Get a tissue ready, because this is a story of any parent’s worst nightmare, hearing those words “your child has leukemia”. But it’s also a story of how a childhood cancer can bring a family together in ways they never thought possible. When Jessica submitted the story, my first impulse was to edit it for length. After reading it, I could edit very little, as you can feel the love palpable in her writing. This isn’t just Hudson’s journey, it’s the McKearney’s journey…
Hudson entered the world on March 31, 2017. This is the day my heart left my chest and was beating outside my body. My whole world was immediately consumed by this little perfect bundle of cuteness.
Mid-February of 2019, I was playing with Hudson in the toy room when I noticed some purple spots on his arm, called Petechiae. Fortunately, I work in medicine and knew what they were. I also knew they could be caused by leukemia. Over the next couple of weeks, the Petechiae disappeared, but I noticed dark circles under his eyes that stood out as very strange. I also noticed some changes in his appetite, but what almost 2-year-old doesn’t have constantly changing eating habits? I monitored his temp for a few nights and sure enough, he had low-grade fevers. Colleagues, friends and family that I voiced my concerns to, dismissed them and told me to stay of google. I didn’t need Dr. Google. I knew in my soul Hudson had cancer. I took Hudson to our pediatrician and told them I wanted a CBC blood test to check for leukemia. An hour later, our lives changed.
I was holding our 10-week-old daughter, Violet, when my phone rang. Our nurse practitioner asked if I was sitting down. I knew in my core what was coming next. “Hudson’s labs are abnormal”. The next 20 minutes or so were a blur. I started hysterically blurting out partial sentences that mostly consisted of “Hudson can’t die” or “he’s going to die! My baby is going to die, isn’t he?” She told me to pack some bags and immediately go to the 11th floor of Univ. of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. I asked what the 11th floor was. It was the pediatric hematology/oncology floor. Hearing the word oncology made it real. I got off the phone, called my husband, Kyle, and all I could do was scream at him that Hudson was dying and had cancer and he needed to get home immediately.
We were swarmed with nurses and residents. Amid the chaos, we consented for Hudson to receive blood products. I never thought I would consent to have my child receive a blood transfusion. I am so grateful there was blood on the shelves when he needed it, because that night he needed a lot. He received 3 blood transfusions and one platelet transfusion. Without blood donors, he would not have survived. A bone marrow biopsy and lumbar puncture was performed. I was sitting in the corner chair holding my sweet Violet. She was not even 10 weeks old.
Dr. Terry kneeled in front of me. He looked me in the eye, with the most sympathetic face, and told me it looks like Hudson does have cancer and it appears to be Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). I handed Violet to our friend. In that moment I thought I was going to die. Hudson couldn’t die. If he does, I will too. Unfortunately, they found a possible leukemia cell in his spinal fluid. This changed the protocol. The following day we met Hudson’s oncologist, the phenomenal Dr. Dickens. And so, his treatment began. Because ALL is the most common of childhood cancers, there is more research and treatment options. Who knew I would feel fortunate about what type of cancer my child had.
Hudson is now in the Maintenance Phase of his protocol and will continue in this phase until May of 2022. To get to this phase he had to survive Induction, Consolidation Interim Maintenance I, Delayed Intensification and Interim Maintenance II. During Induction, Hudson was on a month of high dose steroids. This completely changed Hudson. He stopped walking, talking and lost his personality. We were convinced he was gone forever. A nurse practitioner commented “he’s just not your little boy now, but he’s in there and he will be back. I promise.” She was right. He did start to return but it was a very difficult time. He had to relearn to walk because he was in so much pain and had so much weakness from his medications. He refused the medications because they tasted terrible. This led to the start of NG tubes. Shortly after Induction was over, I went upstairs to get Hudson out of his crib. My husband was frantically pulling out all of his bedding. When I looked down, I realized what he was doing. Hudson’s beautiful hair was falling out. Never should a parent have to experience that. I would go to kiss his sweet head and his hair would stick to my lips. I would notice it on my hand when I went to rub his head. During Delayed Intensification, he received a red chemotherapy drug called “Red Devil” or “Red Death”. These are the types of medications children receive because not enough funding is available to study new drugs. We are in the Maintenance Phase now, but it’s no walk in the park. It’s more of a nightmare rollercoaster ride we can’t get off.
Despite everything Hudson has endured, my husband and I still consider ourselves fortunate. Most have a hard time believing that. We have seen families being admitted on our hospital floor and leaving without their child. Even though Hudson is walking through hell, he is still with us. We’re able to kiss him, snuggle with him, touch his soft, beautiful hair, read bedtime stories and play together. We are grateful to watch him be the most amazing big brother to Violet. Even when he is feeling sick or in pain, he still has the sweetest personality and loves his sister, Violet who is only 3 years old now and has taken on the caregiver role when he’s having a rough time during treatments. We were blessed with the most empathetic, kind-hearted and caring soul of a daughter. She rubs his back, sits with him when he’s nauseous, bathes him when he can’t stand the feeling of bath water and makes sure all of his needs are met. We are honored to be their parents and see their love and compassion for another human in their weakest moments. We will continue to fight and to spread awareness, both for childhood cancer and blood donating.
I found out about My Happy Place while browsing different foundations online. This org. stood out to me since I hadn’t seen other foundations doing this for kids. It’s such a unique idea. Bedrooms should be a child’s safe and happy place to go and be full of things the child loves, things that make them happy and feel empowered. When Hudson talks about superheroes, like Iron Man and Captain America, he talks with such strength and confidence.
I think having a unique room filled with his favorite heroes will bring him strength, he will have fun playing in there and find comfort during his darker days. He is a superhero!
Note from MHP: We couldn’t agree more that the true superhero here is Hudson and we’re honored and humbled to be able to offer him and to his family this unique experience.