It’s one of the questions that we’ve heard a lot, and it’s really understandable. Like, what should I watch for, how scared should I be, how much does it cost for a large, indestructible plastic bubble that I can place my child in that will guarantee their health until they’ve reached an age where I am no longer responsible and I want them to move out of my house?
To be clear, leukemia is very rare. Very, very rare. Really, Payson has hit the bad luck lottery with this one. He never needs to worry about a shark attack or plane crash or being selected for jury duty. He’s done. He can live a very high risk lifestyle, because the odds are ever in his favor after this. In fact, because you know Payson, you probably don’t need to worry much about one of your kids having the same disease. It’s not gonna happen.
Payson had a kidney stone in September. And when I say kidney stone, I mean kidney boulder. Like the size of the asteroid that threatened earth’s survival in Armageddon. Like it’s own continent. 8mm or something, which seems not that big until you consider the exit point.
Anyway, one random night in January he had a similar pain in his back to the kidney stone pain. We thought it was happening again, so we took him in and there was nothing. The doctors chalked it up to something called pleurisy, which I have no real idea what that is other than it sounds like something you’d have when you’ve reached the age where prunes are a staple in your diet.
Payson got over that pain, but then had pains in his back again a couple weeks later. This time, the doctors thought maybe it was an injury from biffing it on the snowboard. Then, at random intervals, he would have these strange pains at different parts of his body – his hips, his belly, his chest, his lower back. We’d just treat it with pain juice, he’d miss school for a day or two, and then he’d go back to not hurting.
He started getting pale, and his energy started to lag, and the pains seemed to be getting worse, so Wendy took him in last Monday and they did the full all-inclusive resort checkup, and they found counts in his blood that were concerning. That, combined with the pain, sort of pointed toward leukemia, and they confirmed the diagnosis through more tests. The night before he was officially diagnosed, he couldn’t climb the stairs on his own. The pain had gotten that severe.
The reason for the bone pain (if anyone is still reading which I’m sure they’re not because this is like a really boring college essay that not even the professor reads) has to do with what leukemia is. Remember, I am no expert, but this is what I have been able to gather.
A leukemia cell is a white blood cell that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. White blood cells fight infection in your body. Leukemia cells don’t fight infection, they don’t do anything other than reproduce themselves at a very fast rate. Because of this, they start to crowd out the cells in the blood that are doing their jobs – red blood cells, platelets, and respectable, clean living, socially acceptable, normal white blood cells. If untreated, the blood doesn’t work anymore because it gets overrun by the leukemia cells. All of these cells are made by bone marrow, which is the gooey stuff in the middle of your bones. Because of the rapid growth of the leukemia cells, Payson’s bones were aching because real estate in the bone marrow was getting scarce. That’s the reason for the random pains all over.
Leukemia isn’t like some cancers where it’s diagnosed with stages or whatever. Because it’s in the blood, it’s all over his body, but he doesn’t have any tumors or anything like that. This is a blood thing. The coolest thing the doctors said the whole time we were at the hospital is that they are really good at killing leukemia cells. Thank God for that.
Anyway, that’s why we took him in. Random pains that wouldn’t go away. There’s nothing we could have done to have prevented this. It just happens, and they aren’t sure why. When Payson finishes his treatments in three years and is clean for five, he’ll have no higher risk of it happening again than anyone else.
By then, he will have swam with sharks and gone skydiving and eaten street tacos whenever he wants. He’s already had his bad luck.