A dad’s perspective on his child’s cancer

Theron Blair’s elder son, Trey, 7, has leukemia. In the two years since his son’s diagnosis, Blair has learned what it takes to be the parent of a kid with cancer. He shares his insights:

Theron Blair of Baldwinsville with his sons Tyler, 5 (left), and Trey, 7. Chemotherapy left Trey bald for a while, and now that his hair is growing back, he's not cutting it. Now, Trey has daily oral chemotherapy medication and sees pediatric oncologist Andrea Dvorak, MD, and nurse Yvonne Dolce monthly at the Upstate Cancer Center. (photo by Robert Mescavage)

Theron Blair of Baldwinsville with his sons Tyler, 5 (left), and Trey, 7. Chemotherapy left Trey bald for a while, and now that his hair is growing back, he’s not cutting it. Now, Trey has daily oral chemotherapy medication and sees pediatric oncologist Andrea Dvorak, MD, and nurse Yvonne Dolce monthly at the Upstate Cancer Center. (photo by Robert Mescavage

  • Answer the phone when your wife calls

My wife phoned from the grocery store and said she’d gotten a call to take Trey to the hospital. We’d taken him to the pediatrician because his legs hurt and his stomach was bothering him. A blood test showed Trey’s iron was low.

When we got to the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital, they sat us down and explained that he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (see box, below). Within

24 hours, Trey was in surgery having a port put in his chest for chemotherapy.

It was April 23, 2015.

  • Shave your head

Early on, when Trey had heavy chemo treatments, his hair started falling out. I’ll never forget him saying, “Dad, why is this happening to me?” as he looked in the mirror. That day, I shaved my head, so we’d be matching bald guys.

Last April, his brother, Tyler, shaved his head to raise money for pediatric cancer research.

  • Learn to give shots

Everything is hard when your child has cancer, but giving chemotherapy injections at home is really difficult. Your child is going through a lot, and you have to put him through more. But you’ve got to learn to do it, and do it well, so he can get healthy.

  • Invest in paper towels

Everything needs to be extra clean, so you can avoid exposing your child to infection. Wash your hands. Use paper towels and disinfectant wipes. (Sponges and cloths spread germs.) Don’t be afraid to tell friends and neighbors, “You have a runny nose? Don’t visit!”

  • Pay attention to both sons

“Doesn’t my brother like me any more?” was our younger son’s fear when Trey came home from the hospital. Tyler had welcomed Trey home with a punch which, in the past, would have led to wrestling, but Trey didn’t feel good.

Children understand more than you think, so listen and talk with them about what’s happening.

  • Be understanding

Trey had times when he couldn’t control his anger because he was on steroids. He would say, “Mommy, I’m yelling at you, and I don’t like it.”

Help your child understand that it’s the medication, and the condition, that are affecting his actions. Remind both children that they have good hearts.

  • Eat healthy

Steroid treatments made Trey crave salt. Salty foods made his edema (swelling) so bad that he couldn’t walk. We knew we had to change our diets, so we set ground rules. Now our sons know, “We have to eat something healthy first.”

Trey likes broccoli, and Tyler likes bell peppers. Once in a while, we have pizza and ice cream, but fresh vegetables are every day.

  • Stay positive

Try to stay positive, even when things are rough.

What kind of cancer is that?

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, abbreviated as ALL and sometimes called acute lymphocytic leukemia, is the most common type of childhood leukemia.

ALL is a fast-growing cancer that develops in lymphoblasts, which are immature forms of the white blood cells called lymphocytes found in the bone marrow.

The cancerous cells can build up, crowding out normal cells, then spill into the bloodstream and spread to other parts of the body.

If not treated, ALL would probably be fatal within a few months.

The usual treatment is a varied course of chemotherapy that typically lasts two to three years.

Source: American Cancer Society

Cancer Care magazine summer 2018 coverThis article appears in the summer 2018 issue of Cancer Care magazine.

 

 

 

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