Tipping Pitches: Fatherhood: "Michael, You're Cured"


Monday, December 14, 2009

Fatherhood: "Michael, You're Cured"

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Our son Michael's annual oncology visit was scheduled for 9:00 this morning at the Denver Children's Hospital. If my math is correct, this was about our 15th visit to a children's hospital.

It's a trip that we expected to make another 10 times.

Our first trip was when we received Michael's original prognosis of neuroblastoma (a rare form of childhood cancer) in 2003. Michael was two and a half then, which makes him eight now. Quite a bit has changed since then. His tumor, golf ball sized and lodged between his aorta and spine, was successfully removed with surgery. We moved to New Jersey for two and a half years so that I could follow a dream to work for the NBA before moving back to Colorado last summer. I now work for the American Cancer Society.

We've changed. Cancer changed us. The hospital has changed, too. The former Denver Children's Hospital has been replaced by a new state-of-the-art facility. Still great doctors. Simply the tools to go with the talent.

Dr. Albano was the calming voice who stepped into our lives to assure us that, though this was indeed scary, Michael was going to be fine. We were in good hands.

It was only fitting that it was Dr. Albano who was there once again today.

Up at 7:30 in the morning, our family of five gathered ourselves and were on the road at a hair past Mama's deadline of 8:15. Lisa and I kept a strong face, kept things light and upbeat, and suppressed the natural parental instincts.

So many memories as we made that trek to and into the hospital. Some painful, some hopeful, some celebratory.

No parent can ever forget the sights and sounds associated with receiving the prognosis. I remember waiting with a crowd of family support while Michael was undergoing surgery. Waiting out the seeming eternity. Waiting until a cool surgeon emerged to talk the gathering through the delicate surgery and to assure us that all was fine. I remember the regular trips for tests, and calming young Michael during his CT scans with whirring toys, assuring him that his "trip in the spaceship" wouldn't take long.

It all comes back on a trip like this. I don't necessarily want to forget it all. It was a good experience for all of us. It helped us appreciate what we have, learn what was important, and care for those not so fortunate. As we walked through the hospital today, we saw many families going through their own journeys, and some will have more ominous conclusions.

I see the sick kids and their parents who I know feel just as much pain, if not more. I get stuck in between looking away so as not to stare and wanting to run up and give them all a big hug. I ache for them.

Michael is a pro now and provided his blood and urine on demand. He handles it great, although he doesn't talk much about this. Always has a happy face. Never reveals much to his friends or teachers. His love is baseball, and that's what he wants to talk about.

Even though all has been well for six years, I'm a parent and I'm always worried. It's not rational, but parents aren't always rational beings. Every cold, every strange mark. That's my job. He has no need to worry about those things, but that's what his mother and I do.

When Dr. Albano entered the room, it felt like six years earlier. Unsure and nervous, I needed her assurance that all was ok.

I wish all doctors were like her. So calm, so caring. She collected necessary information from us and then turned to Michael. "How are you? How do you feel? How is school? Do you play sports? What is your favorite sport? What position do you play?"

Michael was unusually shy, but he obliged. Then he ran down the hall and back to show off his superhuman speed for the doctor.

Yup, he's fine.

Dr. Albano said she was going to check to see if there were any preliminary results, which was somewhat surprising to me. The urine tests, in particular, can take weeks.

I stepped out briefly and returned to find the kind doctor and my wife standing, talking, teary-eyed.

"What did I miss?" I asked.

"A lot."

Suppress the parental instinct.

His blood tests came back within the normal range. It's been six years. And based on the type of cancer and results we continue to get, we no longer need to make this trip.

"Michael," she said, "you're cured."

We no longer need to make this annual trip. We no longer need to worry about Michael. His cancer isn't coming back. Since he never needed radiation, the odds of him getting cancer are as good as those of any other child.

We thought we'd be making this trip until Michael was 18. We never expected to hear that today was our swan song. Our retirement party.

Cancer is out of our lives.

But we'll continue to worry about Michael. And Ryan. And Jake. Because that's our job as parents. There's no cure for that.

And we'll also continue to make the annual trip to Denver Children's Hospital around this time of the year. But it will be a different trip.

On the way out of the hospital today, we stopped by the volunteer office so that Michael and Ryan could drop off the gifts that they had bought with their own money for kids who were staying away from home for the holidays.

Presents for kids who need a smile. Kids of parents who need a hug.


Anonymous said...

Dude, awesome stuff. It got a little misty in my office as I read this. Cohen

Anonymous said...

"His cancer isn't coming back." Words that you wish to hear but until you do, I imagine that you can't fully grasp them or even believe that they're possible. I am so happy for you and Lisa.
- Erin Endreson

Jon Loomer on December 14, 2009 said...

Thanks, Cohen. You've been part of this story from the beginning. Glad to hear you liked it.

Exactly, Erin! There will always be other things to worry about as a parent, but comforting to know that the risks of this monster coming back in its previous form are gone.

rachel said...

Cancer has shaped almost my entire life. Reading this has definitely given me new hope. Congrats on receiving such great news!

Anonymous said...

Very happy for you and your family Looms! ~McSorley

Mandy Blumreich on December 15, 2009 said...

With the amount I worry about my kids, I can only begin to imagine what those trips have been like for you and Lisa. So glad that you received such wonderful news yesterday! The generosity of you and your boys is inspiring.

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