September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. At PCFLV, we are committed to spreading the GOLD all year long. However, in September, we truly make it our mission. 30 Days, 30 Stories celebrates the children we know and love and the brave battles they fight and have fought, with their families by their sides. In celebrating these beautiful children and their stories, we hope to inspire you to join us in our mission to SPREAD THE GOLD in September and all year long!
Harrison was born in the fall of 2003. After a pregnancy with no complications our first born came into this world by cesarean birth on October 13th. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and was such a calm, happy baby. As he grew older he was always a laid back kid - never really let things or people bother him. He was never sick (aside from an occasional cold), and would be considered a "normal" kid.
In January,2016 we noticed Harrison having a strange cough, but associated it with a cold or allergies, and didn't give it too much attention. Around the middle of the month, he woke up and had a swollen face. Aside from the cough, he was also complaining of a headache for a few days. We suspected a sinus infection, and called the doctor to get him looked at. The doctor didn't find anything sinus-related, and said his headaches could be from his eyes. We took him in for an eye exam a couple days later, but everything checked out. He woke up a couple more times with facial swelling. On January 17th (a Sunday), I called the doctor's office again and let them know the swelling was still occurring. I was told if it happened the next day to call the office and get him in. Sure enough, he woke up on the 18th with swelling that I noticed extended into his neck. He saw another doctor on the 18th who ordered some blood work and an ultrasound of his neck. The next morning, January 19th, 2016, we got up early and went to the hospital for blood work and the ultrasound. Later that afternoon, the doctor's office called the house and told my husband the news...the bloodwork looked fine, but Harrison had a blood clot in his neck. They told us to get him out of school and head over to the emergency room at Lehigh Valley Hospital - someone would be alerted that we were coming. My heart sunk into my stomach! How did this happen? How do we fix it? Will he be OK?
We picked Harrison up at school and took him to the E.R. as we were instructed. It was the longest car ride of my life. Trying to keep calm when inside I just wanted to cry, or vomit, or something! Once at the E.R. the real horror began. It was explained to us that "Twelve year-olds don't just get blood clots. We need to figure out what's causing the clot, and we can discuss treatment options from there." They proceeded to repeat the ultrasound (verifying that indeed he had a blood clot in his left jugular). Then, they did an X-ray - there was the answer! Harrison had a tumor located outside his heart and lungs, pushing on his airway (that's why he was coughing). The blood flow was being restricted to his face, which was causing the swelling. We sat down with three doctors (one, a pediatric oncologist) who told us their suspicions, but explained more tests needed to be done to verify. A biopsy of his lymph nodes was done. He was only able to have a local anesthetic due to his airway restriction. TWELVE YEARS OLD - no anesthesia??? How is he supposed to tolerate this? He did it. The first of many times I would consider my son a warrior.
The tests were concluded and verified - Harrison was diagnosed with T-Lymphoblastic Lymphoma. In the beginning, we identified this enemy as just that - T-Lymphoblastic Lymphoma, because we just couldn't bear to utter the "C" word.
The first order of business was to treat the clot. He started receiving Lovenox shots in his stomach twice a day. (Another experience I consider him a warrior for.) They also started some steroids to try to shrink the tumor. He was in the hospital for a little over two weeks.
On February 23, Harrison received a PET scan. It revealed that the tumor was GONE! We were so happy, yet the reality of another two years of chemo set in. Despite the fact that the tumor was gone, he still needed this poison pumped into his adolescent body for two...more...years!
On March 3, 2016, he had his surgery to place his mediport. (Ironically, my first ultrasound when I was pregnant with Harrison was March 3, 2003. Just thirteen years prior, I was elated about this new life, and now I was watching him fight to live.) By this time, his hair had already started to fall out from the Chemo. It didn't affect him as much as it affected the rest of us. His physical appearance was starting to change - the chubby cheeks from steroids, the bruises in his belly from the blood thinner, and now this. Reality was definitely setting in. Regular appointments at the clinic, making new friends, friends that had a common bond in a disease that no child should ever have to experience!
I look back today and think, "It's only been seven months, yet it feels like forever!" Aside from watching all the physical things Harrison has gone through (spinal taps, a 1" needle in his chest weekly); we've had to endure the emotions that have come up, too. From day one, Harrison has said, "Let's just take this one day at a time." But, he has had his days of "Why me?" I thought parenthood without a manual was hard....then I was asked that question. All I can do is be honest with him and say, "I don't know why you, but I do know this experience will change you forever. You will go on to do good things. You will be a friend to the little two and three year olds that cry at the clinic...maybe you'll hold their hand, or give them a high-five, but you WILL BE GREAT...because you're a warrior!"
Our journey has just begun, but we're not going to back down!
Harrison is very excited to go back to school (quite opposite from his sister, Madalynn, who really would like summer to last forever). This comes with its challenges, but we'll take it one day at a time, let him be as "normal" as he can and try to enjoy seventh grade....and life!