I don’t believe in coincidences. Last year on President’s Day, my sister-in-law signed up to feed the families at the Ronald McDonald house here in Salt Lake City. I was so excited about that I asked if we could join her family! So we went. And it was such a neat experience. I highly recommend to sign up and help. While we were busy cooking and serving food, one of the mom’s of a patient recognized my husband from their LDS mission in Spain. Jen and her husband were their with their son George for a checkup. What an amazing thing! To run into a friend you haven’t seen in 20 years. George’s story is amazing. I hope that his story will bring you hope.
“Saturday, July 26,2014, was a day like any other. Except that my youngest son, George (7), woke me up at 6:00 saying that his stomach hurt. Like any good mom, I told him to go poop. He assured me that wasn’t the problem and asked for a Tums. I obliged and sent him back to bed. He got up at 9:00, we all got ready for the day and headed to the Blue Angels air show. Next morning, same story: 6:oo wake up with a stomachache, asking for another Tums. Well, since obviously, Tums had fixed what ailed him the day before, I gave him a Tums and sent him back to bed. But when he woke up for church, he said he still wasn’t feeling well. He went home with his dad after the first hour and when I got home, he still wasn’t feeling well and never really snapped out of it. Monday same request. But this time I called the pediatrician who agreed to see us that afternoon.
When we got to Dr. Walker-Jenkins’ office, she checked his heart-rate and asked if he had run all the way there. She had him lie down while I recounted the weekend’s details. Then she lifted his shirt to check his heart-rate. She looked immediately at me and asked, “Have you seen this?!” As I stood and walked toward the exam table I gasped. It looked like a hoagie roll was lying just beneath his skin. No, no, I definitely had not seen that.
She walked out of the room and came back in just a few minutes later, telling me that I would need to go over to the Pediatric Unit at the campus just a mile or two away. They were expecting me. He would get an ultrasound and an x-ray and some bloodwork. And she would meet us there. She hugged me and asked if I was OK to drive and sent us on our way.
I called my husband Travis and attempted to explain the situation. He met us at the hospital and we made our way up to the 4th floor. The x-ray was done, then the ultrasound. Midway through the ultrasound, the tech stood and rushed out of the room. We were ushered to one of the rooms. Then Dr. Walker-Jenkins came in, tears in her eyes. (It is never a good sign when your pediatrician is crying.) She said that he had a mass and that further testing needed to be done. She said that bloodwork had come back negative for leukemia but that that was all they could safely eliminate. We needed to get him to Primary Children’s Medical Center immediately. She told us to gather our family, explain what we could, pack some clothes, and get on the road.
We called the various homes where our other children (Henry-15, Natalie Kate-13, and Claire-10) had been playing and had them sent home. We sat them done and through many tears briefly explained that we didn’t know how long we’d be gone but that we would call often with updates. Then we all ran around gathering clothes since they were being farmed out to friends’ homes. As I crossed paths with Henry as I was walking into the boys’ room to get George clothes, Henry was sobbing. I stopped him and assured him that it’d be OK. Through his sobs, he lamented, “How many times has he asked me to play Legos with him and I was always too busy? How many times?!” He was so broken up. I had never seen him like this and it broke my heart.
The course of the next few days were a blur of doctors and nurses, a social worker and child life specialist, and a wonderful crew that keep the hospital humming. A biopsy was done and on the 29th, we were told by the surgeon, that George had a malignant nephroblastoma, more specifically a Wilms’ tumor, that had consumed his left kidney and was occupying more than half of his abdomen. (It had apparently shifted, putting pressure on his stomach, thereby causing his grief). It was too big to remove without jeopardizing other organs. He was started on chemotherapy as soon as his treatment plan was worked out. He was to do 3 months of chemo, have the tumor removed, get radiation treatment and move forward with 6 more months of chemo, almost all of which would need to be done in Salt Lake.
