STRONGSVILLE, Ohio - This year's Thanksgiving with the Cantwell family will be extra special. The family of five from Strongsville is thankful for still being together following an extraordinarily difficult year.
Pregnant just last year, an ultrasound revealed that Lisa Cantwell's unborn son, Dominic, had a large and rare cyst growing on his throat.
"Just lost, I didn't know what to think. I didn't know what was going to happen and I was scared," Lisa said.
So instead of filling their bellies with turkey and stuffing last year, the family's minds were full of worry, doubt and fear. An emergency C-section came a month early.
"Instead of being excited, I was scared because they didn't know if he would be able to breathe when he came out," Lisa said.
The special delivery team from the Cleveland Clinic had a plan.
"We keep the baby attached to the mother via the umbilical cord so that he is still getting oxygen that way. And then we took a look at his airway immediately to make sure that he would be safe," said Dr. Paul Krakovich.
Dominic was born safe, but during his first two weeks of life the tumor continued to grow. The tumor closed his airway until he turned blue. They rushed him back to the Cleveland Clinic for surgery.
"We got over everything with Dominic. He had his surgery and it was soon there after that we found out about Josh's ordeal," said Krakovich.
Lisa's husband Josh had been dealing with his own growth. The 35-year-old discovered a lump on his side during this whole episode with his son.
His CT scan was scheduled the same day as his son's operation. The diagnosis was not good; Josh had pancreatic cancer with a tumor the size of a basketball.
"'What do you mean, I have pancreatic cancer?' And like this is not good. I remember walking up into my bedroom, like kind of by myself, lights were off, just kind of sitting in bed crying and thinking like 'What just happened?'" said Josh Cantwell.
He tricked himself into being positive about it and hoped it would work out
"It was something that I kept telling myself, that things will turn out OK, that Lisa's going top be OK and Dominic is going to be OK, and I'm going to get through this," said Josh.
Josh put his own health on the line to see his son born by delaying his surgery until three days before Thanksgiving in 2011.
"I think any father would do that, you know, put it off for the sake of the rest of your family and take care of it when you can," Josh said.
A remarkable and daring Cleveland Clinic surgeon, Matthew Walsh, removed the huge tumor and more. According to his oncologist, 99 percent of doctors would have never tried such a risky surgery.
"They took out 75 percent of my pancreas, 25 percent of my liver, all of my stomach, my gall bladder, my spleen. I lost 21 units of blood," Josh said.
Fast forward one year to this Thanksgiving. Josh has recovered saying this has been the best year of his life.
"I'm grateful that God put us through this because, you know, I've learned to be such a better father, to be home with my kids and appreciate the time I have with them," said Josh.
The Cantwell family of five counts their blessings this Thanksgiving.
"I would just tell God, man, 'I just thank you my friend, my savior for everything you've done to put us through this and to teach us these lessons. But at the same time, like thank you for a second chance.'"
The entire family is doing fine. Dominic is active and growing fast while today, exactly one year later, his father Josh is completely cancer free.
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