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I have meet with more than my share of difficult challenges. This one will remain with me always, occasionally playing over in my mind when I look at my son. It was April of 1993, the eve of Easter Sunday; my children and I were coloring Easter eggs in anticipation of the big hunt the following morning. The kids were excited and having a blast, especially my three-and-a-half- year old son Joey. With the eggs freshly colored and carrots left out for the Easter Bunny, I put my children to bed, prepared the Easter baskets and retired myself. What happened the next morning would change not only my perspective, but also my entire life.
As Easter morning arrived, I arose to discover that Joey was still sleeping, unusual for a three-year-old. When I tried to wake him, he said his back was hurting and he did not want to get up. I waited a little while, went back into his room and once again had a hard time arousing him. This time I asked him to stand up for me in an attempt to figure out what was bothering him. He must have been in tremendous pain; when he tried to stand he was unsteady, his little legs were shaking much like that of a frightened puppy. It was time to take him to the emergency room. Something was terribly wrong.
We arrived at the emergency room only to find several people already there. Joey was begging me to do something to stop the pain in his back; we waited and waited and waited. Finally, in total anger and despair I set out to find someone to help. The doctor came over, examined him and asked me several questions; it was slowly becoming apparent to me that this doctor did not have any answers. Meanwhile I was growing more concerned about the unknown; what was wrong with my child? The doctor, obviously puzzled by the situation, decided to run a CBC (complete blood count). This took what felt like an eternity, suddenly the doctor became somewhat evasive, almost secretive. I was exasperated, determined to find out what was wrong with Joey’s lab report. I inched my way over behind the curtain, so I could overhear bits and pieces of the doctor’s conversation. They were discussing things like a low hemoglobin count and a high white blood cell count, then I heard it, the most devastating word I have ever heard a doctor say-Leukemia.
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On Monday morning, his pediatrician called to tell me further testing would be necessary to properly determine what was making Joey so ill. He recommended Dr. Maura O’Leary of Abbot Northwestern Hospital then strongly urged me to make the appointment right away. I made an appointment for that afternoon. When we arrived at Dr. O’leary’s office she explained that we were there for a bone marrow test, she went through the process that would follow then swiftly began preparing to perform the procedure. What sounded like a relatively simple procedure would ultimately be the worst experience I have ever endured. Joey’s test was positive; he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia which is cancer of the blood.
We were immediately taken to Minneapolis Children’s Medical Center via a tunnel connected the clinic; time was of the essence. Once there, he began receiving treatment, and within seven days he was in complete remission. Joey’s protocol would require chemo and radiation therapy over a period of three years.
Taking him successfully though the next three years would be the hardest challenge I have ever faced. Joey completed his treatment June 26, 1996. Today he is a happy healthy eleven-year-old boy; Everyday when I see him, I am reminded of just how precious the gift of life, that most of us take for granted, truly is. Easter always brings memories of this experience, and along with them another year to celebrate.