Some of you may remember way back last fall I wrote a blog post about a co-worker whose then 18-year-old son had been diagnosed with lymphoma. That diagnosis came almost exactly one year ago — I remember returning from RWA National to an office in mourning.
It has been a year of ups and downs, of progress and setbacks, an emotional roller coaster of bad news followed by good and back to bad. Earlier this spring, the son was given an all-clear by his doctors. As far as they could tell, the treatments had been successful and the cancer was gone. But.
Just to be extra sure, they wanted to do one last chemo treatment, followed by a bone marrow transplant. Their reasoning? Patients with this particular type of cancer who had this treatment were pretty much cancer-free for life. Those who didn’t, well, their cancer usually came back.
But it’s an awful thing, this treatment. There is a month of preparation, with many doctor visits, leading up to it. One of the things they do is harvest bone marrow stem cells and save them. They can do this because the cancer has not spread to his bone marrow. The chemo they planned to give him kills all fast-growing cells. This of course includes the cancer cells. But it also kills bone marrow and blood cells and God knows what else.
Once the treatment began, he’d have to stay in the hospital, in isolation, for 30 days. His body would be incredibly vulnerable to infection, unable to fight off germs. A head cold could kill him. Once the chemo kills off all the cells, they said, he will feel like he is dying. Literally. Because at that point, he is.
They wait until his white blood count and his red blood count are at zero. I’m not sure what is left of a person’s blood once all those cells are dead, but by all reports it is not a pleasant experience. I’ll spare you the details. Then they give him a transfusion of the bone marrow stem cells and wait for things to start to grow again. It takes a while. There is a chance it won’t happen.
Some of those specifics might be a bit off, but this is my best understanding of it after several conversations with my co-worker. Scary stuff. But the alternative was so much worse.
So a while back, they began the treatment. Everything went according to plan and for three days, his blood levels were at absolute zero. My co-worker was worried, though the doctors assured him everything was right on schedule. What if the cells didn’t grow? What was Plan B? No one had mentioned a Plan B. His son was so sick, getting worse every day, he couldn’t believe Plan A had a snowball’s chance. It has been a tough time.
Well, he came in to work yesterday, guardedly optimistic. The blood levels were at 0.1. Hard to let yourself get hopeful over such a small number, especially when your child is still suffering so horribly. But it was better than 0.0 and it was a beginning. So, we hoped.
Today he came in to work and it looked like he’d turned back the calendar 10 years and someone had lifted 20 pounds off each shoulder. The blood levels were at 0.8. The doctors say the treatment is now considered to be a confirmed success. They say recovery is very fast once it starts and think the son may be able to go home in a matter of days. The parents are ecstatic. The son is happy, too, because he wants to play in a qualifying round for the US Amateur Golf Tournament later this month. Yeah, he’s that good. He might even make the cut. Plus, he’s missed his girlfriends. Yes, plural. Hey, the kid has priorities.
We’ve all suffered through this with our friend during the past year, trying our best to be optimistic and supportive while struggling at times not to shed tears at work. Believe me, there were days it was damn near impossible. This news had us all a bit misty-eyed today, and not one of us tried to hide it.
Just wanted to share that, today, on a day not known for good luck.