person that never would’ve happened but because her immunities were so low, her immunities couldn’t fight it. But the big thing, the big kicker was that she was started crawling. Actually was on my birthday, November 19th and I knew something just wasn’t right. And then we went in for more x-rays thinking she may have had a fracture, even though we had not seen her fall or any kind of big falls or anything. And that mama gut, that mama bear feeling like something wasn’t right. I was also pregnant at the time, 20 weeks pregnant with our son but just that intuition. She was very clingy. Her personality was changing. She was not enjoying life. Simple things, like we had gone to, what was it?
The fair, the county fair.
The fair and then the Polar Express.
Polar Express, that’s right.
And these fun things as kids and she was just becoming very clingy and it’s just something, she just was not overall feeling well. She’d started crawling and I said, “We’re going back to the doctor.”
And we had been back and forth to the doctor multiple times and everything we kept saying that, “Something’s not right. Something’s not right.” And growing pains. Oh, she probably fell. Oh yeah. Everything in the book and then finally, when she stopped walking because later on we’d learn it was the leukemia taking over in her bone marrow, to just hurt to walk so she was stopped walking. Then it was just like, that’s it, we’re not leaving till we get some answers.
And which we found out through blood work. The last thing for us to do was to do a CBC panel of blood work, a whole workup. Her white blood cell count was super high.
Out the roof.
And that was the big red flag for our pediatrician, who referred us to our local children’s hospital, Brenner Children’s Hospital. Who they’re phenomenal. Set us up with a doctor. They checked her over, did more, ended up doing more intense lab work and that’s when they came back and saw what they called the cancer cells, the blasts in her blood work. And they said, “Yep. She has leukemia.” But she had had the best case scenario. It had highest cure rate. We just had to hit the ground running from that moment and being pregnant and I don’t know if you want to tell about how you told and told them.
She was pregnant so the doctor, he wanted to tell me first to see if I would tell her or come in together and then he’ll tell us both because he didn’t want to upset her because she was pregnant at the time. And so he called me at work to say he really wanted to see us in person. And I insisted on him telling me why. Because we had seen him earlier that day and he said, “The worst case scenario,” again, like she said, “could be leukemia, best case scenario it could be mono.”
And so I just said, “You just go ahead and tell me and I’ll tell my wife.” And he told me. I was at work, I’m sitting at my desk and he said, “I’m so sorry but your daughter has leukemia.” And it took me a second forward to sink in. And then he said, “She has cancer.” And I said, “Okay, I will go home and tell my wife and we’ll come straight over there.” And so they did, him and Dr. Kram and our nurse Nancy, they both stayed late and I went home. I work in television and that was 10 minutes before going on the 4:00 o’clock news when he called and so I had to literally walk down the hall and say, “Y’all got to find somebody else to do the news. I have to leave. My daughter has been diagnosed with leukemia.” And I just walked out the building and I remember driving home, it’s about 25 minute drive home and it was a very quiet drive home. It didn’t turn on the radio or anything.
I just thought to myself, how I’m going to tell my wife? And then also just kind of just had this peace about it, that this is just a roadblock in life, just a part of the journey and we’ll get through this. We’ll get through this. And so I walked into the door and my wife was expecting me to be on the news. I wasn’t there. She’s like, “Why aren’t you not on the news? Why are you here?” And I remember walking in the door and seeing our daughter, she was sitting in the floor playing. And first thing I thought of was how could she be sick? She’s sitting there playing on the floor. And then I just told my wife that, “I’m sorry but she has leukemia. And the doctors are waiting for us to come over to see them and they’re going to start tomorrow. They’re going to admit her, put a port in, start with spinal treatment.”
Spinal tap with chemo.
With chemo. And they’re going to hit the ground running and it’s going to be two years of this. And so that’s what we did. We went to the doctor. We left from the house, went there. They laid out the game plan. They were very comforting and it did. I had just had this peace about it, sitting there knowing, I think it’s part of my faith. I think it was also part of the doctors just reassuring us that this has a very high cure rate. She has the best case scenario. And we just knew. We just knew she’s going to be just fine. Just fine.
