"It all started with the tequila..."
That's what my son told the nurse, in his dead-pan, philosophy-professor style. He spoke as if sharing an interesting anecdote of college life, or explaining the esoteric intricacies of existence to a group of freshmen. But my son was relating the progression of leukemia which had devastated his young body and put an end to his college career. My son was dying.
His tequila quip was repeated to a dozen doctors and nurses through a long night and day of testing. Leukemia, which had infected eighty-percent of his bone marrow and spread into many of his vital organs, is a fast moving, aggressive disease. His doctors said his treatment must be equally aggressive; there would be no return to school, no graduation in the spring. Within twenty-four hours he received his first dose of chemotherapy.
Within forty-eight hours my son was in the intensive care unit. His heart had stopped beating. A team of doctors and nurses worked frantically to keep his blood flowing and lungs breathing while they removed enough toxins from his body to restart his heart. He was in arrest for twenty long minutes, and for twenty long minutes an amazing doctor continued CPR. My son miraculously regained consciousness.
The tequila was a focal point and a humorous start to a life altering event. Joshua had attended a birthday party for friend and experienced his first and only encounter with tequila. I talked to him the following day and we laughed about the hangover. That hangover was followed by what we thought was the flu. A trip to the doctor confirmed the diagnosis and antibiotics were prescribed for a sinus infection and cold medicine for congestion. Then the nose bleeds began.
Another trip to the doctor and more cold medicine. He spent Christmas at home, sick the whole time. One more doctor visit before returning to school assured us the symptoms were lingering remnants of a bad cold. Joshua spent a week at school; dragging himself to class, trying to stop the nose bleeds, and throwing up. We brought him home and took him to our family doctor. He was immediately admitted to the hospital.
The diagnosis came quickly, followed by admission to a clinical trial study for his type of leukemia. Within twenty-four hours a team of experts were working on his case. It wasn't a cold, and it wasn't the tequila. It was Acute T-Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a virulent cancer that can kill within weeks. The prognosis was good, for long-term survival, but the treatment can be as severe and aggressive as the disease. They could cure the disease, if the treatment didn't kill him first.
We are now at the end of the first round of chemo, known as Induction. Joshua is in remission, which means that no active leukemia cells were detected in the latest blood and bone marrow tests. But he is only beginning the long process of recovery. Intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments will continue over the coming months to insure every shred of the disease is eradicated. Then he faces years of less intrusive therapy to keep it from returning.
Joshua is a fighter, and remains characteristically philosophical about his situation. His young body has been decimated by the disease and the treatment. Chemo drugs can be as devastating to healthy tissue as to cancer. His kidneys are damaged from the disease and the drugs given to fight it, his eyes are blurred from bleeding on his retina caused by low platelet counts, his skin is covered with bruises, and the full extent of internal damage has yet to be determined. Yet he battles on.
In the hospital one of the things that upset my son was the doctor's insistence that he couldn't floss his teeth because of the risk of bleeding. To most people that would be a minor concern, but to him it was a matter of dignity. It is the small things in life that we hold most dear when everything else is out of control. Joshua has held his dignity, his intellect, and his humor with the tenacity of a pit-bull. Even in his most weakened moments he remains stronger than anyone I know.
It all started with the tequila, but it will end with the defeat of leukemia. I'm sure of that. Joshua is surrounded by family and friends committed to supporting his fight and a host of online supporters sending thoughts, prayers, and financial assistance. He has a team of great doctors and nurses, and access to the most modern facilities and treatments. We are eternally grateful for all of those things and humbled by the love and support of friends and complete strangers. We are blessed beyond measure.
GOD is Good!