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  • travisstafford

George's Story

Tuesday, July 29th 2014, it's 2:15 in the morning and we have just arrived at Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. We were met at the Emergency Room entrance by security, who rushed us up to the 4th floor ICS unit where the nurses were waiting. Everything seemed to be going in slow motion but also so fast it was hard to keep up at times. How did we end up here?! Let’s back up, to just a few days before.

It’s the middle of July, George has just turned 7 and we are making our annual trip to Southern California, where we enjoy time with friends and family, the beach and backyard pools. There is nothing out of the ordinary with this trip, at all. We decided to cut the trip short by a day so we can get back home so we can watch the Blue Angels perform at the local air show. Saturday morning, as we are getting ready to head out for a fun day at the air show George complains of a stomach ache, nothing terrible just a stomach ache. After breakfast and a Tums, we are out the door for a great day. Sunday morning arrives and once again George mentions a stomach ache, the Tums worked yesterday so have another, he is fine the rest of the day. Come Monday and another complaint of stomach pain, off to the doctor he goes, we have no concerns, just a quick trip to the doctor, maybe there is a bug going around. In hindsight there were small signs in the few months leading up to diagnosis that something was wrong, but who would ever think a child's stomach ache would be cancer.

It didn’t take long at the doctor’s office for us to know something was wrong. As George laid down on the examination table what looked like a 6” sub appeared on the left side of his body. George is then rushed from the doctor’s office to the hospital. There is no talk of what it could be, there is just something there.

At the hospital, they hook him to an IV and we start with a chest x-ray. We are more curious than worried, playing armchair doctors, wondering what it could be. They send in a tech to do an ultrasound on his abdomen, this is when we start to realize something is terribly wrong. Now, anyone who has had or seen an ultrasound being done knows the usual drill, they come in, push some buttons on the keyboard, get a few measurements and readings, then wheel the cart out so the results can be read, not this time. The tech printed a picture, pulled it off the machine and walked straight out of the room, leaving all her equipment there in the room, this was bigger than we thought.

It’s never a good sign when your doctor enters the room in tears, all they could tell us was that it wasn’t Leukemia, but, we needed to get to Primary Children’s Hospital (310 miles away) as fast as we could, be it by ambulance or us driving, but we needed to go and go now, they were waiting for us! We hurried home, made arrangements for our other three kids to stay with friends and packed a bag, not knowing when we would be back home again.

That last week of July going into August was really a blur. Doctors, nurses, techs, child life, social services, it was a lot to take in. After his first MRI, we heard the words, “your child has cancer”, the doctors threw out it was most likely a Wilms’ tumor (kidney cancer) stage 2, however a biopsy was needed to confirm it which then also takes the tumor to a stage 3. It sounds strange, but, when they made it official that it was a Wilms’ tumor, although this was a rare form of cancer, we were happy and relieved in a weird way. This monster had a name and we were ready to fight it.

With the biopsy also came the insertion of a PICC line in his arm and the beginning of medical school for mom and dad! By the end of the first week in the hospital he had already had one dose of chemo and we had a plan in place.

The plan: Weekly chemo that could be done at Dixie Regional Medical Center (our local hospital), blood draws almost daily, trips to SLC about every three weeks for longer bouts of chemo ranging from 3-5 days, for the next nine months (oh yeah, at this point the tumor is too large to be removed so we need to do 3 months of chemo to try and shrink it before surgery). Within just a few weeks George is losing weight and is on a feeding tube, and he will miss the entire second grade of school barring a few special occasions.

Side note: Get a fever, go to the hospital for 2-3 days for platelets and/or a blood transfusion (we had plenty of those trips).

October 23rd, we had surgery scheduled to remove what was once his left kidney (now just a football sized tumor), the removal of the PICC line and the placement of a PORT and gearing up for three weeks of radiation. He is no longer on his feeding tube and he is slowly starting to lose his hair. Surgery was just shy of 8 hours, he came through like a champ and was in the ICU for only a day. Recovery went well and we were even able to make it back home for a few days to celebrate Halloween before going back to start radiation.

George spent most of November in Salt Lake City for radiation at Huntsman and his weekly chemo treatments at PCMC. We stayed at the Ronald McDonald house during that month which made it more comfortable for George. Once again, we could come home for a few days after radiation before another week-long chemo treatment over Thanksgiving (amazingly this was the only holiday that was spent in the hospital). By this time, we could start to see that his body was getting tired, he was close to hitting rock bottom, chemo this week, hit him hard.

When December rolled around his little body was done, he had had enough. Low blood counts prevented us from making our scheduled chemo treatments and his doctors decided to let him take the month off and try to get some strength back and hopefully his numbers up. It was good to be home for Christmas, I think that was the recharge he needed to kick it in gear and beat this crap.

With the new year came new hope and a light at the end of the tunnel. We began planning for the Make-A-Wish trip in the summer once he was medically cleared and our countdown to the final chemo was on. The last few months of treatment were routine, we could do this in our sleep.

On April 14, 2015 George had his final chemo treatment, and 10 days later, on April 24, 2015 he had his port removed and rang the bell at Primary Children’s Hospital signaling the end of treatment and the end of cancer. George is not a cancer survivor, he is surviving cancer. The same treatments that cured him can still give him cancer. He has had a few scares; however, it does not hold him back or keep him down! Maybe not today or tomorrow but someday. Reality says he will get cancer again.

We didn’t do this on our own, we are grateful for all of our family, friends and complete strangers that were with us on this journey. As well as all of the doctors, nurses, techs, home health and almost everyone we came into contact with.

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