Humanity is Alive and Well

This week our ten-year-old daughter, Bella had brain surgery to remove a benign fluid filled cyst from her brain…

…and for the last six months, we knew this was coming. Her debilitating headaches that lead to an MRI and difficult choices no parent wants to make. Strong medical opinions that said do it – and others that said wait and see. Sleepless nights, more MRI’s, trips to Pittsburgh and life distractions I never knew imaginable.

Terms like “fenestration” which for this layman, means “drilling through the skull and puncturing the cyst to let the fluid drain” became all too common for me.

I felt alone.

But if I’ve learned anyting thoughout this proces, it’s that I’ve never felt less alone in my life.

My wife has been there the whole way and I’ve never felt closer to her. And while I play the role of strong-got-it-together-guy, she is truly my rock and I’d be helplessly lost without her.

Our families have rallied. My mother and my sisters have our youngest three in Boston. We get video and photo updates via text messages seemingly every hour. My family is divided by distance, yet closer than ever in spirit.

It just so happens that my wife’s sister and her husband are both neurology residents in Pittsburgh. Their expertise helped select the best doctor for our daughter. They have been with us daily, visiting, watching videos on YouTube that crack Bella up and explaining the challenging things our daughter has faced.

My work has been nothing short of amazing. Their approach? Take whatever time you need to handle this. Vacation time left or needed was never even a point of discussion. They’re like having a second family.

Say all you want about Facebook, but when you post a note about what your are going through and over 100 people like it, and half of them post support, start prayer groups, send good thoughts, make virtual get well signs, and send hundreds of notes, texts and love, man, there ain’t nothin’ cooler than that. I find myself checking Facebook hourly and reporting the latest to my wife and child. They are all met with smiles and misty eyes.

Friends continue to ask what can we do? So much so that I have to pinch myself to not take it for granted. It’s all so wonderfully overwhelming. Our neighbors feeding the fish and bringing in the mail, folks dropping off presents for Bella the night before we left to folks lining up to make meals and watch the kids when we return.

Our church has done the same. Putting out the word that this young girl had a huge fight in front of her. It seems like prayers, thoughts, and love in all shapes and sizes have been coming in from all over the world. Isabella’s story has reached places like Europe, South America and Australia.

And through it all, my wife and I are often told, “I’m not sure how you two do it.” Let me be really clear here – we haven’t done anything noteworthy. I’m no hero, just doing what anyone would do for their kid if faced with a similar challenge. You’d do the same.

As I sit here in the Ronald McDonald House of Pittsburgh, I’ve talked to tens of parents going through similar things. There are volunteers that make meals just to do something good, some sorority girls that made Thanksgiving turkey art for to decorate Bella’s hospital room, and corporate sponsors serving an early Thanksgiving meal.

And the person that has made all of this the easiest is the least likely candidate. I am convinced my daughter is destined for great things in this world. Tremendous fight, strength and determination and not one complaint. Not a single “Why me?” or “This isn’t fair.” The patient has become the teacher. And I’m being schooled by her every waking minute.

I know she doesn’t get it from me. I can only aspire to have that much game. She gets it from her mother, her family, her friends, her church and from complete strangers. She gets it from you. She gets it from the wonderful world that we are so fortunate to be surrounded by. A world she gets to witness firsthand through all of this.

Fitting that we will celebrate Thanksgiving this week. I can’t wait to raise a glass and toast, my new hero, my sweet Bella.

Isabella’s story encompasses many things. The amount of love, faith, compassion, friendship and support I simply wasn’t ready for. And with tears in my eyes, I can tell you that what could have been one of my darkest moments, was one of my brightest.

Humanity is alive and well.



