WE ASK THE QUESTIONS:
HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?
HOW CAN I GET THROUGH THIS SEASON OF LIFE?
SOMETIMES THERE ARE NO CLEAR ANSWERS.
WITH CHILDHOOD CANCER, THE WHYS AND THE HOWS DON’T HAVE THE CLEAR ANSWERS WE WANT.
SEPTEMBER IS CHILDHOOD CANCER AWARENESS MONTH.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Every day, 43 children are diagnosed with cancer.
- 12% of children diagnosed with cancer do not survive.
- Children’s cancer affects all ethnic, gender and socio-economic groups.
- The average age of children diagnosed is six years old.
- More than 40,000 children undergo treatment for cancer each year. ( From Curesearch for Children's Cancer)
Nathan is the son of my cousin, Lindsay. Our family (my dad’s side) is a very large West Texas family. We are all very close, full of life, and loud. We are involved in each other’s lives, and extend unconditional love to each other. Growing up, Lindsay and I were not close due to the ten-year age difference between us, but one summer afternoon that changed. Instead of enjoying casual conversations, about life, I began to admire her unwavering strength, steadfast faith, and fighting spirit for the life of her son.
Nathan’s Journey by Lindsay Lupton Eckert
Nathan was a typical 3-year-old, who loved his school, friends, playing with his older brother, riding on his granddad’s tractor, and most of all - Superheroes. He had the typical redheaded temperament, but would turn around and give the best hugs. His dad (Jason) even invented the running punch hug, just for Nathan.
Our journey began one hot June day in 2012. Nathan would not stop complaining of pain in his left ear. As a Physician Assistant for the Southwest Cancer Center in Lubbock, I knew most ear infections don’t need to be treated, so I decided to wait a few days and see if his ear would get better on its own. It didn’t. After trying several different medications and treatments, Nathan still complained. He went from being an active, sociable 3-year-old boy, to a boy who would sit alone crying while holding his ear. I thought, in my practice if adults complain of unilateral ear pain, I automatically consider some type of head/neck tumor in my differential. That possibility never crossed my mind for a 3-year-old, especially my baby!
The nightmare got worse; while brushing Nathan’s teeth, I noticed the side of his mouth was drooping. We immediately headed to the ER where an initial CT and MRI were done and determined that there was an abscess at the base of his skull.
The rollercoaster of emotions began. The next day, an ENT doctor reviewed Nathan’s chart and explained to us that the abscess was actually a tumor, but looked benign. I was shocked. He explained to us the next step would be traveling to Dallas and seeing a pediatric ENT who specializes in these types of tumors. Jason and I were scared and had so many unanswered questions. I kept thinking, WHY?
Immediately, we headed to Dallas for any available appointment time with an ENT doctor. After a few days of waiting to be seen, an ENT finally saw Nathan and admitted him for surgery the next day. Our worst fears were confirmed when the ENT surgeon said the words – CANCER, a sarcoma tumor that was inoperable. WHY? How could this happen?
After a week of tests, pathology results showed an undifferentiated sarcoma, and chemotherapy began immediately. The entire 2 weeks, Nathan stayed in Dallas, he hardly ate, would not talk, and would not play with anyone until we got in the car and headed back to Lubbock. Nathan talked to us the entire way from Dallas to Lubbock, which would normally have been quite exhausting, but was music to our ears. He requested bean burritos, pizza, and macaroni and cheese and actually ate it!
The next 6 months consisted of chemotherapy and radiation and the emotional roller coaster continued for us. The tumor had shrunk in size (emotional high), but was still not operable (emotional low). We sent his MRI images all over the United States, but the answer was always the same. In January of 2013, he was found to have a spot on his humerus (emotional low). After a bone biopsy, it was determined to be a benign cyst (emotional high).
In April, it all came crashing down. Nathan began complaining again of severe ear pain; his facial droop began to worsen and he quit eating. We knew the cancer was back, but hoped and prayed it was a type of post-radiation effect. We went back to Dallas and learned Nathan’s tumor had regrown to its original size. No other treatment was available. No promising research studies were available anywhere in the U.S. The doctors gave Nathan about 3 months to live. WHY?
We drove back to Lubbock feeling completely defeated. How would we explain to Nathan’s older brother that his brother was going to die? How would we accept it ourselves? Nathan wanted to go back to his school with his friends. How do we do this? We let him, until he felt too bad to go back. In July 2013, one year after this journey began, the pain was so bad that Nathan was put on morphine for pain relief, and eventually entered hospice care. WHY?
Our sweet, redheaded baby boy passed away on August 13, 2013, just 1 day after Jason’s and my wedding anniversary, and 4 months before his 5th birthday. The little boy, who absolutely loved superheroes! The little boy who loved ketchup and strawberry milk. The little boy who loved sharing just about anything – giving his balloon bouquet away to a little boy with leukemia. The little boy who freely gave out hugs and kisses, especially to his granddad.
That was truly the hardest year of our lives. How did we get through the year? We never would have without the incredible support of our family, friends, church-family and, of course, God. The extraordinary, selfless, random acts of kindness extended to Nathan and our family were truly remarkable. We were overwhelmed. Jason and I continue to remember the tremendous amount of love we received from so many people: my coworkers sending a big box to the hospital with gift cards, snacks, and activities for Nathan; our Sunday school class scheduling and providing meals; strangers buying our dinner or asking about Nathan so they could add him to their prayer lists; the doctor that helped us get an appointment in Dallas would buy treats for Nathan when we would take him to the Texas Tech basketball games; my sister and her husband organizing a golf tournament and the money was donated to the Make-a-Wish; Mimi and her family opening their home so we would not have to stay in a hotel; a Marine heard about Nathan and sent him their company hat (Nathan loved that hat!); my uncle’s neighbor took Nathan and his brother on a helicopter ride over our house just so they could see it from above; my husband’s friend, Jacob, ran the Iron Man at Buffalo Springs Lake in 2014 and 2015 in Nathan's honor and used it as a fundraiser for Make-A-Wish; the list goes on and on. The non-profits were also very generous; The Angel Fund sent us a check to help pay for Christmas presents, and Make-A-Wish sent us to Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando so Nathan could see all his Superhero buddies!
We continue to celebrate Nathan’s life by participating in the CureSearch Run. (Nathan was treated according to one of their protocols). The September after Nathan’s passing was the first time we participated. Each child gets a medal, and that year they gave Nathan's medal to his brother, Josh. We continue to walk by faith and know that God works all things for his glory.
Just like the founders I featured in my August post, Lindsey’s words remind me again of the song "Walk by Faith" by Jeremy Camp. These families battling cancer truly walk by faith, even when they can’t see what is ahead, and their perseverance continues to lead them down the broken road of life.
Psalm 139:9-10 “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast!”