By: Shannon Kelley-Barry
I think it is safe to say that most people are aware that children CAN get cancer. After all, how many times have they seen a child with no hair, a child obviously going through chemotherapy, and looked away? Or maybe a commercial for a children’s hospital has come on the television and they’ve changed channels, because seeing sick kids is too difficult.
It’s sad. It’s scary. It hurts.
I’m aware also. I’ve seen the child with no hair. I’ve seen the children’s hospital. But turning away was not an option for me. Why? Because the child with cancer was my son.
Keeghan was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in April of 2006 when he was just ten-years-old. He started suffering terrible headaches and nausea, bad enough that he couldn’t make it through a full day of school, and less than two weeks later was in a hospital having surgery to remove a tumor the size of a golf ball.
It happens that fast sometimes.
So yeah . . . I’m aware.
The tumor that the doctors originally thought would be benign wasn’t. Try telling a ten-year-old boy who has just had an 8-hour-long surgery two days ago that he now has to go through the exact same thing again, tomorrow, because his tumor is so bad that his best chance for survival is to go back in and get as much of the tumor out as possible.
Look into the terrified eyes of a little boy, your baby, as you reach that door to the operating room, and you can’t go any further with him, and he is crying for you to not let go.
Hold his hand as he wakes up and can’t speak, can’t move his left side . . .
And then, when all of that is over, make him go through yet another surgery so that a contraption can be placed in his chest to make it easier for a nurse to stick a 2-inch-long needle into his chest every week in order to pump poison into him, in the desperate hope that it will kill the cancer cells left behind.
And then . . . then . . . hold a bowl in front of him as he vomits. And vomits. And vomits some more.
But it doesn’t stop there. While all of this poisoning and vomiting is going on, roll his little body in a wheelchair to the radiation department every day for 32 days so that they can zap his little brain with high-dose radiation.
Fourteen months. That is how long Keeghan went through chemo. All of his scans during that time showed no evidence of tumor. He won! He beat The Beast!
But no . . . less than six months later . . . there’s a spot on the MRI. It starts again.
He beat it once though, he can do it again. Right?
I’M AWARE ALREADY!!! Make it stop! Please.
Eight more months of chemo. Radiation isn’t a possibility; he’d received his maximum dose the first time around. But he can do it. You just know he can. He is going to be the success story.
August 13, 2008 - “We’re sorry. There’s nothing more we can do.”
Tell a 12-year-old that the doctors don’t have any more tricks up their sleeve. Explain hospice to him. Hold your 14-year-old daughter as she sobs because you’ve just told her that her little brother, her best friend in the world, is going to die. Soon.
Watch as this hideous disease ravages your child, taking everything from him. His ability to walk, talk, eat ... hug you, kiss you goodnight. And then . . . THEN . . . watch over his lifeless body as you wait for a funeral home to come to your house to get him.
Accept that urn they hand you a few days later with his name beautifully engraved in the top - Keeghan Michael Kelley Barry.
I’m more aware of the fact that children get cancer than any parent should ever have to be.
That is why we cancer parents do everything we can to make others aware. The only way to stop more children like Keeghan from dying is to make people aware. Raise money for much-needed research.
Awareness. Please don’t turn away from it. Embrace it and help spread it.
March 7, 1996 - August 31, 2008