On November 15, 2010, I took my son, Danny, to the pediatrician for what I thought was a chest cold. The pediatrician agreed and treated Danny accordingly. One week later, on November 22, I rushed my son to the hospital only to get news that was far worse than I ever expected. Danny would be diagnosed with childhood cancer.
Danny’s tumor was larger than his heart and originated in his thymus. The steroid regimen he was placed on for the chest cold made it difficult for the doctor to make a diagnosis. After nine days in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), Danny was diagnosed with T cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. I was told that chemotherapy needed to start right away and that he would need a spinal tap with intrathecal chemotherapy to treat his central nervous system immediately. He would also need many more chemotherapeutic drugs over the next two and a half years.
During this, all I kept thinking was, “No, this cannot be true. Not my 27-month-old little boy. We only have each other; he is all I have.” I have been raising and nurturing my beautiful boy since he was born, and have done it alone, as a single parent, since he was just 18 months old. Danny is my life; he is a part of me and I just couldn’t believe this was happening.
We spent a total of 14 nights in the PICU and then moved to the oncology wing of the hospital. Never leaving his room, I watched my son become so sick from the treatment. I watched my son suffer severe side effects from the very same medicine that could save his life. As I watched my son, I became sick myself – losing weight because I could not eat, not eating because I would not leave my son, not leaving my son because he is my life. I would never leave my son’s side.
We spent well over 250 nights inpatient the first year. It was tough to look at my beautiful little boy and not be able to explain to him why we needed to make him hurt in order to save his life. What I knew I needed to do was fight for my little boy. The anguish I felt for my son propelled me to learn as much as possible about what was going on. This gave me a feeling of control when I felt I had none.As a single father, I felt so alone when Danny was diagnosed. I felt so alone during our long hospital stays, but I know now that we are not alone. We have our family and friends and the support of other families who are also going through this. While I am thankful for this support system, there is sadness in the acknowledgment that we are not alone, that there are more families just like us.
We are now into Danny’s 22nd month of treatment and he is doing well. We still fight through the side effects of his chemotherapy, but the most important thing is that we still fight. I knew that my son needed me to be at my best, to make decisions, to comfort and care for him, to be as strong as he is, but also to be as tender and loving as I could be, and I put everything into being all of these things. Danny and I feel blessed for every day we have together, so we make the most of our days and continue on this journey through childhood cancer, together. Childhood cancer is real and unforgiving, but we refuse to stop fighting.