It was for me, I was of course pregnant. And so, I was just a basket case. Gets me every time. But it’s all of a sudden your world is just absolutely turned upside down. And this is even before COVID. Before COVID and you just, I’m like, what are we going to do? How are we going to do this? I immediately quit work. I’m a hairstylist and so I never even went back to work except to clean out my space.
Just because she couldn’t work.
There’s going to have to be somebody to take her back and forth to the hospital constantly.
And the appointments changed every other day, because this it’s all dependent on your counts, which is very difficult. She quit working. I kept working.
And so, I was a lot better once we had a plan and I understood more. In the beginning, everything’s just thrown at you and it’s just, you hear all these words and it’s just like, it’s not even sinking in. You’re just, I don’t know, you’re just in complete shock. But once you get past that, we got a plan, our community once they found out, started rallying around with us and supporting us. And one of the most beautiful things is seeing the helping hands and hearts of people. Oh my gosh, just the things that people did, it was just incredible. Just the support and love that we felt. And so, we started with the plan and she responded well with chemo. We didn’t have many setbacks. Then moving towards the middle, I had the baby, which he was due April 11th and he came two weeks early on his own, April 1st, which just adds to the story.
April Fool’s Day.
This is 2020. And this is also when COVID is rearing its head and everything’s starting to shut down.
Just to lay out our life. About two weeks before that, everything started shutting down. I had to start anchoring the newscast from my living room. I’ve got a child on steroids running around the house, with chemo steroids. I’ve got an older daughter at the time who we’re having to homeschool because the schools were shut down.
They were going virtual.
Virtual, everything was virtual. And then wife running around pregnant and I’ll never forget the day I was on the news, March 31st, I was on the news talking.
In our living room.
In our living room, talking about something serious and my daughter own steroids came over because steroids makes you hungry. She’s like, “Daddy, I want some orange juice.” Live on the news, our neighbor was ringing the doorbell, bringing food.
And I was in the shower because.
She thought she was having contractions.
As my water broke.
Yeah, her water broke.
My water broke.
And sure enough, the next day, April 1st, we walked in there and she had a baby. Or we went that night.
That night and then turned into April 1st.
My baby the next morning.
The next day. All of that happened, COVID was shutting things down but I don’t know, you just keep going. You still have to have a baby. You still have to do all these things. And then after we came home, were you going to add something?
Well, I was going to say, I think that was probably the hardest in the whole two years was during COVID because the hospital got so tight on everything. Only one of us could go to appointments. Siblings were no longer allowed and they like to encourage siblings because that way the siblings feel like they’re a part of it. They understand what their sister’s going through. That was cut out. All the resources that are available to kids through the hospital and the community to help them through treatments, all stopped. She didn’t have those resources or anything like that.
The playrooms are closed and they’re still closed.
It was very difficult in that sense. And a lot of people say this, they feel like, with the cancer, it’s very lonely. And I get what they’re saying because you get after the initial few months of people gathering around you, then it kind of dies off. And when it gets hard is when people stop calling and they stop checking on you. And here we are, then we had a newborn and we’re just kind of all by ourselves and it got real lonely. It was hard.
And with COVID, you don’t know who you can let in. For instance, my sister’s a nurse. And then, trying to have just your kind of immediate family, closer family’s help, you’re like, I don’t know if even they should come over. You’re just kind of floundering.
We’re doing it all on our own. And that went on for months. I think that was the hardest part through the two years. Well, that in the first month. The first month is when they get intense steroids. And I just realized, you asked us one question and we have not stopped talking.
How did it feel when Roe Roe went into remission?
It just felt like total freedom. Just the fact that, we had to crush chemo pills every single night. There’s pills and then of course, before that, all of the infusions and spinal taps. She’s had, we were trying to count up but it was about 17 spinal taps. That’s spinal taps alone. That’s not including the amount of pills, the amount of infusions. It’s just, I can’t remember it all in my head but we have it.
Some 3,000, some pills she took, chemo pills. We have the totals. I can send them to you. It’s in an email, everything.