  1. Rachel Onsrud

    Wonderful, touching words, Josh. I had no idea you all were join through this. So happy to hear the surgery went well. My thoughts and prayers remain with your entire family. Rachel Onsrud

  2. Joe

    Not even gonna try to imagine what words might capture how touching this piece was, my friend. Bella’s is a powerful and uplifting story of courage and character. You are indeed a fortunate father… And yet I know you too are deserving of some credit, for I still subscribe to the notion that every strong family is a reflection of having an indestructible rock of a father guiding the way. Fleming clan is strong. Mainly because there’s a super decent guy making sure of it.

  3. Garity Ann Martin Line

    Yes it is. Josh, once again you have reduced me to tears. I hope someday I’ll get to meet Bella (along with the rest of your sweet family). You are a good man Josh and because of your daughter, I can add one more reason to why I’m so grateful to have met you so many years ago. Stay strong my friend and tell Bella she’s got a fan in Wellsville, Utah!

  4. Cathy Block

    In the midst of tears I know exactly how you feel. May I add you deserve a little credit too. And a big NIM to all of you! ❤ The Blockheads

  5. Matt

    I agree with Joe on this one, Bella’s strength comes from what she has around her. An amalgam of incredible people of which you are a vital part. Dude, you are so nim. Your children lucked out when they got you as a Dad!

  6. Sharon Sweeting

    There is no surprise here as the Flemings define family……..Isabella carries those Amazonian genes. I am a great believer in karma and I am visiting our Gainesville Ronald McDonald House this week ( previously scheduled) to leave some handknit things for the kids plus do an afternoon in their kitchen. Now I shall donate some additional stuffed animals in Bella’s name so she will also the superstar in Gatortown!

  7. Gwen Dew

    Amazing writing Josh, I’m cryin like a baby, joyful tears for your strength, all of the Flemings strength, but mostly Bellas! All of us, your Florida family, are so happy things went well, so proud, and remain positive that she will recover quickly and continue to be such an amazing and strong lil lady!! Sending big hugs and kisses!!! Tell her we love her and are thinking of her!!

    Oh, one more thing….WORD! Muah!!!!!

  8. darcyswon

    Josh, what a beautiful post. You and your family, and all those lives that have touched you and you have touched has shown us the true meaning of Thanksgiving. After reading your post I am looking at my life and being thankful for all those that have supported us during trying times and for those that we gain strength from. Sometimes the strength comes from those that we least expect it. I have had the pleasure of supplying meals at the Ronald McDonald House (in Milwaukee) and I have to say that the entire experience is one that left me feeling extremely blessed for having children that are healthy and for the time spent with these amazingly strong and focused families. Their stories left me inspired. I truly believe God does not give us any more than we can handle and I believe that everything happens for a reason and some day we’ll know why. I believe that Bella is destined for big things. She truly is an inspiration. God Bless!

  9. Amy

    Hi Josh, I wish you all the best of everything possible in outcomes – you already have love and support and tons of strength, but I’ll send my prayers in addition to good thoughts your way. The Ronald McDonald Houses are pretty amazing homes away from home – was fortunate to stay in RMH in Iowa City when my son had heart surgery when he was a toddler. Stay strong –

  10. Landis

    Speaking of misty-eyed… beautiful words for a beautiful family. I think you are all each other’s rock, and your strength is tangible. The biggest hugs from FL to all of you, especially Miss. Bella.

  11. Bryan Loop

    I’m so very, very glad that your precious little Bella is going to be just fine. It’s a hard fact of life that kids get sick, get injured, and feel pain. If we could, so many of us adults would raise our hands to volunteer to shoulder the physical burdens that innocent children never should. As it is, all we can do is comfort those kids as best we can and keep them in our thoughts and prayers. Thanks for keeping us posted on Brave Bella’s battle!

