Monday, February 26th, 2007, started out as a day just like any other day. It wound up being the day my life, my husband's life, my daughter's life and the life of everyone who loved us and our precious son Liam would be forever changed. That morning I took a shower, got dressed, wore the earrings Liam picked out for me to wear because they were "really pretty." I took Liam to the preschool he had just started a few weeks earlier, brought him home for lunch and took him to the pediatrician in the afternoon. Our appointment was to discuss some nebulous symptoms that alone were nothing but grouped together amounted, in my "mommy mind", to something. My picky eater became a pickier eater. My good napper changed his nap schedule and became an even better napper. His nagging cold just didn't seem to ever fully go away.
Our trusted pediatrician examined Liam then asked me to meet him in his office. I was concerned but not alarmed. He wrote orders for a chest X ray, CBC (complete blood count) and abdominal ultrasound. I felt a sense of relief that he was taking my concerns seriously. I asked him how quickly I should have the tests done. He said soon but it wasn't something I needed to do today. It was 4 p.m. I drove straight to the closest hospital, which happened to be the one where Liam was born. The clerk told me the blood test and X ray could be done that day, but the ultrasound would have to wait another day until an appointment was scheduled.
I looked straight into the clerk's eyes and very quietly said, "I really need this to happen today. I don't care how long we have to wait. We're not leaving without these tests being done." She looked deep into my eyes and into my soul and told me she would do everything she could to make it happen. We waited hours. The last test to be done was the ultrasound. I had been through two pregnancies and countless ultrasounds, so I was familiar with measurements being taken but I didn't like the way the technician was taking too many measurements of my son's abdomen. I knew something was wrong.
The technician told me she was going to have the doctor read the ultrasound that night instead of making me wait until the next day. I thanked her and went to the waiting room. A man came out who identified himself as a doctor and asked me to come with him. My jelly legs carried me into a room that reminded me of what an air traffic control room must look like – lots of monitors, dim lights, and quiet. He was the only person in the dark room at that time of night. I was pushing Liam who was resting in his stroller. The doctor led me to a corner room and handed me a phone. On the other end of the line was our pediatrician, the man I had come to love and trust with my children's health. He told me the ultrasound found a large mass in my son's abdomen. It couldn't be identified but Liam was being admitted for observation that night, an oncologist had already been called, and a CT scan was scheduled for the next day.
I wanted to collapse but I couldn't because I was with Liam. I wanted to cry but I couldn't because I was in too much shock. I wanted to throw up but I couldn't because I hadn't eaten all day. I wanted to take back those words. I wanted my mommy instincts to be wrong. I wanted to reverse the hands of time but I knew that was impossible. After another very long wait in a packed emergency room, we finally arrived in what would be the first of many hospital rooms we would occupy. That night a very scared little boy was strapped down to a table to insert a needle in his arm to run fluids in him. The next day after a CT scan, I was told my 33-month-old son had stage IV cancer and needed an immediate operation. By that night we were transported by ambulance to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and started the odyssey of reclaiming our sweet son from the cancer cells that were trying to overtake his body.
On this odyssey, we have learned that pediatric cancer robs families of more children than any other disease. We learned about the vast disparity between funding for pediatric cancer and other cancers. We learned of the lack of interest on the part of pharmaceutical companies to invest research and development dollars in treatments and cures. And after we learned all of these shocking facts, we decided to do something about it.
Together we can make a difference. Together we can improve children's odds, children like my son who I love more than anything.