By Krissy Dietrich Gallagher, mother to Austin, St. Baldrick’s Ambassador Kid
There is no superlative form of the word “relieved.” When you’re really, really happy, you’re ecstatic. And when you’re really, really mad, you’re furious. But when it comes to relief, the word is the same whether you say, “I’m so relieved it didn’t rain on our picnic” or “I’m so relieved my child doesn’t have cancer for the third time and isn’t about to lose what remains of his only kidney.”
All this is to say that I am really, really relieved that my child doesn’t have cancer for the third time and that he isn’t about to lose what remains of his only kidney.
My 5 ½ -year-old son Austin finished his second round of cancer treatment for bilateral Wilms tumor in the spring of 2010. He’s had clear abdominal ultrasounds every three months since then. Until most recently, May 7 to be exact, when we went in for his long-awaited two year scans, champagne chilling in the fridge at home, and the radiologist found something, an unidentified 1.4 centimeter spot on what remains of his only kidney.
No one sounded the alarms. Nobody said it was cancer. But we’ve done this twice before, watched and worried and wondered about mysterious spots – and both times they’ve turned out to be relapsed cancer. So I thought the worst. And my husband thought the worst. And all of our plans and expectations for Austin’s future shifted immediately: the mundane things like canceling this summer’s swimming lessons to the medium things like wondering how he’ll manage to complete kindergarten next year if he misses every other afternoon for dialysis to the major things like survival stats hovering below 30%.
For 16 days, we believed we were on the verge of doing it again. Cancer again. This time with no kidneys, which seemed the cruelest fate of all.
And at the very end of the 16th day, after a twice-delayed MRI, Austin’s oncologist knocked on our front door to hand me the fresh-from-the-printer radiology report that declared Austin completely cancer free. The “thing” was literally a shadow caused by ultrasound waves bouncing off a titanium clip they’d placed years ago in his kidney as a marker for radiation.And in that instant, everything changed back again, all of our hopes and dreams back on the table: Yes, we’re still going on vacation this summer; yes, Austin can keep that little half-kidney that has served him so well all these years; yes, my child has survived. We have all survived.
There may not be a word for really, very, super, extra relieved, but there sure is a feeling for it. And it feels good.
Learn more about Austin’s childhood cancer story.
Top photo by Carman and Pugh Photography