How Pediatric Cancer Affected Our Family

Note: In support of pediatric cancer awareness month, here's my perspective on how pediatric cancer affected our family.

I never expected pediatric cancer to hit our family, but when it did, it came with force and fury. Last summer, my family of five was vacationing with my younger brother’s family of four. One day, my nine year-old nephew, Jackson, complained of swelling in his neck and a painful spot on his arm. He went to the emergency room, and after a blood test, was transported to the nearest children’s hospital.

It was there that the doctors announced the diagnosis that no parent wants to hear–Jackson had cancer, specifically leukemia. Sometimes change comes creeping in, barely noticeable. It’s like a light drizzle that doesn't really affect you. Other times change rages in, and you know that things are irrevocably different.

Pediatric cancer was a hurricane that changed family life forever.

The parent of a child with cancer is on turbulent ground. Suddenly all sorts of questions flood to mind:

  • What will my child’s life look like?
  • How much pain will they be in?
  • How will this impact our family?
  • Can we afford treatment?
  • When can we get back to normal?
  • What’s the information I have to learn?
  • How will this affect my work?
  • Who can support us?
  • Will insurance cover this?

And there’s the most difficult question that is too much to bear: “Will I lose my child?” No one wants to think about this, but it’s there lurking in the back of your mind as a question you can’t forget. It pangs and crashes at the most inopportune time, stealing your peace and keeping you from joy. Pediatric cancer is a disaster.

Thankfully, Jackson had a great team around him. (It takes a team to confront this catastrophe.) Jackson started treatment immediately, and the family created a new way of life around getting Jackson better.

This meant:

  • Long stays in the hospital, three hours away
  • Crisis visits to the hospital, three hours away
  • Working with teachers on an adjusted school schedule
  • Rushing to an emergency room every time Jackson spiked a temperature
  • Isolating from family and friends because Jackson had no immune system
  • Separating Jackson from his brother for weeks at a time for treatment
  • Spending your disposable income on medical costs
  • Putting all future plans on hold

And it meant sometimes feeling guilty if you found yourself experiencing a little happiness in life while your child is suffering. What right do you have to feel happy at all?! Childhood cancer upends everyone in the family.

It’s been more than a year now–and thank God–Jackson is in remission. He still takes one kind of chemo daily, takes another chemo weekly, and once a month visits the clinic for more chemo and check-ups.

But overall, Jackson is doing great! His hair has grown back, the color has returned to his skin, and he’s gaining weight. He went to Disney World a few weeks ago, has returned to school full-time, and is living (and fighting) with his brother again.

Better yet, his family is dreaming about the future.

If you can help a family fighting pediatric cancer, please do. Together, maybe the disaster won't be as bad for families. On September 24, Jackson and his family will be participating in a walk to raise money for cancer research. To help them reach their goal, please click here.

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