acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
Joshua was a regular 11-year-old. He played multiple sports, was learning to play the flute in the school band, and enjoyed having fun with his friends. After a few weeks of a nagging sore throat and enlarged tonsils, we took Josh to see his primary care physician (PCP). They ran some tests and sent him home. No big deal, just a routine trip to the doctor’s office. Josh's PCP called the next day at 6:00 p.m. . . . on a Saturday. She said that she was worried about some of Josh's blood test results and recommended we go to an urgent care or emergency room for further checks. Saturday evening is NOT the time to receive a call from a doctor telling you to take your child to the emergency room. This was also the first day of the big March 2021 Denver snowstorm. The timing was impeccable. We took Josh to the Children's Hospital in Highlands Ranch. We were expecting/hoping that it was strep or tonsillitis. After more bloodwork and tests, the attending physician shared her thoughts, cancer. All of his blood counts were below normal. We had her gently explain this news to Josh, and we all cried together. Josh was then transported by ambulance, which he said was not as much fun as he thought it would have been, to the main Children's Hospital in Aurora.
The days started to run together. Josh was immediately admitted to the inpatient cancer floor. He had more blood drawn, and everything felt like a whirlwind. Josh also had a bone marrow biopsy, followed by more waiting for answers and praying. The official diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) was given, and his care team immediately started discussing treatment options. Josh received a double Broviac® line in preparation for starting chemotherapy, however, one of the lines became clogged after a few days and had to be replaced. Luckily the second line performed flawlessly for the rest of his treatment. Throughout this process, Josh kept a great attitude. He kept asking what was next and wanted the process to move faster. There were many times during this journey that Josh’s strength helped keep our (his parents) spirits and mindset strong and positive.
Chemo caused Josh the typical rollercoaster reactions and sickness. Fine one minute and sick the next. There is no worse feeling as a parent than not being able to help your child and only watching the process take its toll. He continued to take it in stride and bounce back. Josh was truly the rock star. He held it together better than anyone. Josh continued to stay on track with his treatments and anticipated recovery timeframes.
During his time in the hospital, Josh learned how to still have fun while staying within his health limitations. He loved to walk his hospital unit and chat with the nurses and staff while handing out candy and snacks. He would welcome new patients to the floor and gift them the homemade bracelets he had been making in his hospital room. He also did a great job of keeping up with his schoolwork and was able to complete the sixth grade remotely. Josh also kept his playful side. One of his favorite pranks was to stay up late and surprise the nurses after pretending to be asleep. He also learned that the night shift is much slower and would allow him to goof around even more. It wasn’t uncommon to see Josh zooming around the hallway in one of the nursing desk chairs. He would even help some of the staff with their duties, like folding and storing sheets and towels. It is amazing to watch such a young man battling a life-threatening illness and still be able to bring smiles and laughs to the staff, patients, and even his own parents in such an emotionally charged time.
After four rounds of chemotherapy, 5½ months in the hospital (including his 12th birthday), and many Lego sets later, Josh rang the Warrior Bell and was discharged for the last time! Two weeks after that, we received the news that he was officially in remission! Josh made a quick transition back to school, rejoining his same class, now in the seventh grade. He immediately started looking for a sport he could participate in with his reduced physical ability, and he found bowling.
Josh is now a high school freshman. He has competed in multiple bowling leagues and recently bowled a 275! Josh’s goal was to return to football, and after weight training and preparing himself, he made the freshman team. He played the whole season and is looking forward to playing on the JV team next season. He never looked back and kept looking forward. Josh has dreams of becoming a pilot and already has his education plan ready.
Although Josh’s journey was filled with ups and downs, he is now soaring on a high. Unfortunately, this cannot be said of some of the patient friends Josh made during his hospital stay. One patient was diagnosed at roughly the same time with the same leukemia, and received the same treatment plan, but continued to relapse, necessitating additional chemo treatments and ultimately a bone marrow transplant. Another patient friend fared even worse, losing their fight six months after Josh’s remission. These are difficult conversations to have with Josh. As parents, we want him to know the outcome of his hospital companions but can only reassure him that each child reacts differently to the treatment received. Josh continues to be positive and supports his fellow patient friends through social media.
After everything Josh has been through, he should be able to adjust and conquer anything in the future. Josh has no regrets and doesn’t wallow in his past struggles with leukemia. He just takes everything as it comes and rolls with it. He is truly my superhero.
Written by parent.