cancer, Chemotherapy, overwhelmed, parenting, Uncategorized

Our New World

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Just weeks after learning Nathan had cancer we were thrown into this new world of treatment. We were admitted into the hospital for his chemo port placement and his first round of chemotherapy. We had so many doctors and nurses coming in to educate us on what we would be going through the next 6 months. They literally gave us a notebook full of information. In it were the names of all the chemo drugs that would be part of his treatment. All the side effects that he may or may not experience. The prescriptions that he would be taking. Lists of the labs that would be drawn each week and the normal range for him now that he will be immuno suppressed.  Despite my 15 years in the medical field all of this information was brand new for me. Especially new because this wasn’t just any other patient this was my son. Being on the other side was very eye opening.

The night Nathan started chemo was scary. I had no idea what to truly expect. Would he be sick? Would he have a terrible reaction? Would it hurt? They started at 6:00 pm and it wasn’t over until 6:00 am. I didn’t sleep much that night. I stayed in the chair next to his bed holding his hand. I had several moments of tears but made sure that he didn’t see me cry. The night was long but he only felt sick a few times and the medications they gave him for that helped him sleep through most of the night.

I think every one has a moment where they wish they could trade places with someone. This was one of those moments for me and I would have given anything to take his place but all I could do was be there next to him. Be there when he needed me. Just be there to hold his hand. As a parent it was a very helpless feeling. I can’t imagine how parents of younger children go through this experience. Nathan could understand what was happening and why it was happening. Thinking about what I would do if this was my toddler laying there helped me to be thankful for that simple thing. I decided that I needed to start finding things to be grateful for throughout this process. So here we were in this new world but I would have a new mantra. “Start each day with a grateful heart.”

~ M

 

cancer, high school football, parenting, Uncategorized

Four Words

Four Words. Your son has cancer. Four words I never thought I would hear.  Four words that just didn’t seem real. Four words that changed our lives forever.

Nathan just turned 18. He’s healthy. He’s an athlete. He can’t have cancer.

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The bright white at the center of his leg is the tumor.

 

Summer 2017 Nathan came home from football complaining about his leg hurting. He pointed out a small knot just below his knee. No big deal, right? I mean he was the kicker for his football team. He was kicking daily and not just a little kicking. He was practicing kick offs, punting and field goals.  Naturally, I assumed any pain he was having had to be caused by overuse. The season gets rolling and he complains off and on about the pain. We would alternate using ice packs, heating pads and give him an anti-inflammatory to help but the knot never went away. Nathan was kicking the ball better than ever. He was starting to get calls and letters from colleges about coming to kick for their football programs. We were excited about the opportunities that lay ahead. The football season came to a disappointing end in the state semi-final round. But even though our goal of a State Championship title didn’t happen Nathan still walked away from the field with so many honors. He was named to the All-State team for Kicking and Punting. He finished in the top ten in the state for most points scored by a kicker. And he was named 2017 Kicker of the Year for Nashville Area All Region. I was one proud mama!

The season’s end was a bitter-sweet time for me because this meant it was time for the littles and I to make the big move to Michigan. We moved Nathan into my parents house and with a heavy heart I left my first baby behind to finish his senior year with all of his friends and classmates. Of course it wasn’t an easy decision to move without him but he was a senior in high school and I couldn’t expect him to leave. Even though I was 550 miles away didn’t stop me being his mama. We talked every day. When we talked he started complaining more and more about his leg. It was swollen and at times he could barely walk on it. He called me in the middle of the night the second week I was in Michigan in tears because it was hurting him so bad. I told him that night on the phone that I would make him an appointment with an orthopedic doctor. I have always been a walk it off  kind of mom but it was past due for him to have his leg looked at.

