From Mom to Caregiver: How an Ear Infection Led to a Leukemia Diagnosis

Chad and Chelsea care for Ike, who is undergoing leukemia treatment

The mom of any energetic, sports-crazy boy is always bracing for something. When every tumble or collision could mean broken bones or stitches, a mom can’t help but wince each time her son goes down. But no matter how prepared she is, there are some things that no mother can brace for.

Chelsea had watched her son, Isaac, safely crash his way through years of hockey and baseball, so when he came down with a routine ear infection, she knew he could handle it.

She brought Isaac, Ike for short, to the doctor and he was put on antibiotics. Shortly thereafter he developed a rash, then became lethargic and suffered from fevers.

A change in medicine brought a brief recovery; for a time it seemed like it had been an allergic reaction to the antibiotics and nothing more. Ike felt well enough to play sports again and Chelsea and her husband Chad assumed their scare was over.

Back to the Hospital

When the fevers returned, Chelsea brought Ike back to the hospital. Tests revealed that he had low white blood cell counts. After ruling out every type of virus, specialists recommended a bone marrow biopsy. The speculation finally ended when the results came back: Ike had B-ALL Leukemia.

“It was devastating,” Chelsea remembers. “It’s something you can never be ready to hear.”

Though the news was bad, Chelsea and Chad were relieved to know what was wrong.

“We were in shock, but at least we had a diagnosis. I just switched to survival mode to get through that first conversation and find out what we had to do next.”

The Three-Year Treatment Plan for Leukemia

The next step was treatment, which began immediately. Ike had arrived at the hospital on Friday, was diagnosed on Monday, and began chemotherapy on Tuesday.

In the span of four days, their world was upended and Ike’s childhood interrupted by a three-phase treatment plan that would last three years.

Chelsea took time off from her job to care for Ike during the intensive first phase of chemotherapy and wouldn’t return to full-time work for six months. During that period, Chelsea found little time to dedicate to herself.

“It’s kind of hard,” she says of making time for yourself. “As a caretaker, you always put yourself last. But it’s important to disconnect at times. You have to be able to do what you need to do to stay healthy so that you can continue to care for your loved one.”

The Importance of Self-Care

Chelsea’s self-care plan involved Pilates, joining a support group of other moms with children battling cancer, and a reliance on family and friends. Chelsea used CaringBridge to share updates on Ike’s condition and connect with her community, something she believes should be part of any caretaker’s plan.

“A support system is so important,” she says. “You can’t do it all on your own, so it’s ok to ask for help. People are there to care for you as well, not just the patient.”

Ike’s treatment schedule allowed him to stay home and avoid lengthy hospital stays, and a few months after his leukemia diagnosis he was able to start kindergarten. Now in the final phase of his treatments, he has a full head of hair and plays sports like any other seven-year-old boy.

The Road to Being Cancer-Free

When chemotherapy ends in July 2016, he will remain under observation for another two years until the doctors declare him officially cancer-free. At that time, Ike can return to being an average sports-crazy kid again, and Chelsea can return to a more carefree time when broken bones and stitches were the biggest worries she had for her son.

Here When You Need It

Are you or a loved one facing a health journey? If so, start a CaringBridge website, where you can share health updates and receive encouragement and support from your community.

Sona Mehring is the founder of CaringBridge, the nonprofit organization created in 1997 so people experiencing a health journey can rally their community during a time of need. People invite close family and friends to read about their journey through their own personal CaringBridge website. In return, family and friends can show their love and support by posting encouraging messages. Follow Sona on Twitter – <a href=””>@gogosona</a>.

Comments (12)

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Lisa Caputo Feb 16, 2016 10:03am
Sona thank you for creating this site. I created a site in July 2010 when I was diagnosed with brain cancer: Stage IV Glioblastoma. It has been a god send. Allowing me to keep friends and family updated on my illness. With a typical life expectancy of 14 months after diagnosis I celebrated 5 years on July 27, 2015! I live near Boston and go to Dana Farber for treatment. I have been on a clinical trial for three years that has definitely prolonged my life! I urge any one who is going through a health crisis to start a site. When I feel down I will go back and re read the guest comments for encouragement It is nice to know that I am not alone! I am so sorry for your reason to start Caringbridge but know that like me and so many others on the site it has brought us much solace and much needed support. Prayers and cyber hugs to you and your family! Keep it up IKE- you have a GREAT Mom!
Suzette Shoulders Feb 07, 2016 2:38pm
Caringbridge is such a wonderful way for people to keep in touch with loved ones" battles with cancer. I have contributed to CB several times, knowing that this is a GREAT service for us all. Suzette in Oregon
Buthainah Feb 06, 2016 11:29pm
The story were inspired us. Since my son ( 4 year s old) was completed three month under remtion. Hope all the families and people whose fighting with cancer to win and cured. And hope God Pless your son and looking forward for July to here the best news ever for you.
Ruth Feb 06, 2016 3:06pm
Keep the faith IKE and mom, God is good always.great grandaughter fighting leukemia last 3 years. Have Hope at end of tunnel.
Helen Feb 06, 2016 8:32am
God is with all of you at all times-Blessings.
Dave Durenberger Feb 06, 2016 7:06am
Sona, This is your gift. Expressing beautifully how irfinary folks deal with extraordinary challenges. Through a community of loving caring. You are a blessing.
Terri Hopper Feb 05, 2016 6:40pm
Hi Chelsea,I admire your strength through the journey you are travelling.Stay strong.God Bless your sweet boy.Love and prayers,to you and your family.
Richard Tevault Feb 05, 2016 6:13pm
I have read a number of articles about curing cancer with adding additional oxygen to the blood. But I haven't seen how to do that.
Pam Feb 05, 2016 6:04pm
Caring Bridge has kept me and my family up to date on several friends who have battled disabilities and disease. I appreciate the updates and feel lucky to be able to send my encouragement and support through this site rather than through bothersome phone calls during this stressful time.
Amanda Feb 05, 2016 5:19pm
Hope all continues to be well for your family! (hugs)
Joan rayburn Nov 21, 2015 8:37am
Used caring bridge to keep friends and family up to date when my husband had ALL back in 2008. Thank you for being there
Arifin Nov 19, 2015 5:02pm