Diagnosis Day—a day that will forever be burned into our family’s memory. It still remains so full of vivid color and emotion in my mind.
Truly, I couldn’t tell you what I fed my kids for supper last night. But I know exactly what we had the night before Cooper was diagnosed. And who knows what I was wearing three days ago? But I can tell you what I wore on February 7, 2012.
Sensing The Warning Signs
It all started for us when my son Cooper developed a little rash that wouldn’t go away. It didn’t seem to bother him, but then he started limping.
My husband Justin assured me that it was probably nothing. But the whole thing seemed weird—and it made me nervous. So, I called the physician’s office and scheduled an appointment for the next day.
But when the appointment time rolled around, Cooper was napping peacefully, and I considered cancelling. After all, sleep was probably the best thing for him if he was going to kick whatever this was.
Plus, the rash and limp didn’t even seem to be bothering him. Maybe I was just overreacting?
I reached for the phone to cancel, but in that split second I changed my mind and decided I should just take him. Surely it was better to get things checked out.
Facing The Diagnosis
When our family medicine physician, Dr. Bradley Hupp, walked into the room, I still felt unsure about whether we needed to be there. So, I blurted out, “You’re probably going to think I’m crazy. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I just feel like something is wrong.”
Dr. Hupp examined Cooper and assured me that the rash was probably just related to the medicine Cooper had taken for a seven-day fever the week before.
He explained that the limp was most likely from a fall we didn’t see. But then he said, “Let’s go ahead and run a basic blood test, just to cover our bases.”
They drew blood, and after an hour of waiting and worrying, the doctor walked back into the room.
With a sad sigh, he put his head down and said, “Well, Jenni, the results came back a little abnormal.”
Then he explained that Cooper’s white blood cell count was 85, and normal is between 5.30 and 11.50.
Dr. Hupp said these results could mean a number of things, and he told me that he’d been in contact with the doctors at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center. They wanted us to leave as soon as possible for Omaha.
I asked him, “Okay, so the results can mean a number of things. When you look at this, what do you think?”
He said, “Well, I think leukemia, Jenni. It’s a cancer of the blood.”
My face went pale, and I took a step back from him. We don’t have a family history of cancer. We have a lot of other health problems, but I just never would have thought cancer.
Finding Strength After Diagnosis
Dr. Hupp helped me tell my husband the news over the phone, and he answered our questions. Then, I left the clinic and quickly walked the one block back to our house, clinging to Cooper.
My heart was racing, and I was fighting back panic as I walked in the door. But the moment I saw my husband’s red, tear-soaked face, something clicked inside me.
So, I was strong. On the drive to Omaha, I made the phone calls to family and friends. With dry eyes, I answered the doctor’s and resident’s thousands of questions and gathered information about the plan moving forward.
And then I looked Jill Beck, MD, Cooper’s hematology and oncology physician at Children’s in Omaha, in the eye as she told us, “You are in the exact right place to get your baby healthy.”
A few days after diagnosis, we were waiting for the elevator to whisk us away to yet another of Cooper’s procedures when my husband Justin looked at me and said, “Why haven’t you cried yet? You’re kind of freaking me out.”
In our relationship, I am the one who wears her feelings on her sleeve. Justin is the strong, stoic one who never cries. Our reaction to Cooper’s diagnosis had been a strange role reversal, and neither of us fully understood it.
I shrugged my shoulders in answer to his question and just said, “I don’t know.”
The whole experience seemed like a bad dream—almost surreal—and definitely too horrible to be real. I suppose I was still in shock.
But over time the shock wore off and things started to sink in—to become real. That’s when I started to cry—a lot.
I cried, and I got angry. I stormed, and I raged. I feared, and I was brave. Cancer is such a roller coaster of emotions. Just when you think you are going in one direction, you are jerked up, down, or around another loop.
We’ve ridden this emotional roller coaster for three and a half years now. Cooper’s treatment is scheduled to conclude in June of 2015. And we are looking forward to that day with nervous anticipation as we continue on this wild ride that is childhood cancer.
What is your diagnosis story? How has the emotional roller coaster affected you? If you would like, please feel free to leave your comments below.