Parents are not supposed to outlive their children. Our kids are meant to live on, long after we’re gone, to have fulfilled and happy lives.
Sadly, such was not the case for Casey and Ben Daggett of Fairport, New York. Zoey, their sweet, playful little girl passed away at five years old, after a two-year battle with a rare, aggressive brain tumour.
After Zoey’s heartbreaking diagnosis, the Daggetts decided to share her health journey via Zoey’s Fight Facebook page. The dedicated mum endeavoured to share “the good photos and the bad photos”.
A painful yet beautiful moment
Zoey’s story culminated with a peaceful photo taken shortly before her passing and the devastating announcement that the Daggetts’ little “firecracker” was finally “allowed peace.”
The image is absolutely heartbreaking. But, as Casey explains, it’s also such an important one to have been captured and kept.
The photo was taken just a few hours before Zoey passed. They’d spent the day singing Disney songs. A Harry Potter movie was played on television. And amidst the peace, the calmness, Zoey was suddenly gone.
“I had seen a handful of families sharing moments and originally I didn’t think I was going to share it. But I thought, ‘I want a photo taken. I want those moments captured so I can remember them forever even when my brain is gone,” Casey shared.
Even though it’s a painful moment, it’s a beautiful moment in our eyes. This is our reality and we wanted to show people every side of it.”
It started with a fall
Rewind to when Zoey was just three years old. Casey and Ben’s energetic little girl was happily playing when she fell at a playground and began limping. A mere couple of weeks later, Zoey lost all strength in both hands.
The intuitive parents knew something was wrong and they rushed her to the hospital. There, they received the devastating news.
On July 12th, the Daggetts were informed that their little angel had an aggressive brain tumour. She was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DPIG), a very rare and highly aggressive form of cancer typically found in children between ages five and nine.
Some of the first symptoms of the tumor are problems with eye movement, facial weakness, difficulty walking and strange limb movements. Over time, the tumor affects heartbeat, breathing, swallowing, eyesight and balance.
“We didn’t know what to do, where to go. We were told it’s pretty much a death sentence,” Casey said.
The distraught parents did their best to keep it together as best they could for their little girl. They knew they had to be strong.
In and out of treatments
Over the course of the next two years, Zoey underwent a variety of treatments.
The Daggetts found a clinic in Germany where Zoey underwent radiation. At first, she responded well to the treatment. However, after a while, it stopped working.
Unfortunately, Zoey’s health began to decline in March 2018 and by the end of June, her heartbroken parents knew she wouldn’t last much longer.
‘Kept getting worse and worse’
Casey told PEOPLE,
“Her tumor started to grow again so we tried another round of radiation. She just never recovered and she just kept getting worse and worse.”
Her parents knew they didn’t have much time.
“[She] woke up and she couldn’t drink from a straw anymore and she couldn’t talk and each day after that it kept getting a little worse. She couldn’t walk anymore, she couldn’t move anymore and she started to sleep all the time. Within a week, it just went downhill very fast.”
With pain in their hearts, the Daggetts reached out to friends and relatives to inform them the end was nearing.
They asked their loved ones to visit their home to see Zoey before it was too late.
“We knew this journey was coming to an end, so I felt at peace with that. But I was just extremely sad and gut-wrenched. It was devastating.”
Zoey’s last hours
The night before Zoey’s passing, Zoey didn’t sleep. A mum knows and Casey admits she knew what was coming. They knew it would be her final day. Zoey’s fingers were turning blue and she was getting more pale.
Zoey’s nurses stopped by that morning. At 11:30 am, the nurses took a photo of the Daggetts holding their sweet little girl, fast asleep in their laps with the family dog by their side.
“I was saying, ‘It’s okay. It’s okay to let go. You’re gonna be okay. You’re gonna see people that you love. Just let go.’ I was trying to talk her into letting go because I knew her body had already gone through so much. It was so sad,” Casey recalls.
This was the last photo of their little girl. Zoey died peacefully in her parent’s arms at 4:17pm, halfway through a Harry Potter movie.
Accompanying the photo, Casey shared a beautiful message about her daughter.
Zoey is going to be shared with the world. Her love and light have been abundent and we will continue to pay it forward and share love and light with the world.”
While it’s been four years since Zoey’s passing, Casey and Ben continue to raise awareness and funds for childhood cancer and to keep their daughter’s beautiful spirit alive through their Facebook page.
The Daggetts hope that through their story and their daughter’s last “peaceful photo” they can “give others hope.” They want Zoey’s struggle and her light to inspire others to love and help one another.
If you or someone you know is grieving the loss of a loved one, you do not have to endure the pain alone. Reach out to a professional who can help you get through this life-altering event. While you may not ever get over the loss, you can learn to cope and live your life one day at a time.
Our hearts break for the Daggetts and for every other family who has had to say goodbye to their child. For those wanting to financially support brain cancer research in Australia, please see Cure Brain Cancer or Carrie’s Beanies 4 Cancer.
What to read next
- Devastating Update after Dad and Daughter Both Diagnosed with Cancer
- Two Siblings, Two Weeks, Two Brain Cancer Diagnoses
- Woman Shares Unusual Symptom that Led to Cancer Diagnosis