For all of that too, of course it was she had weaned off. It just felt like freedom to ring the bell and relief. With also, not scared, but a little bit of fear because knowing that those drugs are what kept the cancer cells away. There’s always, so for now, for the first year after chemo, they do a check for labs and all of that, her blood work once a month. That is always reassuring but there’s always that hold your breath moment. Just making sure that they’re not going to spot anything. With leukemia, it’s a blood disease so it’s not stages, there’s no scans. It’s just detected all through labs and blood work. But that moment, it was definitely freeing. And honestly, couldn’t believe we had actually gotten there.
That last night was a Sunday night when she took her last pill here at home and it was, I’d saved a lot of the pill bottles and I took a picture of her and all her pill bottles and Meredith got her a shirt that says.
Last day of chemo.
Last day of chem. She took her picture with it and it was just looking at it now, it was just like, gosh, all the medicine that was pumped through her for two years and then you get the stats from at the end, from the hospital, talking about all the chemo that was put through her body. And now they talk to us about the long-term side effects and when to start spotting things. And when they’re about third grade, they’ll start seeing, typically learning.
Some learning disabilities.
Disabilities in a lot of the kids. And then, there’s always the fertility when they get older and she gets her heart. She’s just got a heart scan the other week. Just the long-term effects from all of that. But I think, so she took her last pill and then because of COVID, we had to schedule a day for her to ring the bell and the day her doctor could be there too. And we did it on her birthday, which was March the 28th. She turned six and she went to school that morning. And it was very sweet, her class was going to line up outside the school and ring bells and party makers, as she left, to cheer her on, as she left to go ring the bell and ended up being the entire school lined around the building and cheered her on with her sister escorting her.
And it was a beautiful day. It was a great birthday. I know it’s one she will not forget, even being six, she won’t forget that because it had so many high moments there of celebration and seeing her ring the bell. She’d been talking about, because every day you go in the clinic, you walk by the bell. And over the past two years, she’d try to reach for and she wasn’t tall enough and then.
She grew a lot in two years.
She was able to reach that bell on March 28th. And I always think about too, that she was born in 2016 on March 28th, which was an Easter Monday. She was born in this season of new beginnings and new life and the promise of Easter and for her to ring it on her birthday was another little God wink for us. This is a new day, new beginnings, again. But she was born to be a middle child. She’s very spunky and I think that helped her a lot in all of this.
Oh yeah. She’s feisty. What was I was going to say? Well, oh resiliency. You hear a lot, kids are so resilient. And we see that in a whole new light. We don’t take that phrase lightly because they really are. There’s something about kids, as sad as it is when kids have cancer, they are the toughest fighters. They can handle so much more than adults can. And it’s very true. It’s just, it’s harder on the parents than it is the kids.
There’s moments like she would get her spinal infusion and as soon as she’d wake up from sedation, she’d be like, “Okay, can we go to Chick-fil-A today?”
And she would still hop through the parking deck.
Oh, she’d be skipping through the parking deck, back to the car. Whereas adults, if you were getting that same treatment, you’ll be down for several days. But here are kids, they’re just skipping through the parking lot. And it’s reassuring for parents who were going through it. And there were moments too, that you knew things were hurting on her and she couldn’t find the right way to tell you. And so, there’s just so much that goes through your head, the worries, the thoughts, what is she really feeling today? Having to hold her hands while we give her shots at home, do that several times.
There’s also worries too, for siblings, especially our oldest who was seeing all this at home and trying to keep normalcy for her. And we did the very best we could. And also with our community, they reached out and also made sure that Carson Perry, our oldest was loved on as well, which was super, super, super important.
People would send cards and they’d send them to both kids so she didn’t feel left out.
Chad, your stepsister is now also battling ALL. Can you talk to us about that?
We had a big celebration, we invited the community to come. Had bounce houses and everything. And my sister came and she was a volunteer and she wasn’t feeling good at Roe Roe’s celebration and two days later, she goes in and blood work shows that she has leukemia. And again, we’re step so we’re not blood related but it’s just like, here, we just finished this for us and now she’s having to go through this and she’s diagnosed with the exact same leukemia, ALL B cell.
