January 21, 2016 was a normal day. I had rushed getting all three kids of to school and I was teaching Social Studies to my fifth grade class when a colleague ran into my room. She told me that Drew was having an asthma attack in the cafeteria. My six year old was eating lunch with his classmates, when he felt faint like and complained his heart hurt. He was very pale and sweating profusely. I carried him to the clinic. That is where his lips started turning blue and we decided to call 911.
The ambulance transported us to Scottish Rite. Within a couple hours of our arrival, they found a mass (the size of my fist) between his chest wall and heart. The doctor started using words like benign, malignant, and oncologist. I immediately called my husband to join me at the hospital.
We were immediately transferred to Egleston because of their anesthesiologist cardiologist. Cancer did not honestly sink in until we were pushing Drew’s gurney through the doors of AFLAC Cancer & Blood Disorders wing. My eyes immediately teared up and I knew my baby had cancer. Within 24 hours of calling 911, my child was diagnosed with Stage IV T-Lymphoblastic Lymphoma and had chemo running through his veins.
AFLAC became our second home and we were all handled with care and love during the first few days of being introduced to cancer. Our new home had hallways filled with children that had no hair, some were riding along the bottom of their IV stands, some wore masks, and others were too sick to leave bed. However, these sick kids still smiled, still laughed, and still played. There were so many contradictions going on in one place and it overwhelmed my emotions very much.
We were honest and upfront with Drew from the beginning by telling him he had cancer. It was very difficult to explain cancer to our six year old, but we would learn shortly that our six year old is very strong. Drew quickly became angry. He wanted to go home, see his siblings, his friends, and return to school. These were not options for Drew. AFLAC saw Drew through his anger and fear through kind doctors, patient nurses, child life specialists, psychologists, and a therapy dog named Fauna. AFLAC became our family and they too were going to do everything to see us through this cancer. We were told that we would stay at Egleston for 28 days. I took leave from my job and we called in our family and friends for help.
We were blessed, Drew responded well to chemo and we went home on day 10. We had some complications along the way like a blood clot and rhinovirus, however the tumor was gone after 28 days and the 16% cancer found in his bone marrow was reduced to .01%. We were thrilled and thankful to our AFLAC team…our child was cancer free. However the real battle was just about to begin. At the end of consolidation (second stage of chemo), Drew was very neutropenic (no immunity). This was anticipated with the stage of chemo he had received. The chemo wipes out everything, even the good blood cells. He had no white blood cells to fend off infections. He ended up having 4 infections. One turned into sepsis and we almost lost out child twice. He was moved to PICU and Stayed there for 5 weeks. He was intubated, sedated, and put on dialysis hoping it would allow his body to recover.
After two weeks, my sleeping dragon awoke. He is doing much better and has returned to his chemo plan. Two months later, he stil receives OT and PT to improve his strength. He went from not able to stand to fully walking again. We are blessed.
However, we are saddened by the reality of how little money is used for childhood cancer research. Only 4% of raised money goes to childhood cancer research. We will do anything to help raise money and awareness, so treatment will improve and hopefully one day kids won’t have to fight cancer.