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Randy’s Night for the Fight Speech —  “The Best is Yet to Come?” 

Written by Randy Thompson and spoken at the 2024 Night for the Fight

 It’s powerful, what perspective can do to and for someone.

See, the man standing before you tonight couldn’t always say “the best is yet to come” and truly believe it. But the unfortunate reality is that the worst has already happened. The elephant in the room, is that pediatric cancer has stripped mine and my wife’s daughter, my childrens’ sister, a niece, a cousin, a friend, and a beautiful soul from this world. But as a family, we weathered that storm and are hopeful that we can use that portion of Delaney’s story to build hope and help sustain joy. 

In order to appreciate the best days, I have to go back to when it all started.

I was 21 years old, fresh off my third combat deployment and had always known I wanted a big family with lots of kids. 

I was elated when I got the news that I was going to be a dad.  

On October 6, 2009, Delaney Elizabeth Thompson made her entrance into the world.  She weighed 10lbs 4oz and instantly confirmed to me that being a father would be the greatest thing I would ever accomplish.   

Delaney was an amazing kid. She loved to take center stage every chance she got.  She not only loved to sing but had a natural talent for it. She liked to dance, draw, color—all the things that most kids enjoy. Delaney played video games with me and watched Dallas Cowboys football with me. She was smart and strong and silly. She was passionate about a lot of things in life—none more than the fact that she wanted to be an only child. Although she never let that feeling go, she was a phenomenal big sister. A fact I am eternally grateful for because I see SO much of her in her 5 younger siblings’ actions every single day.  

 I was in the midst of my seventh deployment, and I got an emergency red cross message

Fast forward to February 2019. I was in the midst of my seventh deployment, and I got an emergency red cross message that Delaney had been airlifted to UNC Chapel Hill hospital. I called my wife, Darci, who let me know that Delaney had been found unresponsive in her room and was taken to the local hospital via ambulance. Initial imaging showed fluid retention or potential brain swelling and they wanted to do more tests. They identified what they believed was a mass on the right side of Delaney’s brain and planned an open biopsy to confirm if it was harmless or cancerous. Fourteen hours and one brain surgery later, still no definitive answer. They couldn’t definitively label it cancer yet, but that nightmare would come to fruition on February 26th when Delaney was officially diagnosed with Grade III Anaplastic Astrocytoma. My daughter had brain cancer and was projected to live for 15 more months, at best.  

By this time, I was back stateside on extended emergency leave. There are few times in my life that I can tell you exactly where I was, and they all seem like distant memories by comparison to February 26th, 2019 at 6:43pm. I relayed the diagnosis to my wife, excused myself to our room and melted. Perceptual thinking told me in that moment that the best days were long gone. 

When we told Delaney she had cancer, we didn’t use that word because we couldn’t grasp it even as adults. How were we going to convey it to a 9-year-old? 

We sat her down, put on our kids gloves and told her that the pictures they took of her head showed some “lumpy bumps” on her brain. Without skipping a beat, Delaney grabbed her head with a huge smile and a giggle and said, “Lumpy bumps in my brain!”  

The undeniable reality was that cancer didn’t handle her with kid’s gloves. 

The upcoming months were a blur—chemo, radiation, ICU stays, weight gain due to steroids, tears, hair loss, additional brain surgeries, hospital admissions and clinical trials. 

I had never felt so alone, so shattered, so helpless. I take my responsibility to protect my kids seriously and I was failing. I couldn’t take this burden from her or relinquish this pain no matter how badly I wanted to. 

In November of 2020, the doctors told us that we were out of treatment options and should find ways to enjoy our remaining time with Delaney and make as many memories as we could.  We made it through Thanksgiving, had family and friends come and go, celebrated Christmas and New Year’s. On February 24th, 2021, Delaney beat cancer in her way, and we have been trying to navigate life and recapture the best days ever since.  

Three years have passed since Delaney left us and it feels like just yesterday and an eternity ago all at once. 