Just a few days after Thanksgiving my dad took Nathan to the ortho appointment. I waited to get a call to hear that everything is alright but that didn’t happen. My dad called and said the doctor isn’t worried about his knee. He’s concerned about the mass or cyst on his shin. He wants us to go to get a MRI right now. My dad is a preacher and has no real medical knowledge so he didn’t know he should be worried. But because of mine and Les’s lengthy medical background we knew what it means when a doctor says they are concerned. It felt like someone kicked me in the stomach. I was terrified and I already knew this was bad. I called the doctor’s office and requested that the doctor call me personally. Within minuets I received a call. *Yet another bad sign if a doctor is returning your call that quickly.* He told me that there was a tumor on the upper half of his tibia and it was most likely cancer. It could possibly be osteosarcoma due to the location of the tumor. He couldn’t believe that Nathan was able to kick the ball the way he did with a tumor that size in his leg. He said that he was referring us on to an orthopedic oncology surgeon.

When I hung up I purchased one way tickets for the kids and I to go back to Nashville. In my heart I knew we wouldn’t be coming back to Michigan any time soon. I told my parents not to tell Nathan anything yet that I wanted to be the one to talk to him. Of course he knew something wasn’t right when he found out the kids and I were flying back to Nashville after only being gone for 2 weeks but he didn’t know how much his life was about to change. When I got home Nathan and I went to a nearby park and sat at a table in the shade to talk. It was there I told him that what they saw on his x-ray and his MRI was a tumor but we don’t know what type of cancer that it is yet. At first I could see the confusion on his face and then the tears began to fall. He said, “If its cancer does that mean I’m going to die?” I told him absolutely not! That we didn’t know everything yet and that we would fight this step by step together.

The following Monday there we all sat in the doctor’s office to finally get some answers. Nathan’s father, Joey, and my parents came along with Nathan and I for support. The doctor was amazing. She said from the look of the tumor if definitely looked like it was osteosarcoma. Then she went on to tell us that this meant a 2 year long treatment plan that included chemo, radiation, and a major surgery where he would remove half of his tibia and replace it with a titanium bone. It was overwhelming but she explained all of the steps that would follow. Scans, tests and then the biopsy of the tumor to be certain of the type of cancer that was there. Things went really quickly from there. Two days of tests and scans. Then it was time for the biopsy. They took Nathan to the OR and sedated him for this.

The best news we had heard came after that. The doctor came out to talk to us when they finished the biopsy and said that the tumor was very large, 7 cm in length to be exact. It originated in the bone and had now grown outside the bone as well but it wasn’t osteosarcoma. She was almost certain that it was a lymphoma. My question was so this is better right? And her answer was… cancer is cancer but the treatment plan for lymphoma is shorter and means that he would lose the bone in his leg. The downside also means that with lymphoma there is a greater likelihood of the cancer coming back one day. So we waited patiently and finally received the official diagnosis. Nathan had stage 2 non-hodgkins lymphoma.

I will say that I was pretty hard on myself about being the parent that didn’t take their son to the doctor when something was obviously not right. I was so sorry for pushing him to keep playing. Telling him he was fine and that is was probably shin splints. I kept reminding him that if even the smallest thing was wrong and they told him he couldn’t play anymore that his season was over. Telling him how much it would hurt the team to lose him. Ugh! I still have a hard time remembering back to all the times I brushed his pain off. Nathan wasn’t hard on me about it though. He was very sweet and only mentioned once in the waiting room of a scan appointment that this was a little bigger than shin splints. Ha!

~M

cancer, graduation, med school, moving, parenting, Uncategorized

2017 RECAP

Well since I skipped a whole 2 years of blogging I’ve decided to do a recap of 2017 and then I’ll take on 2018 next. I can honestly say that 2017 had more ups and downs than any other year in my life. So many amazing things happened but several lows came my way too. The year ended with one devastating blow pushing it to the top of the list of worst year I’ve ever had. The year got off to a great start. In March Quinn turned two. Her personality grew just as fast as her hair did. Those crazy curls and her sweet smile  She is our little tornado princess. It’s impossible stay mad at her because of how cute she is!

In May it finally happened. Leslie finally graduated from medical school. It was such an amazing weekend full of celebrating all of her hard work. I can honestly say those 4 years were the longest years of my life!

She matched to an internal medicine residency in Warren, Michigan that would start in July. While her 4 years of medical school were over it was time for the next step. Her 3 year residency program would begin July 1st and even though.

We made the most of our summer and enjoyed time with friends and family. I would say that our favorite part of the summer was our week at the beach with my family. We had some great family pictures made. The kids LOVE the water and had so much fun playing in the sand. It was a great getaway for our family.

