Today is December 7. The anniversary of the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor.
But the date I have in mind is two days from today: December 9, 2011. On that date my youngest child was diagnosed with cancer. It was the start of a terrible journey for my little boy. A fourth grader excited about Christmas was suddenly thrust into a world of pain, sickness, surgery, chemotherapy, bone marrow biopsies, and dying kids. He would, on that day, become a childhood cancer patient.
That day was a Friday, just like today. A precious teacher from his school had noticed Harrison looked pale and recommended we take him to the pediatrician. That morning, as I worked on finalizing the fall semester, my wife took Harrison to the doctor, fully expecting her to say he had a virus that needed to run its course.
Within an hour Ginger called me and said, “Meet me at home. We have to go to the hospital. Harrison is very sick.”
What? What did the pediatrician say?
“Just that we need to get there. His white blood cell count is high and his hemoglobin is low.”
I did a quick Google search for “high white cell count, low hemoglobin, pale.” This first result was blood cancer. My heart sank.
We raced to the the closest ER. The nightmare was just beginning.
In the car I mentioned to Ginger what I saw online. Blood cancer. I didn’t think Harrison could hear me.
“Do I have cancer?!” he asked.
“No, son, you don’t have cancer.” I lied.
“Am I gonna die?!”
“No, you aren’t gonna die. Just relax. They just want to check you out.”
After several hours the ER doctor took my Ginger and me into the family room: “It’s either a virus or cancer. Those are the only two options. His counts make me think it is a virus, but we are sending the results to UNC Chapel Hill for an oncologist to look at.” He also said that they wanted to send Harrison to UNC to be checked out.
Whew, the doctor thinks its just a virus.
My brother and his wife had gotten to the ER almost the same time we did. They stayed with us the entire time. When we told them what the doctor said, we were relieved. A virus, not cancer.
I went home to pick up some clothes for the expected hospitalization, still believing that Harrison had a bad virus. But while I was on the way Ginger called: “The doctor stopped me in the hallway and said it is probably cancer.”
Before “cancer” could register, I became angry. Angry that the doctor had mislead us (even unintentionally). Angrier that he had nonchalantly informed my wife, “Your son has cancer.” Angriest that he had done so without her husband there to suffer with her. Had I seen him again I would have done something I would later regret.
But right then, in the car, life, for a moment stopped. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t cry. I was frozen.
Once I met them atUNC, life suddenly began to spiral out of control. Doctors, nurses, procedures, explanations, cancer. Please just stop, I thought. Slow down for a minute. I need to get off of this ride before I vomit. Where is the emergency stop button?!
But there was no way to stop. Delay meant death. There was no time to reflect, consider, contemplate. Only time to react. To sign forms. To listen to oncologists while my son answers questions from kind nurses. Barely time to think about tomorrow, much less the future.
We didn’t sign up for this. Harrison certainly didn’t.
But patiently he endured. The questions. The prodding. The probing. The pain. He was frightened, I am certain, but never said a word about it. He never cried. He was strong and courageous. That night he became my hero.
In the pediatric cancer world there is no “celebrating” diagnosis. But there is remembering. How could you forget?
Harrison started today like any other. Excited for school. Excited to see friends. Living life to the fullest. He didn’t need cancer to convince him to “live like he’s dying.”
But for Ginger and me, today was anything but another Friday. We still face the daily reality of Harrison’s fight. Today is a stark reminder of our little boy’s suffering. And while December 9 is a date that will live in infamy, by the grace of God we will rise from the ashes and enjoy life. Not in taking life by the horns, but in walking in the favor and kindness of our Triune God.
Psalm 126 was a passage our church family was reading together the week Harrison was diagnosed. It has become the theme of our journey together:
 A Song of Ascents. When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.  Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”  The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.  Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negeb!  Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!  He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. – Psa 126:1-6 ESV
The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.