Every day, 43 children are diagnosed with cancer (CureSearch Cancer Research). On March 3, 2014, my nephew, Alexander ‘Papou’ Myrthil, became one of the 43 children. He was 21 months old and was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL).
I remember the night childhood cancer hijacked my nephew’s body, invading our family. I received a call at midnight, my sister informed me of his prognosis. This news was so debilitating and paralyzing. I remember the feeling of void and despair as it slowly sunk in. I had so many questions, the biggest one being ‘why?’
I remember crying in fear, pain and hopelessness. Childhood Cancer. We’ve experienced cancer before, with an older aunt. But to have it hit so close and in someone so young. This was just a hard thought to swallow. At the time, my son was three years old and I was pregnant with my second baby. I mourned this diagnosis and I selfishly wondered, ‘Is this hereditary? Can I get my child screened? What are some preventive measures that we can take? Was there anything that I could do to stop this thing from taking hold of my kids?
After a few minutes of crying, I pulled myself together and thought, ‘No more.’ Cancer may have found its way into our family but cancer was not going to win.
As a sister and (favorite) aunt, I knew that no matter how long, no matter the obstacle, I was going to be there. The truth of the matter was, when a child is diagnosed with cancer, the entire family is diagnosed. From that moment on, we became part of the childhood cancer community.
Now that childhood cancer was part of our lives, there were so many things to learn and understand. We had to establish a new normal. For my sister and her husband, they had to establish a new routine that included hospital stays, surgeries, medication, paperwork and schedules. Meticulous record keeping of medications prescribed and taken. Procedures completed and the doctors involved.
For me and my family, we became the support crew. Whether it was watching their oldest son or just bringing lunch to the hospital for her and her husband. At times it meant staying away because my son was sick and he couldn’t be around. There were days that required a face mask, and we all gladly wore them. Other times it meant brainstorming or just being a listening ear.
When Papou’s hair was falling out in clumps due to his medications, we were there to celebrate his new haircut. There were dance parties that my sister created to motivate Papou to take his meds. And we were all there, dancing and cheering him on. There were Cancer awareness walks and runs that required all of us to turn up in great numbers.
There were major holidays when Papou had to stay in the hospital. That didn’t phase us. We were never deterred. We cooked our meals at home and brought them into the hospital. Every holiday, be it hospital room or home, was filled prayer, laughter and happiness. All the makings of a great family celebration. We were NOT going to let cancer win. Not letting cancer win meant understanding, that no one fights alone.
In 2.75 years, Papou had 27 Lumbar Punctures, 104 IV Chemotherapy, 178 days of steroids, and 1004 days of oral chemo. As of July 1, 2017, Papou took his last oral chemotherapy. He has been cancer free for a year now. Papou is 6 years old now, enjoying the 1st grade and all of its glory. This month is childhood cancer awareness month and unfortunately, this is just one story of so many more that are out there. To learn more about how you can help go to https://childrenscancer.org/childhood-cancer-awareness-month/.