Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 4

ROUNDS FIRST PERSON

What I realized when
my son had cancer
You can't really know what the parents
of sick kids go through until you've lived
through it yourself.
BY ROBERT ENGLISH, M.D.

W

hen my 14-year-old son mentioned he had a bump on
his neck, I didn't think much of it. He said it felt like a
marble under his skin. When my wife told me she felt a second
bump two days later, I felt it myself. As I made my way down his
neck, I felt a mass behind his clavicle. I knew this was serious.
On my way to work, my mind raced to the kids I'd cared
for with chest malignancies. I remembered several cases
that didn't end well. I called a colleague in hematology oncology who suggested a chest X-ray and complete blood count
(CBC). His mom took him in for the tests, and two hours later I
checked on the results. My relief at the normal CBC was shortlived when I read the X-ray report suggesting a mediastinal
mass. The gripping fear was overwhelming. All I could think
about was whether or not my son had a lethal malignancy.
The next morning, we brought him in for a biopsy. The wait was agonizing. When the surgeon
walked out with an oncologist, the question
was not whether or not it was cancer but what
kind of cancer it was. The next two hours were
a blur-learning it was Hodgkin's lymphoma,
watching him wake up from anesthesia, driving
home and explaining he would undergo chemotherapy. His only concern in that moment: "Can I
still see my friends tonight?"
He started four three-week cycles of chemotherapy. Doctors warned us about the side effects.
I'd seen kids go through this during my training as
a pediatric cardiologist, but I never imagined what
it was actually like for them. Midway through his first cycle,
he came to me and said he didn't feel well. I saw the gray, ashen
look of a child with an infection. His fever spiked on the way
to the emergency department. Before we knew it, he was hypotensive and getting fluid boluses to keep his blood pressure
up. By the next morning, he was doing better, and the doctor
discharged him the next day. After dodging one bullet, I asked
myself if I could do this for 11 more weeks.
At the midpoint of his treatment, he had another round of
scans, which showed the lymphoma was responding-his
chances of being cured were good. He hoped he could stop chemotherapy. I knew it made him sick, but I didn't understand

just how bad it made him feel. He begged me to consider stopping treatment. I told him stopping was not an option.
After finishing four cycles of chemo, he underwent more
scans. The anxiety I felt when waiting for the results was
paralyzing. I could barely breathe, and my stomach ache,
which had been getting worse for four months,
reached its peak. I delayed checking on the results
out of fear. Finally, I looked at the report, frantically scanning to the bottom to read there was no
evidence of disease. The chemo worked. I sobbed.
The anxiety started to fade. But it all came roaring back when he developed a swollen node in his
neck three months after remission. Thankfully,
it turned out to be nothing. The fear lost its grip,
and slowly the worry has gone away. It now comes
in small doses-a bad dream, learning of a child
with Hodgkin's who has relapsed, a swollen node.
Hopefully, the fear of relapse will disappear.
What have I learned? You can't really know
what the parents of sick kids are going through until you've
lived it. You can't really understand what a hospitalization is
like until you've been through one. Everyone who cares for
sick kids should work hard every day to treat those kids the
way they would want their own to be treated. It's that simple.

AFTER DODGING
ONE BULLET, I
ASKED MYSELF
IF I COULD DO
THIS FOR 11
MORE WEEKS.

4

CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL S TODAY Spring 2018

Robert English, M.D., is co-director, Cardiac Catheterization
Laboratory at Wolfson Children's Hospital and associate
professor, University of Florida-Jacksonville Pediatric
Cardiovascular Center.
Tell your story. Email magazine@childrenshospitals.org.



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018

Contents
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - Intro
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - Cover1
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - Cover2
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - Contents
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 2
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 3
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 4
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 5
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 6
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 7
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 8
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 9
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 10
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 11
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 12
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 13
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 14
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 15
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 16
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 17
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 18
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 19
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 20
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 21
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 22
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 23
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 24
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 25
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 26
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 27
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 28
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 29
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 30
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 31
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - 32
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - Cover3
Children's Hospitals Today - Spring 2018 - Cover4
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