'The Little Couple' 's Joy After Cancer: 'Things Finally Feel Normal'


It’s Friday afternoon at Bill Klein and Dr. Jennifer Arnold’s house in Houston – and everybody has a lot of energy. Three-year-old son Will is loading paper plates into the dishwasher while jumping up and down and giggling. His 2-year-old sister Zoey dances in a circle, her arms up in the air, spinning until she gets dizzy and plops down in a heap on the kitchen floor. While Mom preps two small bowls of popcorn for snack time, Dad scoops up his daughter, who flings both arms around his neck and delivers a kiss on his cheek. “Baba!” she says, kissing him again and putting her head down on his shoulder. His face breaks into a beaming grin while Arnold looks on with pride. “It’s chaos here,” she says with a laugh. “Isn’t it wonderful?”

After the year they’ve had, the stars of TLC’s hit reality series The Little Couple, which returns for a sixth season on Tuesday, March 4, are more than ready for chaos to mean simply chasing after two toddlers. For the first four months after adopting Zoey from India in October, the pair struggled with both their daughter’s difficulty adjusting to her new home – and a devastating cancer diagnosis that threatened Arnold’s life. “In my darkest moments, I couldn’t get out of bed,” says Arnold, who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, choriocarcinoma, after a failed pregnancy last year and had to undergo four months of grueling chemotherapy that was made all the more risky by her 3’2″ stature. But with her cancer in remission and Zoey finally getting comfortable as a part of the family, “now, I am so looking forward to getting my life back to normal.”

Though they’ve spent their lives coping with skeletal dysplasia, a type of dwarfism, and endured dozens of surgeries due to their condition, Arnold and Klein believed they had finally reached their happy ending last spring. After years trying to have a baby with a surrogate (Arnold’s skeletal dysplasia makes pregnancy risky), Arnold, 39, a neonatologist, and Klein, 39, a business owner, brought home their first child, Will, from China in March 2013, and were approved to bring Zoey home from India later in the year. (Both children also have skeletal dysplasia.) But as they traveled to India to bring Zoey home, Arnold found herself in a fight for her life with her shattering cancer diagnosis, even as her new daughter was having her own severe struggles.

When she arrived home, Zoey would often throw herself into a heap on the floor in a corner and cry uncontrollably for hours. “It was heart-wrenching,” Klein says solemnly. Raised in an orphanage since she was weeks old, and having had no contact with people of Klein and Arnold’s stature, “she didn’t want anything to do with me, and she wouldn’t eat unless there was someone else around,” says Klein. Arnold, meanwhile, had a hysterectomy to remove a cancerous mass, and was then hospitalized with pneumonia before later going through intensive chemo. This left Klein with much of the initial child-care duties, juggling both kids and calling upon a psychiatrist to teach him and Arnold how to comfort their daughter. “It was painful, because she was crying and she was scared,” Klein remembers. “But we had to help her cope with the idea of us being the people to care for her.”

Through hours of torturous screams and tantrums, Klein says they continued to be patient and were able to see small changes in their daughter. Big brother Will bonded with his sister by pushing her around on riding toys until she giggled with glee. And though she often screamed alone in terror, she didn’t make a sound if she hurt herself. When Zoey fell and bumped her head on a baseboard, she “was completely silent, no tears, no crying,” Klein says. “We were told that often in orphanages, because children don’t see a quick response to their being hurt, she had learned to stop responding to pain. So we rush to her and hold her when she falls so she knows someone is there.”

With Arnold continuing her grueling chemo, she began slowly bonding with Zoey as well. Eventually she and Klein began to see their daughter responding. “She is a very strong personality,” says Arnold. “She knows what she wants, and she has her ups and downs like any 2-year-old. But now she loves to give us kisses. It was not like that at the beginning.” Just four months after Zoey came home, she now happily clings to both parents, calling Klein “Baba” and Arnold “Mama.” As Zoey wraps her arms around Klein’s neck, he marvels: “It was so hard to have her not like me as much as she did a stranger, but we are way beyond that now. We’re blown away by the progress she’s made.”

Now, as the family celebrates Arnold’s remission – she will be monitored weekly for a month and then monthly for a year, according to her doctor Concepcion R. Diaz-Arrastia – they are looking forward to what’s next. Will, whose speech is improving after weekly therapy sessions, offers his beloved cars to his sister, whom he calls “Oh Zoey” and shares his Popsicles with. Zoey will go to a specialist to evaluate her type of skeletal dysplasia; Will is also under a specialist’s care. And while more hospital time may loom as Klein deals with a long-delayed spine surgery after a work-out injury he suffered, for now Arnold is happy to revel in the day-to-day tasks of motherhood. (Bring on the pre-school applications!) “For the longest time, I wondered if becoming a mom would even be possible for me, and now that I am, it is awesome,” Arnold says. As Zoey careens across the room, her understandably weary mom adds, “I want to be a little boring now.”

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