Thursday, August 20, 2015

Three years

On this day in 2012, Jonah was diagnosed with cancer.

A month earlier, after our annual family reunion, our boys had returned home tan and tired from four days of swimming and playing and staying up late with the cousins they see once a year. The other boys quickly slept off the fatigue, but Jonah’s exhaustion seemed to linger.

At first we thought he was simply in a blue mood, missing his cousins. Or perhaps he was nothing more than bored after coming home to our quiet routine after a week of constant activity. We gave him extra chores to do. I handed him a shovel and set him to work digging out roots of a shrub we had cut down in the front yard. He did the work sluggishly and with limp arms. We gave him pep talks. He yawned his way through them. We tried to keep him busy. He lay down on the couch, the bed, the floor at every opportunity. And then he came down with a fever. After testing positive for strep, he stayed in bed for most of a week and completed a ten-day round of antibiotics. But afterward he looked more pale and sickly than he had before.

We shuttled him to lacrosse practice, where he wheezed his way down the field. Our highly active, athletically competitive boy merely walked up the field, loosely holding his stick, while his teammates rushed and spun past him toward the goal. That’s when I began to feel uneasy.

Then Jonah’s fever came back. His face and lips by now were almost yellow, and he complained of constant dull pain in his arm. His swollen tonsils and intensely sore throat returned. He would not get out of bed, and his room gradually took on the stale smell of fevered breath.

We brought him back to the doctor, but this time Jonah did not test positive for strep. His spleen was enlarged and his energy low, so the doctor suspected a textbook case of mono—textbook except for his age. That was unusual. He told Jonah to rest up and come back for a follow-up visit if he wasn’t feeling better soon.

Within days, Jonah’s health rapidly deteriorated. On the morning of his follow-up appointment, he could not walk. His breath was shallow. He cried when we asked him to stand. We had to carry his weak, pale body to the car. He could not even sit up in the back seat. After one brief visit with Jonah, and a negative test for both strep and mono, the doctor sent him straight to the hospital for bloodwork.

Jayson had to carry Jonah through the doors and push him down the polished hospital hallways in a wheelchair to the lab. After the blood draw, Jayson started back with Jonah toward the automatic sliding doors when the lab technician came running after him, calling, “Wait! Don’t go anywhere. Jonah’s blood counts are at critical levels, and the doctor needs you to stay.”

That was at dinner time. At home, I was halfway through preparing a meal for my cousin who had recently given birth to a baby girl. Waiting apprehensively for news on Jonah, and grateful to have my mind and hands occupied, I rolled out dough and washed lettuce. Then Jayson walked through the back door and delivered the heavy news. My joints seemed to turn to liquid.

By bedtime that night, Jonah was in a hospital bed ninety miles away in Spokane, with an IV in his arm and chemo dripping into his veins.

•  •  •  •  •

That was August 20, 2012. If you’ve followed my blog or social media posts (hashtag "prayforjonah") through Jonah’s treatment, you know about a lot of his story since then. We have slogged through dark swamps of distress and sailed on deep swells of blessings. This cancer has laid Jonah flat on his back—on hospital beds and on Hawaiian beaches. We are not finished with this extended season of testing, and we, like all of you, don’t know what new trials may come. But we are grateful now to be nearer to the completion of Jonah’s treatment for A.L.L. leukemia—a three-and-a-half-year adventure that is leaving us all with a bigger vocabulary and a deeper faith and a greater understanding of the strength and joy that God brings through suffering.

Jonah’s final spinal tap—his 25th—is scheduled for early November. And Jonah’s final dose of chemo—after 3 1/2 years of taking it every single day—is slated for December 3. You can imagine what a delightful Christmastime this year’s is shaping up to be!

So thank you, yet again, all for your ongoing, faithful prayers and gifts and words of encouragement. The light at the end of this long, narrow tunnel is burning steadily brighter. Jonah will not be considered cured until August of 2017—five years from his diagnosis. In the meantime, he will continue to return to Spokane for monthly checkups at the hospital, and, as some of the side effects may not appear until further into his life, we ask for your continued prayers for his full and complete healing, and peace for us, his parents, especially after his treatments end. I'm told that the "watch and wait" phase can be as great a test of faith and patience as any of the intensive phases of treatment.

For now, however, we are grateful to have come this far, and Jonah is looking forward to December 3 with great anticipation. To be done with chemo is a tremendous milestone, and December 3 sounds like a perfect day to throw a big, joyful party. I hope that, wherever you are on that day, you will celebrate with us.

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