If you knew how many times I have tried to type this sentence … over and over … how it’s agonized me to have to tell you this story. I wish I didn’t have to.
I sure hoped we could have connected a different way. Perhaps on the playground or at a PTA meeting or on a golf course, or in the aisle of Pavilions, wondering together why the cost of raspberries is so high (and how much our kids love ‘em so we buy them anyway!)
That’s the way we should have met.
I don’t want to start with this, “On February 17th my son’s name “Jackson Reece” and “cancer” were uttered in the same sentence and our world went upside down…” But it’s hard to think of anything else at this moment.
So here goes … first, I want to thank you for taking the time to read my words. It’s a first for me to “blog” … be patient with me friend.
My child has been diagnosed with aggressive, terminal GBM brain cancer. My son, my beautiful, kind, generous, smart, athletic, first born son is in the battle of his life right now.
There, I said it.
That was really, really hard. It’s dilapidating actually.
Like every cancer patient or family who is affected by cancer, I didn’t think this ugly disease would come knocking on our door. It certainly was not welcome, nor were we expecting its arrival. And I wish it had an expiration date or a plane to catch and get the heck out of my home. But it doesn’t. It’s here to stay. And we are gonna have to learn to live together, one way or another.
Shock? Yes. Disbelief? Yes. Anger? Oh yeah. Fear? Don’t get me started on that one. All in all, there are so many emotions I have right now, most of which I am sure I can’t even explain to you. But I have a feeling, you’d understand that I can’t.
Let me go back a little bit so you’re up-to-date on us.
Jackson Reece was born on Feb.26, 2002. It wasn’t the easiest of labors, but the reward, how sweet he was! He is our first born, soon followed by our other son Willis 17 months later. (My husband Mark and I are both USC alumni and actually met on campus as young college students. We were married soon after we graduated, then went on to have these two great kids.) We have been in the Sothern California area all of our lives, and have always been really active! These two blondies of ours love to play golf, tennis, swim, walk their dog and watch NASCAR and college sports. Thank goodness they both love school and homework’s never too much of a chore. Jackson’s a USC fan … and Willis, well he roots for the UCLA Bruins but one day he will come around. (I kid, but what do you expect from this Trojan?!!?) We have been blessed that all of this time they have been healthy, happy and just all around caring, good boys.
And here’s where our story of cancer comes out of nowhere into our lives …
At the start of February ‘11, Jackson started to get headaches and throw up in the morning. Mark and I figured it was the flu going around … so for a couple of days, Jackson and I hunkered down, built a fort by the bathroom and got through it the best we could. He just wasn’t getting better and so we went in to the doctor. The docs thought all was ok, so we went home and moved on with life.
A week or so later, the same cycle of headaches/tummy aches happened again. It was really concerning me, so back we went to the doctor. A CT scan was ordered for his stomach and nothing was found out of the ordinary. We decided to take him to our local Lenscrafter, thinking maybe something was going on with his eyes and he needed glasses. The doctor at Lenscrafter saw some retinal swelling to him and two hours later we were at an eye specialist. We met up with him and he ran tests. The next morning, February 17th, Jackson again was throwing up. The eye doctor called and told us to immediately go to the ER, which in a haze, Mark and I packed up Jackson and raced there.
That day lots of scans and tests on our poor little man. The head of the ER came to us and said they found a 5×6 mass in his brain and he was to immedialty be transferred to a new hospital that was more equipped to handle our case.
A mass? In my son’s head???? Are you kidding me??? Are you sure??? I couldn’t believe it. This was all happening so fast.
One conversation still haunts me in all of this…
As they were securing Jackson in the ambulance and closed the door, I asked the ER doctor if he had ever seen this before. His answer, straight to the point was, “Yes, I’ve seen it only twice in more than 20 years. It doesn’t end well.”
Great … thanks for that Doc! I have never wanted to prove someone so wrong in my life! No way is this story of ours NOT going end anyway other than well!
We were transfer by the ambulance to Kaiser LA and meet with our neurosurgeon. They sat Mark and I down in that cold office, with a box of tissues beside us. This couldn’t be good we thought. He went on to tell us that he has a tumor the size of a baseball on the left side of his brain.
A baseball. In my son’s head!
I about lost it right then and there.
They would go in for surgery a few days later to see if they could remove some/all of it. Hearing the risks … 50% chance of the surgery rendering half of his body immobile … although scary, I figured, hey if that’s what it takes to remove this cancer, he’s young. We will teach him how to get around and live in his “new body”. I could handle that.
We got through surgery just fine, all things being considered. Jackson woke up (thank you God) and was able to move all parts of his body and speak! The Doctors told Mark and me some news upon surgery… they were only able to remove 80% of the tumor and here’s where we both lost it…
“We believe your son has a very rare form of aggressive GBM brain cancer. We think he has 1-3 years of life left. It’s terminal … I am so sorry. It’s probably been there for a long-time and his brain has molded around it. It’s a type of brain cancer that typically affects older people, not little ones.”
I shut off after that. I could hear nothing else. Was this a sick joke? A bad nightmare? Not my son. Not my beautiful boy.
Far be it for us to allow the story to end here. That’s what I am sure of.
Cancer came into my home. And here we are. We have just begun our fight. We’re in a fog of doctor appointments, scans, MRI’s, needles, medical jargon, medications, 2nd opinions … trying to chart the right course for our son and our family. We pray for a miracle everyday and hope against hope our prayers will be answered. Jackson has a lot of BIG things left on this Earth to do … I know this.
(Sorry, just had to take a break. It’s the first time I have told our story like this…)
Ok, if you’re teary eyed or crying … stop! Just stop! That’s wasn’t my point.
Let’s stay focused on the positive right now. Here’s what I know … I’m gonna close this laptop up and attempt to shoot some hoops with my boys (in heels nevertheless, but yes, I am gonna play ball and have some fun with them!)
As I get some “down time” Mark and I promise to keep you posted on how Jackson is doing and what’s up next in our lives. Shoot, he’s taught me so much in the past month, I hope his wisdom will help you, whenever you’re in a time a need. This boy is incredible. Thank God he delivered him to us.
In closing, it’s real simple. You’ll learn that about me as we chat. Can you just hug your kid … your husband … a friend…. call a girlfriend a re-connect… take your pup for a walk … pour yourself something warm to drink and curl up with your favorite novel…maybe head to church and say a prayer for someone in need? Cause right now, right here, we are blessed to take another breath.
Despite it all and this new world I am living in, I have two of the most beautiful boys in the world, a sexy husband who is my warrior, great parents, family and friends and who will do whatever it takes to help … and a chance to take another breath with them all is something I am so grateful for.
Cue the ‘SC Marching Band …we’re ready to march right along our son! Will you join us?
FIGHT ON JACKSON!
(Jackon’s Mom and Biggest Fan)
More about GBM
- Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM)
- An astrocytoma is a glioma that develops from star-shaped glial cells (astrocytes) that support nerve cells. A glioblastoma multiforme is classified as a grade IV astrocytoma. It is also referred to as a glioblastoma or GBM.
- Most invasive type of glial tumor
- Commonly spreads to nearby tissue
- Grows rapidly
- Includes distinct genetic subtypes
- May be composed of several different kinds of cells (i.e., astrocytes, oligodendrocytes)
- May have evolved from a low-grade astrocytoma or an oligodendroglioma
- Common among men and women in their 50s-70s
- More common in men than women
- Accounts for 17 percent of all primary brain tumors