  12. Montserrat Cadiz

    Dear Josh and family,
    I had been away from FB for a couple of days and logging back on today, Sunday, I just ready your daughter had had surgery and that everything is thankfully ok with her. I know I didn’t send any comforting words of support before this actually took place but please know that I am sending all of the positive vibes your way, so that Bella continues to heal and recup as kids impressively do, and for you all as a family so that you can slowly get back to the normal routine and continue to thank your lucky stars for all of your lifes blessings. Often when one goes thru these things does one realize how lucky one is – I’m happy to see you are a happy guy who is thankful for his life and family all the time and not just because of this surgery . Your family is lucky to have you and I hope everything continues to go as well as it has so far. Thanks for sharing your story… Un abrazo from Chile…Montse

  13. Mary Rabelo

    God Bless You All! All of you have been in our prayers and will be on Thanksgiving Day! Josh, what a beautiful chronicle written with such deep emotion.

  14. Melissa Moore

    Josh, I’m Jane Sanger’s niece Melissa and I wanted to say thanks for writing, feeling, observing all that you did. So glad Bella is doing well and you can truly celebrate this Thursday. I am a hospice nurse in Albuquerque and I’m going to read your blog for our company meeting on Wed.
    Thanks for sharing with the farthest out branches of the family tree.

  15. Chonky

    Josh…well written and so humble. Give yourself some credit..while you wanted to cry…you showed strengthI which in turn gave Bella confidence that would all be ok. ‘m so glad she is doing well. She has always been a “fighter” and a “rock” in your life. Hang tough, be well and prayers still coming your way

  16. Jim Spoerl

    Josh and family,
    Having gone through a similar experience with my the 4-year old son’s cancer, (he’s now almost 40) I know what you are experiencing. And yes, the most amazing thing about these kids in these perilous situations, is their maturity and outlook on what could be an end to their lives. I don’t know where it comes from (must be the big guy upstairs), but they wind up giving us comfort … instead of the other way around.

    So glad, that Bella came through with flying colors and you all will be home soon.
    Jim Spoerl

  17. Desiree Gaffley

    Josh, I am an old collegue of Jane Sanger. Thank you for sharing, and being vulnerable with your difficult situation. It brought tears to my eyes. I have been away serving on a team and just saw this. I am so greatful to see the strength of your family and your wonderful Bella. Please tell your that a person from South Africa is praying for her and am very happy that her operation was successful. Your humility, sensitivity, caring and greatfulness is what makes your writing so significant. God bless.

  18. Hillary Anniss

    Thank you for sharing Josh. I’m so glad to hear that Bella is doing well. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  19. Ryan Hanser

    Walked hospital halls this year with one of my sons, too, Josh. Finding the same truths in unexpected places. Glad to hear everything is going well for your family. Cheers!

  20. zebradan

    Well said Josh. You’ve got an awesome kid, wife, family and circle of caring friends. No doubt an awesome God as well. Most of us rush through our days and take this stuff for granted. Puts Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the rest of it in perspective.

  21. Tamara Bane

    For lack of being able to see the screen as I type this through my watery eyes… Tell Bella I love her. I’m proud of her. And thank you for being such an amazing person. You are beautiful people!

  22. alilocker

    Thank you so much for sharing Bella’s story and your personal journey. I was able to connect to many pieces of this blog…particularly your relationship with your spouse, the awe of people’s graciousness, the unexpected support from Facebook, and the gifts that are witnessed in a Ronald McDonald House. My husband and I spent many months with our son in the hospital…he was born with a very rare condition and encountered many challenges along the way. I, too, know the power of humanity you so eloquently described. I applaud you as a father and husband. The picture of your daughter will stick with me forever and always. That is a smile and confidence that will accomplish anything her heart desires!

  23. akismet-8935a5cb403812967ad5fbc0ad34cc23

    Thanks for all of your wonderful comments everyone. You proved my point. : ) I showed this post to Bella a couple of nights ago and she too got misty eyed. Her favorite part? The comments from all the people – many of whom she’s never met before.

    Bella is doing ridiculously well, having gone back to school on Tuesday and her world is normal again. I sense a huge sense of relief within her, and she seems like a happier person than before the surgery.

    Again, I’m saying thanks, which hardly seems like enough.

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