When Cassie and Jason O’Daniel found out their 7-year-old son, Caden, had a rare brain tumor, they had no clue what the future held.
“We just knew that the second that hit us, we needed some kind of hope. We were just looking for something—guidance—and needed help,” said Jason, 39.
Caden was diagnosed Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019, and five days later, the O’Daniels attended a Sunday worship service at Southeast Christian Church’s Blankenbaker Campus for the first time.
“Caden got his brain tumor, and we knew that we had to find God,” said Cassie, 35. “I know that I have to rely on God at this point because there’s nothing greater than His love and support. Faith over fear is what I’ve been living by and that’s what got me through, saying, ‘This is in Your hands. You just guide me, and I’ll do whatever I have to do for You.’”
Caden, now 8, has been in remission since last July.
“I still don’t understand why Caden got cancer, but everything happens for a reason,” Cassie said. “It’s all in God’s timing and in His hands. He has a plan for everything, and I just felt like He was there for us. He created this miracle. He allowed Caden to live and he’s a survivor. I just felt like maybe if we share our story it will be inspiring for others to believe in God. Without Him, I would not be functioning today. Without being able to rely on Him, I don’t know where I’d be.”
Jason and Cassie—who have two more sons, Landon, 7, and Grayson, 3—were baptized at Southeast Feb. 7.
Losing Emma, losing God
The O’Daniels, both Louisville natives, married in 2010. They were expecting their first baby, Emma, about a year later.
At week 12 of the pregnancy, they learned Emma’s heart wasn’t fully developed, and she didn’t have a chance of survival. Emma died at 24 weeks.
“I just remember crying every day because I knew I had to carry this baby and we were going to lose her. We were hopeless. There was nothing that could be done. We had to bury her. It was hard,” Cassie said. “We lost God in 2011. Any relationship I had with Him was just gone. I was bitter and angry. I didn’t understand.”
For almost a decade, the O’Daniels went to church with Cassie’s parents once in a while but had no connection with God.
Road to remission
On Friday, Nov. 20, 2019, Caden’s school called and said Caden had a headache. He seemed to feel better at times over the weekend, but Caden began vomiting, and as his condition deteriorated, the O’Daniels took Caden to the emergency room Tuesday.
A CT scan revealed the brain tumor, and a team at Norton Children’s Hospital performed life-saving brain surgery that day. It would be a long road to recovery, though, and a second brain surgery was scheduled a month later.
“Every day leading up to the surgery, we just thought, ‘These could be our last days with Caden.’ It was terrifying. It was really rough on all of us,” Cassie said.
Jason called hospital after hospital to get second opinions because he felt uncomfortable letting Caden have a high-risk surgery.
“The day before he was supposed to have surgery, St. Jude’s main surgeon called and said, ‘Don’t do the surgery. Come on down.’ It was all in God’s timing and Him intervening, saying, ‘This is what you need to do,’” Jason said. “We didn’t even have a doctor referral, and they couldn’t believe we were able to get in.”
The O’Daniels traveled to Memphis to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and Cassie and Jason stayed with Caden for four months while Cassie’s sister watched the other two boys back home.
“COVID actually saved us because it allowed me to be there,” Jason said. “If not, I wouldn’t have been able to take off work. Work was slow. It allowed us to focus on our family.”
Caden underwent four surgeries, 30 days of radiation to his spine and brain and four rounds of chemotherapy. Caden returns to St. Jude’s every three months for follow-up appointments.
“We’ve tried to find the good in everything that we can,” Cassie said. “It’s hard when you’re going through that. When you’re seeing your child suffer like no child should ever suffer, you still try to find the good because if you don’t and don’t have God, you wouldn’t survive.”
Putting it off
The O’Daniels wanted to get their boys in church but put it off because Jason’s event company kept him busy on Sundays. They even visited the Blankenbaker Campus on a weekday.
“I was not ready to commit because of his job, and it was such a large church. It was overwhelming, and we would put it off,” Cassie said. “I was scared that I would have to go in there by myself with them, but now I don’t have that fear. I love it here.”
“We’ve never felt a connection with a church or closer to God until we started coming here,” Jason added.
Cassie said God used unimaginable suffering to lead their family to Him.
“I definitely didn’t plan on gaining a relationship with God like this, but this was His plan,” Cassie said. “I never knew that I could truly put all of my trust in Him and be OK. When I’m in church, I cry when I’m singing because the words are just so touching, but they’re not tears like when I lost Emma, they’re thankful tears, like, ‘Thank You for what You’ve done for my family.’”