The two boys walk to the playground together. Both wear red shirts and have the same sandy-brown hair...
But while the four-year-old practically bounces toward the swings, his older brother keeps a gentle hand on his shoulder.
Gavin, the little one, was diagnosed at two-years-old with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia — a blood cancer that results when abnormal white blood cells, or leukemia cells, accumulate in the bone marrow. The disease progresses rapidly, replacing healthy cells that produce functional lymphocytes with leukemia cells that can't mature properly. The spreading of these cells can create a number of possible symptoms. Gavin had a stomachache that just wouldn’t go away.
When Gavin’s mom, Shannon, got the news she was in shock. “I shut down completely. I was just broken,” she says. Initially her husband had to take in all the information from the doctors, while she tried to process the fact that her baby had cancer.
Tyler, Gavin’s older brother, was scared too. He wanted to know if Gavin would be okay, and if he would lose his hair.
When a child gets cancer, the whole family is affected. The world turns upside-down, and if there are siblings, their lives can be deeply impacted as well. Gavin’s family, already close, pulled together even more.
Gavin had to spend over thirty days in the hospital immediately following his diagnosis. This first, aggressive treatment is designed to send the cancer into remission. During that time, Shannon left the hospital only twice. She took a leave of absence from work, as did her husband, who now had to manage everything on the home front.
Once remission is achieved, a two-year treatment plan follows. Gavin is more than halfway through it, and, while some of this is done from home, a lot of time is still spent in the clinic at the hospital. On clinic days, Tyler joins his brother when school isn’t in session. Always a kind-hearted, sensitive boy, he’s happy to play with the other children. “He gets right in there with the other kids. He doesn’t care if they have no hair, are hooked up to devices, or are in a wheelchair. He anticipates the things they need,” Shannon says.
“I don’t like to see little kids cry,” Tyler says in a soft voice. Then, turning towards his brother he adds, “I probably worry about him more now.”
The whole family worries. And although Shannon wants Gavin to have some independence, to give him as normal a childhood as possible, it’s hard. There are legitimate concerns. His bones are more susceptible to breakage, he’s prone to infections, and he suffers from neuropathy in his extremities. The last time he had a cold, he needed three infusions of plasma. And at three-years-old, he had a blood clot in his brain, a side effect of the chemotherapy.
Still, because he is so young, Gavin doesn’t really understand.
Slurping with gusto from a Sippy-cup, he refuels for more playtime. And when he leaps up to join some girls on the tire swing, his brother follows him.
“I’m just happy for every day,” Shannon says, watching her boys.
Diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at 2