It’s just that she’s an adult.
She’s a healthy 37 year old. For some odd reason, had a misfire of the cells and caused leukemia. And now she’s going through this journey.
The symptoms for her, it was about three or four weeks, I think.
Migraines, heart racing, when she was standing up walking, felt like she was going to pass out at times. And I think sometimes as moms, you just kind of fight through, she’s got two little, her husband have two little girls, seven and four. But you just kind of I feel put yourself aside or you got to push through think, oh, it’s not anything until it just really rears its head and you have to go to the doctor.
She was at the celebration, she couldn’t work the bounce house anymore. She had to sit down and then so the next day she went to the doctor. It was just like, just serious.
And the craziest thing is we had had some new t-shirts made and she had it on as she was going to the emergency room and then was diagnosed. I just don’t always understand these things but I don’t know if God has got a reason that our stories are threaded together this way. That one day we’ll understand maybe, I hope.
What are the biggest challenges for parents of young cancer patients?
I think it’s well, two things for us. Well, one off the top is the normalcy. They’re losing part of their childhood. Part of their childhood is just taken away from them and you’re trying to salvage what you can. Losing her hair didn’t bother her. Doesn’t bother a lot of the kids. We told her, “You’re going to lose your hair.” She’s like, “Well, will it come back?” “Yeah.” “Okay.” But I think it was for me, it was the normalcy of keeping the family together. And just trying to process it all while also going through the emotions of feeling so alone. You have people sending your cards and stuff but people stop calling and they stop talking. And I think a lot of it has to do with people don’t know what to say. People don’t want to come around because they’re afraid they might bring germs or at that time, COVID. And so it got real lonely. That for me, that was the hardest.
And then fighting the insurance. I found out going through this, there’s so many families and we were not immune. You have to fight your insurance companies. It’s automatic denial on everything and you just have to fight them and you just constantly appeal and appeal. And you just tell them, “I know your business model, it’s to wear us down until we give up and pay it. That’s not happening with me. I’m going to keep on fighting till you pay it.” And once they realize you’re not giving up, may take you two years. And the help of a, there was a PA in the clinic who she was a feisty lady and she called and she…
Straightened it all out. Let them know.
But it took two years. And so those were the hardest for me as a parent, was dealing with the emotions of it, feeling alone, trying to keep normalcy and fighting insurance.
And for me, it’s just the hardest thing, was really from because of being a mom, you just want to, you feel like you’re being pulled in a million directions, especially with three kids. Being pregnant and having a baby, a newborn and then a sick child and then a child that’s healthy, who you’re trying so hard to keep normalcy and attention between all three kids. And obviously, there’s the baby who is a newborn, now he’s two. And then, the child that’s sick and you just feel like you’re pulled in so many directions and you’re worn down and you can’t really go anywhere. It’s hard to get that, what’s the words? I’m losing my words. Anyways, just trying to give yourself time. It’s just really hard.
Speaking of toddler. You just feel so worn down and you just really just want balance and make sure. I look down the road making sure, I’m like, what if my oldest has PTSD of all this and we did something wrong somewhere but we’ve tried our hardest. I just think those thoughts sometimes. We have done counseling for my oldest, which I just did because I thought it would be not that she was showing signs of anything but I just wanted to make sure she wasn’t holding emotions and things in and that she knew she had a safe place, another place aside of her parents to talk.
Wanted to get in front of anything she may be holding back.
Not sweep things under the rug and pull it all out when she’s 16 or 20.
Just trying to get in front of it all.
Talk to us about the Victory Ride, and its significance.
I started doing that in 2019. First time I did it was literally a couple months before Roe Roe was diagnosed and I did it in honor of my grandmother who died of ovarian cancer. And it’s just, I’ve always liked riding bikes too. It’s just one of those events where it was a perfect storm for me. I get to ride bikes, I get to raise money for cancer research. And so then the following year, obviously 2020, they did not. Let’s see, they’d had it but they did it virtual. And so you did it on your own. And then last year we did it in August. And so every year since, I’ve been riding in honor of my daughter and then this year, I’m riding in honor of my daughter and also in honor of my sister, who’s now fighting leukemia. But the Victory Ride is just one of those events where everybody there has a story, everybody’s connected in some way or form to cancer. Somebody has been affected by cancer in some way.
