January 24, 2012, will forever be a memorable date for me. That Tuesday morning began with a greater sense of fear and anxiety than I have every know. We were learning if the experiment had worked, if the drug Imatinib, also called Gleevec, had successfully treated the leukemia cells throughout Harrison’s body. To this point those cells had proven entirely resistant to traditional chemotherapy. This morning doctors would draw bone marrow from Harrison’s hip, look for leukemia cells, and tell us if Harrison would live or die.
My colleagues and students were gathering at 10:00 AM to convene a new semester. I huddled with my wife and son. We drove to the hospital not sure if we would all be leaving together. We packed Harrison a bag, anticipating that he might have to check into the hospital for the final time. To say I was frightened would be an understatement. In the six weeks since Harrison’s diagnosis I had lost twelve pounds. I hadn’t eaten in days. I was a wreck.
Dr. Weston had been upfront with us all along. This treatment was a long shot. No other child had been successfully treated for Harrison’s form of cancer. In football-speak, we were throwing a Hail Mary pass. We had one shot. Stanford-Cal. Boston College-Miami. Auburn-Georgia. One play to decide the game. Only failure meant my son’s death.
Dr. Weston emerged from the procedure room with a tube of Harrison’s marrow. That tube contained to answer to the single important question at the moment: was he finally in remission? Would there be even a faint hope of his surviving cancer.
The doctor didn’t say a word to us as he left to hand-deliver the package to the pathologist. He didn’t even look our way. Silently he passed by, as if already thinking he would have to break the worst news imaginable to us in a few short moment. While we prayed with our still-sleeping son, Dr. Weston stayed with the pathologist to learn the results.
Waiting for a call wouldn’t do.
The pathologist looked at the sample of marrow. Then Dr. Weston. Then Dr. Hsu, the fellow. They all saw the same thing. The only thing that remained was to give us the news.
By the time Dr. Weston returned to the clinic Harrison was awake. He was sitting in chair #9 when the door opened. My heart stopped when I saw the doctors. Then, from across the room, Brent Weston smiled from ear to ear and gave us a “thumbs up.” Ginger raced across the clinic with tears streaming down her face to hug him. As we approached he said, “We have a touchdown!!” We all cried. We all hugged. Ginger’s sister and brother-in-law cried with us. The entire clinic celebrated with us. I felt like I’ve never felt before or since.
After six weeks of failure. After a near-fatal stroke. After feeling hopeless and helpless, we had the first good news of Harrison’s journey.
When emotions finally settled down we turned our attention to the three-plus years of chemo remaining. No time to celebrate, we still had a monster to slay.
But the passage of Scripture I still wear on my arm, Psalm 126, came to mind as we finally exhaled:
Those who sow with tears shall reap with shouts of joy.Psalm 126
And on the second anniversary of that momentous occasion there were shouts of joy again. Thanks for rejoicing in the kindness of our God with us.