Meanwhile, word had traveled fast around our ward and neighborhood. Travis went home to check on the kids and bring them up to see George. Two dear friends had already volunteered to sanitize and sterilize the house. One neighbor donated a leather recliner to put in George’s room for those nights when George needed me and I needed sleep. Furniture was moved to put Henry’s bed downstairs in the office so George’s needs wouldn’t rob Henry of sleep since school started that next week. People volunteered to take in our tortoises for the duration of treatment as they were deemed hazardous to George’s health.
Neighbors had called around and gathered things to make an incredible care package for little George, with lots of things to occupy his time, games and Legos, cars and coloring books, comfy clothes and stuffed animals. His Primary teacher even added a bag of coins to put in the vending machines when he needed a snack. They had thought of everything. A family that was heading north brought the treasures in to the hospital, bringing with them the love of friends and neighbors, which also included many cards with money in them to help keep us afloat. One mom even did her own collection of funds and got my house re-carpeted. People are so genuinely good.
In all of this love and generosity, my favorite show of love was a friend that I only see maybe twice a year. We had met when we served as co-Room Moms when our oldest children were in 1st grade. She sent me a text and said, “I just heard about George and I can’t stop crying. I need to do something here on the ground, something that is needed. What would be helpful? Feeding your family, running kids to and from school when it starts, helping with homework, mowing your rocks? I NEED to help, so help me help you. In the meantime, would it be OK if I bring in a meal once a week?” And she did. She brought over dinner every Thursday for 9 months. Not because I couldn’t have fed my own family, but because she felt a NEED to help and wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer. That is the kind of person I want to be.
As crazy as it may sound, I would not trade the love we felt and the blessings that we received during that time for the continuous health of our little George. Yes, it sucked having a kid with cancer. It was hard to know that he would miss all but three weeks of 2nd grade. It was awful seeing him drag around an IV pole with his food bag hanging from it while liquid nourishment streamed through a tube in his nose. It was torturous to have to give him shots to help boost his counts, knowing that, as thin as he was, if he flinched I would hit bone and the needle could snap. It hurt to watch him wither away as the tumor siphoned all his nutrients leaving him with knobby knees and a bulging abdomen. But I have never felt so encompassed in the love of those around me. I have never felt so blessed by so many.
George is now 3 years off treatment. He recently graduated to twice-yearly appointments for oncology and yearly appointments with nephrology. When cancer returns (and it likely will) it won’t go after his other kidney. It will be in his lungs. And that could be next year or 30 years from now. We’ve learned that you can be “cancer-free” but you’ll never be free of cancer. It looms in the background of every day. But we’ve beat it once, and if we need to, we can fight it again. For some, this is sadly a well-travelled road. Early on in our battle, it was confirmed to me that everything would be OK. That didn’t mean to me that George would sail through unscathed, or even definitively that he would survive. But I knew that whatever happened, it would be OK. Whatever OK meant. And it is. It’s better than OK. Life is great. And there’s plenty of time now to play Legos.
So yes, cancer sucked. But it gave us a reason to do better. To be more aware of those around us going through similar situations and find ways to help. On our website GeorgeSaysCancerSucks.com there is a GIVE BACK tab with links to donate to the GoFundMe accounts for the local kids who have been recently diagnosed. You can also find links to others who have helped us greatly if you feel inclined to donate in that direction. They include the Ronald McDonald House, where we lived for a month during his radiation treatment, Primary Children’s Medical Center, where they saved my little guy’s life, and Make-A-Wish, who sent us on an unforgettable all-expense paid trip to Orlando when his treatment was completed.
You can also put GeorgeSaysCancerSucks in the search bar on Amazon to see a wide selection of cancer-related shirts.
And maybe my favorite: You can click to join our team for the Super Heros Unite! taking place in SLC August 25th at Sugar House Park. Even if you can’t attend the walk, consider joining as a virtual walker. Our team is, you guessed it: GeorgeSaysCancerSucks.”
I hope that if you feel inclined to donate you will do so. Sign up with George for the Super Hero’s Unite. Reach out to someone you know who might be struggling with a loved one who has cancer. We can do more than we think we can.
Life is Good. Share the Good.