Cheering for My Sons in the Face of Chronic Illness

Hemophilia parents have many opportunities to practice their cheerleading skills

Cazandra Campos-MacDonald avatar

by Cazandra Campos-MacDonald |

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Growing up in Texas meant Friday night football games. It’s a religion there.

As a girl in elementary school, I’d go with my family to games — not so much to watch football as to see the halftime show. But I found myself enamored with the cheerleaders.

They were athletic — jumping, kicking, clapping their hands, and rallying the crowd. Their ponytails bounced with every movement, and the ribbons in their hair sparkled under the stadium lights. They were my equivalent of a Disney princess.

After the games, I went home, practicing the jumps and cheers with enthusiasm. The cheerleaders did their job well, as many little girls went home and did the same as me.

I never became a cheerleader who performed at games, as the musician in me gravitated toward the marching band. Yet even as a band member playing music in the stands, I watched my cheerleader friends with deep appreciation. While I never donned a cheerleading uniform, a massive part of who I am continues to emulate the cheerleaders of my youth.

I’m simply a cheerleader of a different ilk.

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As Parents of Children with Invisible Illness, We Must Always Remain Vigilant

Over the years of parenting two sons with a bleeding disorder, I’ve developed a thick skin that only parents of chronically ill children possess. Certain seasons of a child’s life call for parents to stand up and advocate ferociously for their child’s health and educational needs. As my sons get older, I find that I don’t need to fight for their needs as much as I did when they were younger. They’ve learned to advocate for themselves.

Yet as both of my sons have gotten older, I’ve developed fierce cheerleading skills.

These skills don’t include jumps and a cute uniform. (My sons are grateful.) Instead, they’re focused on encouragement through laughter. I root for my sons the way rabid football fans paint their faces with team colors. I’m the mom who figuratively waves a giant foam finger in light of their successes and attempts at new things.

While my youngest son, Caeleb, lives with chronic pain from damaged joints, I help him find the good in his situation. “It could be so much worse,” I tell him. “You have not had major bleeds in years.” He looks at me through his pain and nods in agreement. It breaks my heart to see him in pain, but I use my best cheerleading skills to motivate and encourage him.

I’m grateful that my home is a haven for laughter. Even in the worst situations, my family does its best to find humor amid the struggles. My husband, Joe, and I emulate our favorite cheerleaders to help our sons through difficult times.

The Spartan cheerleaders from “Saturday Night Live” are awkward, socially clueless friends rejected from the cheerleading squad. Joe and I use our skills to portray these bumbling cheerleaders. Sometimes our boys, both of whom have hemophilia, will say, “I need a cheer.” So we stop what we’re doing and immediately launch into “Cha cha bootchie, cha cha cha bootchie,” which leads into a cheer that we concoct on the spot. While we’ll never post our tremendous cheers on TikTok, simply hearing our boys’ laughter is all we need to bring fun into otherwise yucky situations.

One of the most complex parts of parenting chronically ill children is finding the good in every situation. We must be cheerleaders for our children even as they grow into adults. I’ll continue to don the cute cheer outfit and practice my jumps in the hopes of honing the skills I need to help my sons.

Have you cheered lately? Please share your experience in the comments.

Note: Hemophilia News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Hemophilia News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to hemophilia.


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