Losing her completely broke me. From the moment she drew her last breath, I felt like she took my last breath with her. We felt like our family would never recover. How could we? We’d never be whole again.  

I spent every waking moment trying to find answers that would never come. Why? Why her, why me, why our family, why do kids have to get cancer? I was angry and bitter and filled with rage. I am ashamed to admit, that in my worst moments, I would hear about other kids going into remission and instead of happiness, my anger and bitterness only grew. There was no expectation that things would ever get better, that I would ever be able to pull myself out of that grief, that brokenness.

I was so consumed that, for a while, I was the only one I could see as being affected by Delaney’s passing. I liken it to looking at a group photo. After it is taken, you are the first person you look for, the only person that matters in that picture. The fact is that Delaney has five incredible younger siblings, an amazing mom, great aunts and uncles and cousins. It took me a long time to realize the extent of what they were each going through, to see the big picture and not just what I was going through as her dad.

If you let the bitterness control your life, that’s what your life will become. 

No amount of tears or anger would bring her back. And I knew that’s not what Delaney would want. I slowly started picking up the pieces and cleaning up the mess around me. I fought with every ounce of my being to eradicate the feelings of hopelessness or anger or sorrow. 

I realized two things can be true at once.

There is still a lot of grief. The tough times are far from being behind our family, but you must walk through the brokenness, and even sit in it sometimes, because there’s no way around it. So, you grow with it, and let it change you, but do not let it define you.

We first heard about Roc Solid when we received Delaney’s Ready Bag. The bag was great, but I can’t say it made a big impression on us at the time—it was background noise to our focus of getting Delaney better. It wasn’t until much later we realized what that bag did for us… it gave us more time with Delaney. Looking back, that time was more valuable than any item in that bag.

The Amazon Kindle from the Ready Bag was how she communicated with me on her worst days but also on her best. It was her outlet, recording videos, singing songs, sending voice messages and photos. Those are among my greatest possessions.

Now, with all her photos and videos saved, that Kindle serves as a window into the past, a time machine where we get to be with her, hear her voice, and see all the emotions and the good and bad of what she went through. It’s our family’s forever.  It’s what is allowing us to continue to share her voice with the world. It fills me with so much joy to know we have those images and will for the rest of my days. I watch the clips of her smiling and singing, and I think that if she could smile through all she went through, surely the rest of us can find a reason to smile, too.

I don’t believe in coincidences, and I give credit to Delaney for helping me find Roc Solid. When I started to come up for air, I noticed all the little ways others were injecting hope into my life—family members, the community, etc. and I decided it was time to step out. I ended up at Roc Solid’s warehouse one night as a total stranger in a room full of volunteers, and by the end of the night, I was sharing Delaney’s story with the whole group. It was the first time I’d talked about her in a public forum since delivering her eulogy.

 I felt like I could breathe again.

It’s hard to describe the feelings I felt after I got to share her story. It was a huge relief—therapeutic, and that night hope started filling the cracks in my heart that cancer had created. I felt like I could breathe again. After that night, I had a choice to make—I could stay focused on my sadness, or I could try to live in a way that would bring honor to my daughter’s legacy, share her story to the ends of the earth and inspire other people through her joy, so she could impact the world like she was meant to.

Now I can’t stop talking about her, and I can’t stop sharing her joy.

It’s given me purpose. Her story has become the best-kept secret I want to share with everyone, because not only is it inspiring people, but it’s also helping other kids and families going through similar situations. It has gotten the family closer to a place of acceptance and helps answer the questions that we were left with.

I love telling people how they can live like Delaney—to be joyful every day, to laugh, dance, smile, sing, make a new best friend, to show love to a stranger, to find joy in something that might seem joyless. I hope that this was able to provide you all with a glimpse of what the Roc Solid community has truly done for my family and so many more like it. You don’t have to go through the hard times alone. With the right purpose and perspective, THE BEST IS YET TO COME. 

Thompson family photo with Delaney

Learn more about Roc Solid Ready Bags and Playsets and how you can become a part of our mission to reach more families like Delaney’s.