Three Years Ago Today

Steve McKinion Uncategorized 4 Comments

December 9, 2011, began like thousands of other days in the McKinion household: Ginger took the kids to school and I parked in front of the computer to work. The simple life we knew.

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Only three hours later the calm of preparing for the end of the semester would be shattered by a call from Ginger:

“I’m coming to pick you up; we have to take Harrison to the hospital.”

What?

Harrison had been sick for a few weeks. Nothing major, just weak, tired, and pale. Like a virus. But when he couldn’t recover Ginger decided to go to the pediatrician on the advice of Mrs. Walker, one of Harrison’s teachers.

“What did the doctor say,” I asked.

Her reply: “We’ll learn more when we get to the hospital.”

Harrison had low red blood cell count. Dangerously low. He needed a blood transfusion.

Plus he had a high white blood cell count. Dangerously high. Higher than when the body is fighting a virus or an infection.

He was lethargic. He had leg pain. He had night sweats.

Individually, those symptoms mean nothing. Together they mean one thing: blood cancer.

It took a simple web search to learn what would be confirmed later that night: Harrison had cancer.

As soon as I got in the car I whispered to Ginger, “He has blood cancer.”

Harrison overheard me and said through tears, “I have blood cancer? Am I going to die?”

I did what I’ve done several times since Harrison’s diagnosis, I lied to my son.

“No, you don’t have cancer and you aren’t going to die.”

I told him what I wanted him to believe. What I wanted to believe myself.

Within hours Harrison was tucked into a hospital bed in Chapel Hill. Ginger and I sitting on a vinyl couch in shock. Still holding out hope this was all a terrible mistake. Doctors make mistakes all the time, right?

But there was no mistake. A phone call from Dr. Weston confirmed our greatest fears.

Our son had cancer.

Harrison has endured a great deal, but has survived to his third diagnosivery (as we so fittingly calls these days in the childhood cancer world). We pray there will be many, many more.

And Harrison wants to celebrate. Not celebrate cancer, he said, but celebrate surviving it.

So today we begin–appropriately enough–with a trip to the hospital for sedation, bone marrow biopsy (more on that later), and chemo infusion. Then school. Then a party. No cake, no candles, no presents, just time together as a family. A family of five.

Celebrate Life.

Let’s get this party started.

Six Months To Go

Steve McKinion Uncategorized 1 Comment

Six month into Harrison’s treatment was a tremendous milestone. Those were the hardest six months of his young life. He was sick, had the miss the second semester of fourth grade, and nearly died several times. When he survived for six months in leukemia treatment we celebrated. More children die with leukemia than die from leukemia. Why? The first treatment is so deadly.

That was two and a half years ago. Here’s a before and an after.

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And what a difference two and a half years can make.

Please continue to pray for perseverance. Six months of chemotherapy is still a long, long time. And dangers remain. Besides the obvious threat of a relapse of the cancer, there is still the danger of infection due to Harrison’s immunosuppressed state. Flu season is upon us. Sick kids at school are a danger.

Harrison said the other night, “It’s only six months, I know I can do this.” That kind of perseverance is unmatched. I’m hoping I can approach life like that one day as well.

Happy Birthday, Harrison

Steve McKinion Uncategorized 3 Comments

Happy birthday to the world’s newest teenager!

I’ve thought about what I would say today for some time. Upbeat? Somber? Melancholy? Angry? Relieved?

Any of those emotions would be fitting.

But as the day got closer one word continued to come to mind: Blessed.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, because they will be comforted.” That word “Blessed” could just as easily (and rightly) be translated, “Happy.” God’s kind comfort of my son, my family, and me is the source of genuine happiness and blessing.

Today Harrison turns thirteen. Thirteen. Never imagined my youngest child being a teenager. But it happened.

Harrison’s third birthday with cancer. And, hopefully, his last.

Of course, we are relieved to be here. Too many times over the past three years Harrison has knocked on heaven’s door. He failed induction therapy (only 2% of all leukemia patients fail to achieve remission), he had a stroke, got the flu, had a deadly fungal infection, suffered several other potentially deadly infections of unknown origin, and survived two blood clots in his brain thanks to an experimental frozen plasma infusion.

He should never have made it this far with all he’s endured.

But he’s still here. He’s still fighting, still enjoying the blessed life.