It’s the common ground.
And so everybody there is either, it’s really powerful when you go to the ride because there’s so many people there who there’s a lot of people who are survivors who are riding. And then there are the family members that are there riding in memory of their loved ones. It’s very moving. It’s very powerful just seeing that sea of people who are there for so many reasons. And it’s also inspiring too because you meet so many survivors and some that have survived some very tough cancers where their survival rate’s not that great. And I’ve been fueled more by the fact that one of the things that childhood cancer has opened up our eyes to is the gross amount of funding that is set aside for childhood cancer research.
The National Cancer Research Institute, which gets the tax dollars for cancer research and then passes it out basically, they only allot 4% to childhood cancer. 4%, it’s ridiculous. And you ask doctors and they all know about it. It’s the first time we knew about it. Why is that? Some have opinions that, that’s because kids can’t vote or it’s because most people donate to try and save themselves or adults. It’s just one of those things overlooked. And that’s why you have all these chartered cancer fundraisers and researchers like St. Jude and places like that because it’s just not happening anywhere.
It’s the only way to get more money.
And for example, we’ve seen, we learned the power of the research because for example, nurse Nancy, who is our daughter’s nurse, she’s been there 45 years, 46 years and so when she first started, well in the 60s children that were diagnosed with what Roe Roe had, they were dead in a couple months. And when she started as a nurse in the pediatric oncology in the 70s, the kids had about a 40 to 60% chance survival rate. And now they have 93. She’s seen in her career.
The advancement in medicine and research.
How many children are being saved. And so there’s power in research. And it just was one of the hardest part is we’ve gotten to know a lot of other families in the clinic and their kids that have other cancers. And we’ve been to two funerals in the last six months for kids. Parents were losing their kids and they’ve come a long way with our daughter’s cancer but there’s so much more we need to do for these other families and these other cancers and some people have an opinion that childhood cancer is rare. I ask them to go into these clinics. You’ll learn real quickly it’s not rare. It happens a lot more than you think and it affects a lot of families. And the weird thing is they say they go through waves and right now they’re going through a wave. I think they’ve had six kids coming in the last two months with leukemia in our region.
That’s another reason why I do this and we also, Meredith and I started, because we’re very blessed with the community that kind of helped us and stuff. And we’ve met many families that did not have that support. And so Meredith started a foundation called Roe Roe’s Heroes, named it after our community of people who came to help us. It’s named after them and honor them. And so one of the things we’ve been trying to do with that foundation is one, raise awareness, two, raise money for a research and three, help the families who don’t have the support financially and with whatever we can do to help. That’s our little part that we can do in our corner of the world and I just feel like if more of us, if we could share the stories. Another reason why we shared Roe Roe’s story too publicly on social media, I cataloged 858 days of her journey.
And I think and I hope that has helped bring more awareness to how far we still have to go and how much we still need to do. And the Victory Ride and the V Foundation is one great foundation here in North Carolina. A lot of that money goes to the research facilities here in North Carolina, Duke University, UNC, Wake Forest, which is where our daughter goes to the Brenner Children’s Hospital, which is at Wake Forest. We’re seeing the effects and it’s just, it’s what we can do. And I feel like if we all can do something in whatever corner you live in, I think we really can make a difference in saving so many more kids.
Any closing thoughts?
We’re not going to stop. We’re going to keep doing it.
Pay it forward and help others and bless others.
And keep educating people.
One of the things two people have are surprised by is it takes two years for kids to go through this. Yes, two years.
For leukemia specifically.
And that’s for girls. Boys go through three years. They add another year for boys because it hides in other parts of their bodies. We’re not going to stop. We’re going to keep doing this. We’re going to keep fighting for the other kids and in memory of the kids we got to know that are not here with us anymore. That’s why we’re going to keep riding the rides at the foundations and doing what we can in our little corner of the world and hopefully within our lifetime and our children’s lifetime, they’ll see more of these cancers eradicated.