Grayson was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at nine years old.
He developed a fever, complained his legs hurt, and had some bruises that couldn’t be explained. When the pediatrician ordered blood tests, his mom, Courtney, understood the implications of the results right away. Her youngest son, Ryker, has Down’s syndrome, and kids with Down’s have a heightened risk of developing leukemia. Courtney had already done the research and was on the look out for this disease, but the fact that it was Grayson who got sick blindsided her.
The fact that it was Grayson who got sick blindsided her.
Later at the hospital, Courtney and her husband Dominic waited for the official diagnosis.
“You know why you’re there,” Dominic says, remembering a day that’s seared into both of their minds forever.
“When an entire medical team enters the room, you know what they’re going to tell you.”
“You’re so scared,” Courtney adds. “You never expect this, and you don’t ever really accept it.”
Grayson was scared too, especially when he learned he couldn’t leave the hospital for a month. His parents promised him he would never be alone. Not for one second.
Dominic and Courtney took turns at the hospital. The nursing staff even found a playpen for baby Ryker so he could spend the night with his mom every few days. Getting through that month was a challenge for the whole family, but the really hard part happened after Grayson got home and started his two-year treatment plan.
Turns out he was allergic to one of the chemotherapy drugs. Over several weeks, he had to have one hundred and twenty shots of the alternative medicine in his leg. He suffered from migraines that made him sick. His feet swelled. He gained weight. He once had mucositis, a painful inflammation and ulceration of the mucous membranes lining the mouth and digestive tract, so badly he needed to be hospitalized for a week.
Grayson, now ten, straddles that gap between youthful innocence and emerging awareness.
He understands enough. He understands that he has cancer, and that it’s a really scary disease. He understands that the new friends he’s made are really sick too. When his friend Nelly passed away, he was devastated. “How do you explain this to a child?” Courtney asks, knowing there isn’t a good answer.
Despite the fact that he’s had to face things that would bring most adults to their knees, Grayson is still every bit a ten-year-old boy. He laughs as he enthusiastically shares stories about his dog. He shows off pictures of himself with his siblings and cousins. He’s saved his hair that fell out during chemotherapy for the neighborhood screech owl to use in her nest. He thinks he might want to be an oncology nurse.
No one is ready for their child to get cancer, and the world doesn’t stop when it happens.
Courtney and Dominic have five other kids, and their world certainly didn’t stop when Grayson got sick.
At first, the community rallied around the family, making meals and helping out. But once Grayson was home from the hospital, most of that support disappeared.
“People don’t understand,” Courtney says. “It’s not over just because the thirty days are over and he has his hair back. Every day is still a huge struggle for him.”
And it’s a struggle for Courtney too. She juggles clinic visits, kid’s activities, household chores, and Grayson’s predictably unpredictable medical emergencies. Despite this, she’s quick to reach out to other cancer moms, and she’s the first one to lend a hand when someone else needs it.
“You do what you need to for the other moms, because they’re all our kids now.”
Grayson is a little over halfway through his treatment. The experience has been hellish, one no child should have to suffer through, and one no parent should have to watch.
“Do anything to me, but not to my child,” Courtney says. “Not to anyone’s child.”
Any parent would feel the same.
But kids still get cancer.
Diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at 9