Four years post diagnosis, Brittany, mother to Andrew, reflects on her son’s journey with children’s cancer, recalling details about the harsh treatments, and celebrating where he is today, learning to overcome challenges he faces as a cancer survivor.
Four years ago, Andrew was diagnosed with cancer. Even though that day will always be with us, we are reminded of how far he has come.
Prior to the surgery, Andrew’s right hand shook so much that he couldn’t even hold a pencil. Following his surgery, his shaking decreased dramatically, but new issues arose. He struggled with double vision, which we lovingly referred to as ‘crazy eyes’, extreme balance issues, and weakness in both of his hands.
He started the treatment protocol – a month of radiation and a year of chemotherapy. He was in the hospital for 2 weeks after his surgery and began radiation therapy on his brain and spine the very next week. He began to lose his hair during the 3rd week, which believe it or not, was a fun experience. His cousins helped him pull out all of his loose hair. We began to shave it pretty regularly because his hair grows very fast and would fall out in clumps every other month. The end of the 4 weeks of radiation could not have come too soon, it had taken quite a toll on him as he struggled to walk and received radiation burns on his scalp.
He began chemotherapy two weeks into his radiation treatment, and handled the first two months pretty well, with few side effects. It was around the third month that the nausea set in, and extreme weight loss required a feeding tube, better referred to as a “nose hose,” to help him get the nutrients he needed. Andrew continued to struggle with weight loss and vomiting in the months that followed, and eventually his digestive tract ceased to function. For the next two months he received all nutrients via IV drip and was not able to have any food by mouth. After some innovative and creative measures (Botox injections to his stomach and Imodium for his digestive tract) he was able to eat again, and, with the aid of the “nose hose”, keep an acceptable, if not ideal, weight. He finished his chemotherapy treatments two months later than planned, and was thrilled to be done.
With treatment behind him, he had one goal in mind – to go back to school. He pushed himself to be stronger and eat more so that, when the time came, he could convince his oncologist he was ready to go back. It took a couple months of begging and pleading, but at the end of April, 18 months after his treatments began, he was finally able to attend school. The plan was to try half days, 2 days a week, and go from there. After attending one half day he begged and begged to make it whole days, and after 2 weeks he was attending full time. The effects of being back in school were amazing – he was happier, stronger, and determined to move past his role as a cancer patient.
Andrew is now 12 years old and attending 7th grade in junior high. He now writes with his left hand rather than right. He walks a little slower than his classmates, and sometimes has short term memory loss, but he does not let any of that get him down, or slow him down. He has taken the opportunity to share his experience with cancer with two Boise State University Special Education classes, and looks forward to sharing his story and victory every year when we attend the St. Baldrick’s events. Andrew lost one of his fellow fighters last winter, and has proclaimed his desire to help find the cure, to protect others from suffering the same loss. He has mentioned many times he wants to go into the medical field specializing in oncology/hematology. It’s sad that a child knows what those fields are, but so wonderful that he sees the need and wants to help others after his experience.
Andrew has a sense of humor that can make anyone laugh out loud. He is a movie buff and loves quoting them at unexpected times. He loves to read and can be found with his nose stuck in a book almost every night. Like most boys his age, he is semi-obsessed with interactive games on his computer, but it helps him keep in touch with his father and uncles who live out of state. His favorite school subject is Math, and he has the benefit of being in a school that promotes the use of an iPad for all writing assignments and organizing. He continues to push himself to be stronger and more coordinated through his gym class and with the help of a fitness coordinator. He has discovered that he loves playing soccer, especially goalie, and is looking forward to trying field hockey this winter. He is fulfilling a personal goal of being more independent by attempting to make dinner for his sister and mom every other week, and loves playing with his dog.
He is no longer defined by his cancer, but instead uses his experience with cancer to push forward and overcome the challenges it left behind.
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