Gigantic little victories + Joel’s brownies

It’s been a long time since a little girl on the playground has made me want to cry…. At 35, you’d think I’d be past that, but here we are. Her name is Gwen and she became Joel’s little mother hen when she was in first grade and he was still a healthy kindergartener. Through his 3 1/2 years of chemo, she remained his faithful playground friend. She would push him on the swing (because he couldn’t pump his legs). She would walk with him for an entire recess (since he couldn’t run well). She would grab him for big bear hugs (when he felt like a loser) while he would roll his eyes and try desperately not to let on how happy it made him… Don’t smile, Joel. Be. Cool. She has never forsaken him, she’s hugged him through steroid tears, and she’s genuinely rejoiced with every “last” in his cancer battle.

“Mom! Mom! I got to show Gwen today that I can swing by myself!” The first day of school and the biggest thing my 4th grader had been looking forward to was the swings. “Gwen came up to me at recess and yelled ‘Joel!!! You DID it! You finally learned to swing by yourself! I am so PROUD of you!'” Gah! Gwen! Don’t cry, Adrianne. Be. Cool.

The swings will now forever represent to me Joel’s first post-cancer experience of a “normal kid” victory. After that came tying shoes, reading chapter books, and having legible handwriting. Not things you think about when your son is diagnosed, but things you quickly realize are huge in your child’s self-esteem.


This little guy? This was Joel in Kindergarten. He was bright, and loved everything about school. This kid had been trapped inside of a very tired boy for a very long time. It was difficult for Joel to stay motivated (okay, to not feel like a loser) when working his very hardest meant just “not failing.”

20160817_153228~3This week? “Mom, when I’m done with my multiplication practice, can I read them back to you in Spanish? I think I’ve gotten a little rusty….” Okay, I’m probably being way too sappy here… I’ve missed this boy. He’s been so tired from fighting cancer dragons that he had nothing left for himself. For his self-esteem. For basic achievements that I will never again take for granted. He’s watched his brother take off with leaps and bounds and has waited on the sidelines for so, so long. Now is his time. I’m with Gwen: Joel, I’m so PROUD of you!

The one thing Joel held onto as the thing he is “pretty much the best at,” during all the years of chemo and steroids, was baking. When he couldn’t write, couldn’t ride a bike, couldn’t do basic math, couldn’t tie his shoe… he could make brownies that would, without exception, be the best brownies that had ever graced your plate. When he was feeling that nagging voice of everybody else is moving on… the other boys are getting faster… look how well they run and bike… he would ask “Do you think maybe I should make some brownies? Does that sound like a good idea?” Joel. These are not questions we ask in this house. ‘What kind of brownies should I make?’ ‘When should I make these brownies?’ These are the things we ask. Now get in the kitchen.

Seriously, these are the best brownies ever. They will not fail you.

Joel’s Brownies

Spray an 8 inch square pan (I hear that to the Sponge Bob Square Pants tune….. Eight inch square pan, eight inch square pan…. It’s okay if you don’t. It means you get out of the house enough.) Add the ingredients to one bowl in the order listed.

1/2 C butter, melted

1 C white sugar

1/3 C unsweetened cocoa

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs

(stir well)

1/2 C white flour

(stir until juuuuuuuuuust mixed)

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. You want them to be set, but not completely solid looking.

These are a great beginner recipe for little ones who need gigantic victories 🙂


  1. Sherry Chevalier

    Kleenex needed. For what was, What is and what is yet to be! Great Accomplishments Joel!

  2. Adrianne your writing is beautiful and your little boys are amazing. This post made me cry. I’ve followed Joel’s journey from day one, back when he was diagnosed and Willy told all of us (at Edward Jones). My heart hurts for you and your family and everything you’ve endured, but I am oh so happy for where you’re at today. Keep writing, I love reading these.

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