Continuing our life story, is like a very necessary counseling session for me. It has taken a lot of careful thought and discussions with my husband and kids to get to the point where I can share our story with you all so openly. I have always felt I should write this story for a Family Circle or Woman’s Day article. But since I have the medium of my own blog I am so pleased to be able to share it with you here.
Our family’s next life curve was so unexpected, that words alone cannot begin to describe the heart sinking news we received about Zach. 2001 was a devastating year for our country with the tragedy that occurred on September 11th. However, prior to 9/11 our family suffered its own tragedy.
Zach was 9 years old in 2001, and would turn 10 in July. By this time he was handling his diabetes, and were constantly working on counting carbs correctly, and making sure that he tested as many times as he should be each day. Zach was in the fourth grade, and was playing NJB basketball with his friends. In the January-February timeframe of 2001 Zach kept getting the flu, and was having a hard time getting back on his feet from it. Then he had this weird allergy that was causing his eyes to swell shut, and he had to wear sunglasses all of the time to stay comfortable. If I remember correctly he was treated for the “eye allergies” twice. One Sunday, in April, the kids and I went out for breakfast, not something we did very often, as I was a single parent at this time. Zach’s sister, Hilary, noticed that his hands looked somewhat yellow, kind of like a jaundice. Then after we got home Zach was laying on the floor watching tv and I noticed his feet looked the same way.
On this particular Sunday, I took Zach to urgent care, as I was concerned because of the flu, the allergies, and now his feet and hands just looked yellow. Something was not right, and with his diabetes my gut was telling me get this checked out, pronto. We had a blood test done, and the results would not be back until the next day, so we went home to wait. There was no diagnosis, or suspicion of any diagnosis offered.
The next day at work I received a phone call from the nurse at the doctor’s office. Zach’s results were back and the doctor wanted Zach to go to Loma Linda Children’s Hospital right away. The results from the blood test showed that Zach’s white blood count (WBC) was extremely elevated, and they could do additional testing at Loma Linda right away to find out was going on in my little 9 year old’s body. This was our second emergency room visit to Loma Linda. The first visit there was when Zach was diagnosed with diabetes.
After additional testing, and what seemed like an eternity of a wait the doctor came into Zach’s room, in the emergency room. He started to say to me with Zach and his Dad in the room, “We suspect your son may have Can…..”. I cut the doctor off and said we needed to step outside. I knew what was coming. Zachary had cancer. The Big C had infiltrated my family, and my baby boy was diagnosed with ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukemia).
I remember letting out a bit of a yelp, and then I told the doctor that I needed a phone. I had to call my parents. My memory is a little sketchy here, but I remember a chaplain in the ER helping me find a private phone to call my parents. I’m sure all I did when my Mom answered the phone was cry. Zach’s dad and I broke the news to him, and we were all so frightened, and bewildered, and shocked. I remember Zach crying and comforting him, and then things are just a blur. He was admitted to the hospital, of course, and our education on the treatment for ALL would begin in earnest.
In the following days after Zach was admitted to the hospital so many things were going on. What are Zach’s chances for survival? What will the treatments involve? How quickly can we get the doctor “on duty” reassigned to be Zach’s primary oncologist? You see the doctor assigned to Zach’s case in the ER, how shall I say this politely, she just didn’t work out. Who would spend the night in the hospital with Zach? Who could be at home with the kids? So many issues and decisions to be made at once, how could we possibly get through all of this.
We got through the first few hectic weeks of Zach’s diagnosis one hour at a time, one day and a time, and ultimately one week at a time. When you are in crisis mode, as we were, you can only focus on what’s right in front of you. With the help, care and compassion from my amazing family we muddle through those first few weeks while Zach was hospitalized. And I have to say the best day of 2001 was Mother’s Day. Zach came home for Mother’s Day after almost three weeks in the hospital. I couldn’t have been happier.
So now at not quite ten years old my son had a primary care doctor, a pediatric endocrinologist, and a pediatric oncologist. Never in my wildest dreams about having a family and raising kids, did I ever imagine that any of my kids would have to endure what Zach was about to go through.