Tonight he’ll be treated to his “traditional” birthday meal: his favorite Japanese steakhouse. He’s been talking about it for weeks. He was there five days before being diagnosed with cancer. He said, “We have to go there every year as a reminder that cancer didn’t win.”

Birthdays mean different things to different people. To a child with cancer they mean one thing: I survived another year!

Happy birthday, Harrison.

“I Can’t Do This Any More”

Steve McKinion Uncategorized 11 Comments

Tuesday was Harrison’s monthly trip to UNC for chemo infusion. These trips are relatively routine for us. They are just a part of life now. But they aren’t routine for Harrison. He’s sick of going. And tired. And hurting. Physically and emotionally.

At this appointment, Harrison’s oncologist, Dr. Brent Weston, gave us a quick update of where we stand. It was slightly disappointing, so I’ve hesitated to pass it along.

Of course, we’ve learned that childhood cancer is simply one disappointment for Harrison after another.

Essentially, here is where we are.

Medically, things are GREAT (as far as we know). There has not been a relapse. There are no leukemia cells appearing in Harrison’s blood. His counts are great. He remains in remission.

But the doctors believe Harrison’s leukemia will require long term treatment; as though three and a half years isn’t long-term enough. When his conventional chemotherapy ends in April, they will keep him on one of his drugs “indefinitely.”

Harrison knows what “indefinitely” means. So he asked, “Am I going to be taking medicine for the rest of my life?”

Dr. Weston responded, “Probably so.”

Stunned silence from a usually vibrant Harrison. The color vanished from his face. His countenance dropped.

Harrison had been counting down the days until his last chemo pill – No Mo’ Chemo.

Cancer stole the fourth grade. Cancer stole football. Cancer stole his childhood. Harrison wants nothing more than to be rid of cancer. And now he is being told it would be with him forever.

Here’s the best explanation why:

Harrison’s cancer is a terrible, terrible variety that resists traditional chemo. It is caused (at least in part) by a chromosome mutation resulting in a particular type of activity called a tyrosine kinase. Gleevec inhibits tyrosine kinases.

The doctors do not know how chronic Harrison’s tyrosine kinase activity is. All of his leukemia cells could be gone. Or ONE could remain.

And if even one leukemia cell remains, his cancer would spread again.

Gleevec is used to treat a similar leukemia to Harrison’s, and studies have shown that whenever a child with that type of leukemia stops Gleevec, the leukemia returns. So…better safe than sorry.

It is more complicated than that (medically), but that’s simple enough for me to understand.

HOWEVER, better safe than sorry is not nearly as good as “cancer free and chemo free” would be, especially to Harrison.

While he will still stop traditional chemotherapy in April (provided nothing changes between now and then), he will continue cancer treatment indefinitely.

Harrison. Is. Devastated.

That night he said, “I can’t do this any more.”

Heartbreaking.

We should know more about any other plans shortly.

Thanks for praying for Harrison.

A Great New Book

Steve McKinion Uncategorized 1 Comment

I have a soft spot for kids. I’ve never understood child abuse. When kids hurt, I hurt. Part of my love of coaching is the chance to help kids who might not get a chance. I hate seeing coaches mistreat players, either directly or simply by neglecting them. Too often I’ve seen coaches who just don’t know what they are doing overlook a kid (maybe s/he doesn’t look “athletic” enough – whatever that means) or push them to the side because of some bias.

The biggest pain I’ve known is being a childhood cancer parent. As much as it pains me to see other kids suffer, the pain of seeing my own kid suffer is sometimes unbearable. Many days I collapse under the weight of seeing my son’s suffering.  Add to that the hurt of watching my wife and other kids suffer with him. Some days are simply a blur.

bookSo I cannot imagine a parent who leaves their kid behind. I simply cannot imagine it.

But it happens. All the time.  Some parents leave to pursue other loves. Some leave because they are pushed away by a bitter spouse.

And the child who is left behind is always the one hurt the most.

That’s why I am glad that my former student Jonathan Edwards was willing to write about his own pain as a “Left” child. Many children of amicable divorces do just fine. But when a child no longer has a parent in their lives, there is typically pain, bitterness, hurt, sadness, and loss.

If you’ve ever know the pain of a parent leaving you, or if you know someone who has, I would encourage you to pick up this book.

Purchase from Amazon

or visit the website at www.left-book.com