“ For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
So, one day life is “normal” and the next day you get a phone call telling you to take your child to the ER for a blood transfusion. We had no idea how our lives would change on that day.
Our son, Samuel, is five years old. He the sixth child in a family of seven children. He is active like most five year olds, so when we noticed a bunch of bruises on him, we didn’t think too much of it. However, when a tiny sore on his tongue became nasty and infected looking in just a couple of days, I decided to take him to the doctor. I pointed out the bruising and she thought it would be a good idea to go to the lab and have some blood work done.
The next day started normal. I was reading aloud to the kids when I received a phone call from my doctor’s office. The nurse told me that Samuel had a critically low platelet count and that I should take him immediately to the ER for a blood transfusion. (They were at 2.)
Barry came home from work and we grabbed up Samuel and took him to Lutheran Hospital. We were told in the ER that Samuel was to be directly admitted. We bypassed registration and were immediately taken up to Pediatrics. I had this horrible sense as we were walking in that he would not be leaving the hospital for a long time.
A doctor came in to speak with us. The rest of Samuel’s blood work revealed that not only were his platelets low, but also his hemoglobin and white blood cell counts. The doctor suspected leukemia. My poor son who had never had blood drawn before was subjected to many needle pokes. There was more testing, an IV, and a transfusion of both platelets and hemoglobin.
The next day, Barry and I were led into a conference room with a group of doctors and nurses while a Child Life Specialist hung out with Samuel in his room. Both of us knew that this could not be good news. We were told that tests confirmed that Samuel had leukemia and it was the less common AML type. This type requires more intense treatment and is done mostly inpatient. They told us they had scheduled us at Riley Hospital the next morning for a bone marrow draw where they would be able to better pinpoint the type with more detail and come up with a treatment plan.
At Riley, the leukemia was confirmed, but with further testing it was discovered that he has an even rarer form of leukemia. There are two types of leukemia most often seen in children. The most common type is ALL (Acute lymphocytic leukemia), then there is AML (Acute myeloid leukemia). Samuel has a combination with both, biphenotypic acute leukemia (BAL). It is rare in adults and even less common in children. The odds of getting struck by lightning are higher than getting this.
You can imagine that Barry and I were reeling from the shock. This diagnosis and the treatment to fight it greatly affects our family in more ways than I can even count. However, what is constantly in my mind is that my God is way bigger than leukemia AND He loves this little one even more than we do. So, if he is putting him and all of us on this path, he has a purpose and He will use it for good.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” Romans 8:28
We don’t understand, but we can trust Him. The big picture looks overwhelming, but we can take baby steps and hold the hand of Him who has the strength to walk us through this.
“ I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Phil. 4:11-13
How does one celebrate a birthday for a child who is no longer here? I don't know. Nothing seems quite right because all I really want to do is wrap my arms around him in a giant hug, but my arms find only emptiness. I want to hear his laugh, make him birthday breakfast in bed, and watch him blow out 11 candles on his cake. And I am sad that I can't. I know that this sadness is not shared by Samuel. He is enjoying the good life with no pain or sorrow. I am so thankful for my Hope that promises our great reunion.
"We grieve, but not as ones without hope." 1 Thess 4:13
Perhaps this grief has a beautiful purpose to remind us there is so much more than this life and to keep our focus forward on our future glory with Christ. It keeps us from wallowing in the here and now and moving forward one step at a time.
As a family, we have decided that having a cake and doing traditional birthday things would feel like a sad reminder of Samuel's absence. Instead we are going to prepare many of Samuel's favorite foods which will include sushi, corn dogs, egg salad, baked potatoes, salmon, and warheads candy. Together as a family, we will enjoy a unique and eclectic dinner that Samuel would have loved.