All of us who are parents share the fear of a cancer diagnosis for our child. We do all in our power to protect our children, and yet this disease brings a feeling of helplessness as a precious loved one suffers.

Sadly, this dreaded diagnosis became reality for the child of a beloved professor at Davis & Elkins College. Violet Garrison is the 2-year-old daughter of Dr. Sarah Garrison, the chair of our Division of Social Science and Assistant Professor of Psychology. Sarah granted permission for me to share her painful journey with the wider D&E community.

In February 2021, at 18 months of age, Violet was diagnosed with a stage 4 pervasive and highly aggressive cancer. In a matter of days, the world crashed in on the Garrisons when testing determined the cancer to be extremely serious and potentially untreatable. Meetings with the oncology treatment team and palliative care team followed as the unthinkable became reality. Sarah described the feeling as standing on the edge of a cliff waiting to fall over.

For eight years as a professor at D&E, Dr. Garrison’s role was to support and mentor students through their journeys that included the valleys and mountaintops of life. Overnight those roles were reversed.  “They became the builders of hope,” said Sarah, referring to her colleagues and students. She was told in loving and supportive ways to step away from her D&E responsibilities to be wholly present to her family. The message from her D&E family was a clarion call that “we’ve got you.”

As Sarah reflects on the past 18 months, she shared example after example of gestures of love from the D&E community. Phone calls, emails, texts, visits, gifts, food, cards, and Team Violet T-shirts are just a few of the ways the D&E family has literally and figuratively wrapped their arms around Sarah and the Garrisons during the times of greatest need.

As a person of faith, Sarah shared that her spiritual journey has been complicated and she has struggled with anger. Yet, the faith of those around her has sustained her, and the power of prayer from countless people in the community, and literally across the country, has given her hope and strength. “Life and priorities now have new perspective.”

Hopelessness has become cautious hopefulness for the Garrison family. Thankfully, Violet has responded to aggressive treatment. In fact, her response has been better than any other with this particular form of cancer that her oncologists have seen. Presently, no cancer is visible, though they have been told the odds are high the cancer will re-occur. For the Garrisons, there is real hope of a longer life expectancy than initially indicated by doctors. With a break from chemotherapy, an upcoming family vacation and Violet’s third birthday now take on special significance as they revel in being a family and “living and leaning into joy.”

This weekly column is about the journey. As Violet, Elias, Mark, and Sarah have been experiencing, that journey can include mountaintops but also the deepest of valleys. The journey is not about the destination, but rather about the present moment, the experiences, and the people we are blessed to journey with together.

God bless precious Violet and her family as the journey continues….

Chris A. Wood
Davis & Elkins College