It wasn’t an ideal situation but the kids and I were not able to make the move with her that summer. We agreed that I would make the move to Michigan at the end of November or early December. Nathan was entering into his senior year of high school with his senior football season starting in in August. This was going to be such a big year for him and we knew that I couldn’t miss it.

We put Noah into a ABA (Autism Behavioral Analysis) Preschool full-time. He made so much progress in there summer program that we decided to pull him out of the public school blended class to be at the therapy center to help better prepare him for kindergarten. In this environment his teachers are trained to work with autistic children and could help shape and change any undesired behaviors this crucial year before kindergarten.

We had Quinn’s speech evaluated after she turned 2. They determined that she had a significant speech delay and would need speech therapy at least 2 days a week. She started speech therapy with the sweetest speech therapist. They encouraged us to have her around kids as much as possible because with Noah being very limited verbally she would benefit being in a environment with typical children to help improve her language. So she continued at her Mother’s Day Out Program twice a week.  She loved being the center of attention there and  she loved her teacher, Ms. Fiona. I think Ms Fiona just might be her favorite person ever. Being with the other children helped tremendously with her speech delay and her expressive language shot through the roof!

Nathan’s senior football season was amazing. I loved volunteering with the other Senior Moms to do things for the boys. I loved every min of watching him play. He was kicking better than ever. He kicked over 70 points for the year. They went undefeated in the regular season making them Division Champs. He was voted onto the All State Team for kicking and punting. He was Kicker of the Year for Greater Nashville Area. I could not have been prouder of the way he ended his high school football career.

I left my job the middle of November to get ready for the move to Michigan in December. I had started working at St Thomas when I was 20 years old. It was my first “real job”. I worked there while I finished school then took a night shift position in the respiratory department after I completed my degree. It was not just a place I worked. These coworkers were my family and my dearest friends. This wasn’t just a job for me because I loved what I did. I loved taking care of my patients in the ICU. I loved the challenge of taking care of the sickest patients in the hospital. To say I was sad to leave was an understatement but it was incredibly sweet of all my coworkers to make sure I knew how much I would be missed.

At the end of November with football season over we finally made the move to Michigan. The kids were excited to be in a new space and loved playing in our new backyard. There was so much to explore. They barely stayed inside for more than a few mins. Noah was able to start into a new preschool after being there for a week. I was super anxious about it but because the class only had 6 students and then there was a teacher and her assistant in the room. I still needed to set up ABA therapy but was happy to go ahead and get him started on a schedule. I had plenty to do to keep me busy around the house. When we got there Les hadn’t done much other than move her clothes into the closet and set up the TV. The house felt like a sad blank space and I needed the house to feel like home as soon as possible. I spent hours unpacking, organizing and decorating the house. Eventually I started to see a glimmer of this being home!

On November 31st I received a call that knocked the breath out of me. Nathan had been having persistent knee pain despite football being over. I scheduled an appointment with a orthopedic doctor. My dad called and said that the doctor isn’t worried about his knee his more concerned about the mass or cyst below his knee and they were sending him for a MRI. My dad is a preacher with no medical background so I called the doctors office myself. Once I was on the phone with the doctor he told me that the x-ray showed a tumor just below his knee and believed it was cancer. When I hung up I started frantically looking for flights and packing bags for myself and the kids. Booked 3 one way tickets back to Nashville for the next morning. Les dropped us off at the airport and kissed us goodbye not knowing when we’d be back in Michigan. Then there we were back in Nashville in less than 2 weeks. Nathan’s father and I sat in the waiting room of Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital with Nathan waiting for him to have multiple scans and tests. I was terrified to put it lightly. Then begins the long story of Nathan’s diagnosis and treatment and I’ll share all about that in posts to come. (The cancer in Nathan’s leg is illuminated in bright white in the picture below.)

But these last photos are of the kids together December 2017. We had no idea how Nathan would feel or how much weight he would lose once treatment began so I had a friend do a photo shoot of them together for me. I absolutely love how they turned out.

Then to round out 2017 I have a few photos from Christmas with our family.

And there it is 2017’s Recap!

~M