Prior to my 10-year-old son being diagnosed with leukemia, I worked as a diabetes nurse educator at a local hospital. I had been an RN for over 15 years and was able to balance home life with work; I loved educating patients on how to deal with their diabetes and collaborating with colleagues. All that came to a screeching halt when David complained of hip pain and started limping. Within a matter of one week, he was unable to walk due to being in so much pain. It took several weeks before a bone marrow aspiration gave us the definitive diagnosis of acute lymphocytic leukemia. I was in the pediatric oncologist’s office when I received the news. Joe, my husband, was on a business trip in California, and I had the doctor call to give him the bad news. The doctor told Joe she was optimistic that David would achieve remission. Joe flew home that day. David was immediately admitted into a major metropolitan children’s hospital and started a two-year protocol of chemotherapy. The nurse in me wanted to take charge. I asked questions, checked his IV lines, and observed him. I started reading about leukemia and all that the diagnosis entailed. Emotionally, being a nurse kept me from falling apart and from feeling the sense of uncontrolled fear a cancer diagnosis thrusts upon you. David was in too much discomfort to say anything about my nursing approach to his care. The week he was in the hospital was an utter nightmare — everyone around you is trying to stay calm and trying their best to reassure you, but as a parent of a 10 year old, you see your once-healthy child experience deep, agonizing pain and you can’t do anything except plead for the nurses and doctors to take it away.
David was finally discharged home, and we were then making daily visits to the oncologist’s office for treatment. The trip took an hour each way and spent a great deal of time together. We also learned about how we each coped with all the changes that were being thrown our way. We would come home from the doctor’s office late in the day after a long day of treatment; David was exhausted and complaining how tired he was. The nurse in me kept intervening. I asked him what I could do to make him feel better. That was when my sweet boy gave me the best advice I needed to hear. He told me he just wanted us to be a family. He needed me to be his mom, not his nurse. I obliged. My son taught me valuable lessons about life and what true courage is when faced with a serious illness.
David died at the age of 15.
Robin Bennett Kanarek is president, Kanarek Family Foundation.
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