Today is a beautiful day in May. The warm rays of the sun and butterflies that welcome the early summer fill me with a deep sorrow. A light breeze brings whispers to the trees and seem to carry the lovely voice of my son, who died some years ago of acute lymphocytic leukemia. He was just seven years old. It was a Sunday night, while nature was showing off her colorful dress and life was felt everywhere.
Then I thought, the world would have to come to an end. Painfully enough, life went on as always. The hospital as I left it, was a place without feeling, with ice cold rooms and hallways, with people walking around like robots.
Everything inside me screamed: Why did my son have to die at an age when he was just beginning to live? He had fought for years while on chemotherapy for a chance to live a normal life. He was a beautiful baby, always laughing, of happy nature and people called him the “ Gerber type baby”. He loved kids and animals and had an eye for everything beautiful. We were very close. He disliked sleeping in his bedroom. He wanted to be close to me, night and day. I remember that last conversation we had days before his death, as he promised never to leave me. We talked about Jesus. I was slowly getting him to realize that there was a better world up there, without the chemotherapy-ridden years that he had experienced. He began to ask questions like: Are there plenty of kids I could play with and will you go with me? Also, when he ask me some days, “ How come I can’t get up Mom, my legs are hurting ?’’ I replied, “ That will pass soon dear don’t worry. “ God forgive me.
For the longest time I couldn’t part from his toys and clothes. They were part of him. Sometimes I sat down in his room among all his things and it was like I could hear his laughter and see his big hazel eyes shining, when we blew up fireworks in the back yard.
Until the age of three, Gordan was a normal child except for some asthma problems, he later outgrew. Then, like a thunder in the night, he started to have stomach pains together with leg pains. He showed a sickly yellowish color and dark shades under his eyes. Fevers came and went. I took him to the Army Hospital close by. The attending physician insisted that Gordan had harmless gas pains. As his condition got worse, he ordered X-rays and confirmed the prior diagnosis. My instinct told me that there was something terrible wrong with him. Maybe his doctor didn’t read the X-ray right? I got the X-rays and went with them to a civilian doctor in hopes that he could see what was wrong. This doctor also couldn’t find anything abnormal. Other doctors examined him and came up with the same results.
In the meantime he was tormented with severe stomach pains and could not eat. His legs were hurting him so much, that I had to carry him most of the time. I got awfully depressed as I watched him suffer. On top of that, his hospital commander sent me a letter about my mistrust in Gordan’s pediatrician. I had seen civilian doctors. Consequently the army doctor refused further treatment for my son. I was a mother hard to get along with. I felt very humiliated. After all it was my duty to help my son.
Finally another army doctor decided to run some GI-tests. He said Gordan looked anemic. After he ran some blood tests he diagnosed him with acute anemia. Before long Gordan was transferred to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama to be examined by a hematology specialist. Confirmation was needed that were no other trouble spots. On the way to Birmingham in the ambulance my instinct kept hammering “anemia/leukemia, over and over”. As I looked down on him laying there so pale and weak, I prayed to God to get him well. All my worries and nightmares came true, when doctors in Birmingham told me that indeed they found he had acute lymphocitic leukemia. They had to start treatments right away. At that point he had just six more weeks to live. I couldn’t believe that it took a specialist to finally diagnose him correctly. A simple blood test earlier from the other doctors would have detected the cancer sooner.
Gordan had radiation at first and then regular chemotherapy. Soon he was feeling better and became more active. As all of his lovely hair came out, he was making fun at himself in the mirror. God knows, he was at an age not to realize the danger and eventual drama this disease could bring.
His first two years on chemotherapy were easy compared to the last tormenting ones. In between treatments we took him on various vacations. The Smoky Mountains were his favorite spot. Doctors had to okay every vacation. During that time he seemed like a normal, happy child enjoying life. He didn’t let the regularity of stomach sickness take control.
The first relapse came after two years. Our shock over that was mixed with hopeless feeling, as doctors said he only had a fifty percent chance for a cure now. Gordan had to have more intensive chemotherapy and again radiation. I still hear those screams coming out of the treatment room during a spinal or marrow procedure. It sounded like they came out of a torture dungeon. Later he was put on an anesthetic called Demerol. It went into his legs and eased the pain. I couldn’t understand why? The spinals and leukemia are pure horror. All those little children including my son had to take those for years sometimes.
I still often wonder, what if one of the doctors didn’t take a blood test? The outcome would have been great. Our hopes and that of Gordan’s doctors went downhill with his second relapse. Now was only a twenty five percent chance for life left. A marrow transplant was out of the question in Gordan’s case. His cell type wasn’t right for this. Again he had to undergo intense chemotherapy for weeks. There wasn’t much time now for him to play. Then came the final blow. He relapsed the third time. Doctors ran out of medicine for him.
The last couple of month in our son’s life were filled with injections into a hand vein, which made him awfully sick for hours. Gordan experienced all the horrors of chemotherapy, including a seizure with respiratory arrest. A side effect from the radiation. A morphine-based medicine eased his pains until the end.
He made the best out of his short life being a young boy trying to enjoy life like other kids, never knowing about the seriousness of leukemia, which we never told him.
I hope and pray, that one day there will be a cure for this terrible disease.