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.
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.”
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.
Let’s get this party started.