Despite concerns about her 2-year-old daughter’s rare brain tumor, life is a little easier for Kapoliowaimea Dilcher now that she’s moved from a homeless shelter to her own apartment.
“It’s very stressful being a single parent of a medically fragile child,” he said. “Paying the bills is really hard, but other than that, this is the happiest I’ve ever been.”
Good fortune has not been on his side for a long time, he admitted. Dilcher said her parents used drugs frequently when she was a baby and the family lived in a car in the mountains.
She said she was 9 months old when her father broke her leg during an argument with her mother. Dilcher was placed in the state’s foster care system and adopted by her grandmother.
At 18, Dilcher gave birth to her first daughter, Brylee. Brylee’s father was abusive and a drug user, she said, and they lived in a tent on the beach throughout her pregnancy. Several months after Brylee’s birth, he sent Dilcher to the hospital with a serious head injury.
Because Dilcher was wheelchair bound and unable to care for herself, Brylee went to live with a relative on the mainland, where she still lives today. The girl’s father was jailed for various crimes and Dilcher continues to live with the after effects of her head injury.
She gave birth to her second daughter, Hazel-Dream, in 2020. She and Hazel-Dream’s father lived in and out of homeless shelters, and Dilcher was once again a victim of domestic violence. And it wasn’t long before he started noticing some worrying symptoms in his youngest son.
“His eyes ended up crossing and he stopped walking, and he was doing everything backwards,” Dilcher said. “I knew something was wrong with her, but I didn’t think it was going to be cancer.”
Dilcher said she knelt down and cried when Hazel-Dream was diagnosed with brain stem glioma just four days before her first birthday. The news got worse when doctors told him the cancer was located in the boy’s brain stem, making it inoperable. Her only hope of survival was chemotherapy, Dilcher said.
She was pregnant at the time, but miscarried shortly after learning the news. However, Dilcher said that her ordeal gave her the strength she needed to leave Hazel-Dream’s father.
“It literally took finding out my daughter had brain cancer for me to think, to hell with this, none of this is worth it,” Dilcher said. “I’d rather live in a shelter than be beaten up every day of my life.”
She enrolled in a program for survivors of domestic violence, and she and Hazel-Dream moved from a homeless shelter to their new apartment.
Hazel-Dream’s chemotherapy treatments only slightly reduced the size of her tumor and she now faces radiation therapy in January after her 3rd birthday. Doctors warned Dilcher that using radiation therapy on a developing brain is risky and could lead to permanent brain damage.
Despite her uncertain future, seeing her daughter out of chemotherapy has lifted a small weight off Dilcher’s shoulders and she looks forward to giving her daughter the fullest life possible.
She has applied for various jobs and hopes to eventually bring Brylee back to Hawaii so they can live together as a family. Her goals include saving enough money to help her daughters when they are old enough to start their own lives and buying “a reliable new car and not a used one.”
Difficulties aside, Dilcher continues to count his blessings.
“At the end of the day, we have a roof over our heads, we are safe here,” he said. “As long as we have a roof over our heads, we can make anything happen.”
For Christmas, Hazel-Dream could wear size 4 clothes. The toddler loves Barbies, dollhouses, the Disney movie “Frozen” and dressing up like a princess.
Dilcher doesn’t ask for anything for her. She only wishes for things that would help her give Hazel-Dream a better Christmas.
BE A GOOD NEIGHBOR
The annual Good Neighbor Fund, a charitable partnership between Helping Hands Hawaii, Honolulu Star-Advertiser and First Hawaiian Bank, helps struggling individuals and families during the holiday season. This year, under the Adopt a Family Program, more than 600 families are seeking assistance with food, clothing, toys and household items. Donations to the Good Neighbor Fund also help Helping Hands with the operating costs of the nonprofit’s Community Clearinghouse program, which helps people with basic needs year-round. The hours for Adopt A Family donations (new items) are 8 am to 4 pm Monday through Friday. Donations of gently used items can be dropped off at the Community Clearinghouse at 2100 N. Nimitz Highway from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays.
HOW TO HELP
People can donate cash or checks to the “Good Neighbor Fund” at any First Hawaiian Bank branch statewide through December 31. To donate specifically to Kapoliowaimea Dilcher and her family, please include the code: CFS-DVA-01.
Linsey Dower covers ethnic and cultural issues and is a staff member of Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on covert issues and communities.