The Emily Updates:

One Year in the Life of The Girl Who Lived


Thomas P.M. Barnett, Emily V. Barnett

& Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett

Introduction to eBook series

Seventeen years ago, when Vonne was 33 and Tom was 32, we were suddenly confronted with every parent’s worst medical “bolt from the blue”: our only child, 30-month-old Emily, was diagnosed with an advanced – meaning metastasized – pediatric cancer. At the time we were living in northern Virginia. Tom worked for a defense think tank in the Washington, DC area and Vonne was a largely stay-at-home mom prepping for a return to her earlier professional career in social work. We were trying – in vain – for our second child.

What followed was the defining crisis of our marriage: an intense 20-month battle to keep our first-born alive. About six months into the struggle, Tom started writing a weekly update on Emily’s progress (or lack thereof) for interested parties. Vonne contributed to this blog-like diary, and it was sent out by email, fax and regular mail to over one hundred relatives and friends who spontaneously organized themselves into our family’s extended support network. We started this diary because we tired of having to rehash all the details in phone-call after phone-call, but over time we came to view it as something more important – a real-time memoir that would someday prove crucial to Emily’s understanding of how she became whom we hoped she would become.

Our family now hails from the Indianapolis area, and besides 19-year-old Emily – the girl who lives, we boast five additional children: sons Kevin (16) and Jerome (11), our adopted Chinese daughter Vonne Mei (7), and our adopted Ethiopian sisters Metsuwat (4) and Abebu (3). Would we have achieved such a blended clan absent the early experiences of Emily’s cancer? We can’t ever be sure, even as we suspect it played a significant role in our subsequent decisions to expand our family in this manner. But yes, that’s perhaps another reason why we wanted to revisit this tumultuous early family chapter at this time. As Vonne now finally gets back to restarting her professional career after all these years, we wanted to take this moment to remember how we got here – or how the journey truly began.

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