Mormon Guitar: Dad records musical tribute for daughter with cancer in remission

Published: Friday, Jan. 3 2014 1:20 p.m. MST

Music has the ability to touch hearts, and for Ben Howington it has also been the best way to express his feelings. That's why this past Dec. 4, Howington posted a video to his website sharing his gratitude for his daughter's life.

Howington, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, runs a website titled Mormon Guitar at www.mormonguitar.com where he posts performances of his own arrangements of LDS hymns, as well as guitar tutorials. But his Dec. 4 production of "Families Can Be Together Forever" was different because it was created to honor of his daughter's five years in remission.

On Memorial Day weekend in 2008, while Howington and his wife, Annie, were visiting family in North Carolina, they took their 3½-month-old daughter, Lila, to the emergency room. Howington knew his daughter had something more than the flu after she had thrown up several times and her eyes were unable to focus.

The doctors immediately performed a CT scan and told Ben and Annie that Lila had a brain tumor.

"I remember being at Duke and just going to the bathroom and crying it out for a second because you felt like there was so much building up, and after that I came out and I felt better," Ben Howington said. "It felt like OK, we can do this."

The Howingtons relocated from New York to live with their family in North Carolina so Lila could be treated locally. Howington said it's where they knew they needed to be.

"It was so clear from the very beginning that the Lord had his hand in all of it and that this is where he wanted us to be for all of it, for her to be treated. She was treated at Duke, which is one of the best in the country, if not the world, for pediatric brain cancer and stem cell transplant," Howington said. "She got diagnosed here, and we just ended up staying."

But he said one of the greatest blessings was living close to family.

"I don’t know how we would have done it if we were in New York. I honestly don’t know how we would have done it. We already had our son, who was 3 at the time, and Lila, who was only 3½ months old," Howington said.

"At that time, my wife and I, the only time we saw each other was when we were handing each other the keys because she would be with (Lila) in the hospital every day, and then I would sleep there at night. But luckily we have family here, and so my mom would come, and she would spend the night every once in a while and give me a break, and I also had a sister who would come and give my wife a break. It was a huge blessing."

Although Ben and Annie Howington hardly saw each other, they were determined to keep their family close.

"At the beginning, when she first got diagnosed, my wife and I said to each other, 'Now this is something that’s either going to tear us apart or bring us closer together,' and we just refused to let it tear us apart," Ben Howington said. "It really didn’t. It brought us closer together as a family."

And Lila adapted well to her new lifestyle in the hospital.

"Getting shots, getting treatment, being in the hospital, that was her life so she was just such a trooper," Howington said. "She would throw up all over after going through chemo and then give you a huge smile. She was literally the happiest baby that I’ve ever known, even while she was bald as a cue ball."

After spending day after day with Lila in the hospital, the Howingtons learned that their daughter's positive outlook, even as a baby, was affecting those around her as well as those who only followed Lila's story through pictures online.

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