We hit a big milestone November 2nd…4 years off treatment, considered to mean that the cancer is truly in remission. At the 5 year mark, on November 2, 2015, Diego will be considered “cured”. Meaning statistically that Wilms tumor does not come back. I’ll be honest, it makes me nervous to even write this. It’s hard to ever feel fully off the hook with this disease, especially considering that by being treated for cancer with chemo and radiation, Diego is at higher risk for secondary cancers….
But, that is not something I think about every day. Quite honestly, I rarely even think about it these days but It’s always sort of in the back of my mind, at least until scan or doctor visit time. He is still scanned every 4-6 months. His doctor has decided to move to ultrasound and chest x-rays rather than CT scans because of his remission status. Which is great really, since the CT scans also expose him to more radiation.
And interestingly enough, just this past week, Diego has started sporting his Beads of Courage necklace to school. He wanted to share his story with his second grade class. Prior to this, Diego didn’t want to share his status as cancer survivor with anyone. I asked him what changed and he told me that it was because of this traffic accident we were in a few weeks ago… This accident was a small fender bender on the freeway, nothing major. I had both boys in the car. It did end up totaling the car, but only because it was an older model. Most importantly, nobody was hurt. Diego was extremely shaken however. As he often does when faced with danger, he went into a very fearful place. He was terrified of dying, terrified that because he hit his head and felt dizzy that he wasn’t “going to be smart anymore”. I assured him that it was going to be okay, and the paramedics did as well.
But somehow after surviving this event, what I can only call a near death experience for a 7 year old, made him seize upon the meaning of that necklace. That he is strong, resilient—a fighter. That’s he’s done it before, and he can do it again. HIs necklace has since become a source of pride.Diego wore his beads to his checkup on Thursday. As well as a Santa hat. Because he loves Christmas so much. There was no holiday tree in the waiting area yet, but Teddy’s train table was there, donated to the clinic after his death. We met Teddy, our friend with Neuroblastoma, in the hospital during Diego’s treatment in 2010. Teddy lost his battle with cancer nearly two years ago at the tender age of three. It breaks my heart to see that little train table each time we visit the clinic, but it also brings me joy to see Diego play with it, and to know that it’s there for other kids to enjoy. And it really beats the heck out of the broken magnet table they had there before.
And in July, the new Kaiser Oakland Hospital opened its doors. Another milestone—construction on the new hospital had barely broken ground the week that Diego was diagnosed. Entertainment during all those hospital stays in 2010 involved watching dump trucks haul away tons of dirt and later tower cranes lift I-beams high into the sky. Over the years our family has watched the building progress each time we go for checkups for visits at the medical center.
In April 2010, during those first emotional and dark days of the diagnosis, I suppose I recognized, or chose to recognize some sort of symbolism and message in that gaping hole across the street. That the razed city block mirrored the deep sense of loss and despair in our own hearts. But the trucks and machines kept rolling, just like we would need to put one foot in front of another to get through every parent’s nightmare. And thinking, during those days in 2010, reminding myself that one day this razed city block would be rebuilt. And the hope of all hopes that one day, Diego would recover, that he could recover as good as new.
And here we are, four years later. Older, wiser, grayer parents with a healthy soon-to-be eight year old boy. A boy not without some health issues or battle scars, but a boy so full of life, so full of emotion, and so full of wonder. And a boy so overjoyed that he is actually going to get to meet Santa Claus this coming Saturday.