September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Join us today, September 17, 2014 as CURE Childhood Cancer honors CURE Kid Joe Chapman. Join our fight as CURE’s Kids Conquer Cancer One Day At A Time! Donate to Joe’s fundraising page.
As I sit here trying to write the words to Joe’s story, I am reminded of the times I saw the TV commercials for children fighting cancer and thinking to myself that could never happen to my children. It can, and it did.
It was in April of 2006 that I received a call from Joe’s stepmom (Joe had been living in Georgia with she and his Dad). She was concerned because Joe wasn’t eating well, sleeping all day, and just not feeling well at all. She is a nurse so she immediately took him in for tests and in the next couple of days, received a call that his cells were atypical. They immediately took him to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston where they officially received his diagnosis. He had Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. That was on Friday April 14, 2006. I was down there by Saturday and we spent the next week in the hospital. I came back home to Illinois the day Joe went home with his dad and stepmom. I was prepared to travel back and forth for as long as it took.
I went back down the next weekend. He had just been in clinic on that Friday when his doctor noticed a lump in his right leg. They decided to keep him, and by the next week we were in ICU where we would spend the next month. He had contracted an infection from 2 intramuscular chemo shots in both legs. After spending that month in ICU, the doctors realized he had an infection in his other leg as well. The chemotherapy continued while we were in the hospital, as did multiple procedures to drain his wounds on his legs. Joe had lost most of his mobility so he wasn’t walking. By August, he was doing better, and the decision was made to send him to Scottish Rite for physical therapy to see if he could walk again. He was still getting chemo and it was very hard for him to do everything he needed to do to strengthen his legs. His Dad and I made the decision to have him discharged, and go home for a while.
Once home, he started eating again, and in general, looked 100% better. I stayed in Georgia until January of 2007, when we had to make another decision concerning our daughter, who was pregnant, and living with friends and family while I was with Joe. I still made periodic trips back and forth and Joe came up for Spring Break. By that summer, he was feeling tons better, and was able to go to camp at Camp Sunshine. He was so excited to be able to do this! After that, I picked him up, and he came back to Illinois where he had decided to live again. By then, he was in maintenance and it was easy to get him started at Riley’s Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. We continued his treatment, and in February of 2008, he was able to get his feet operated on to be able to walk again. He had lots of nerve damage from the chemo and a severe case of drop foot that no amount of physical therapy would be able to fix. After six weeks, and two casts, he took his first steps after 1 year and 10 months of not walking. I can remember vividly his sister coming home and crying after seeing him walk again. After that, he was able to be on the go more often. Even though I still worried, I let him. He was still taking medicine, doing monthly treatments at Riley’s, and having so much fun being able to go and hang out with his friends again.
He finished 7th grade, had an uneventful year, went to Camp Sunshine again, then spent some time with his Dad, and family in Georgia. He was soon home where he started his 8th grade year. It went by without a hitch. He graduated 8th grade in May of 2009 after being able to take a class trip to Holiday World in Indiana.
On May 21st we had to do a bone marrow aspiration. His Doctor was concerned because his counts had been a little low. We got the results that day and the cancer had returned. I was devastated but he just looked at me and said, “Mom, it’s okay, we beat it once, we can do it again.” Life was back to the old new normal but for the first few weeks, he seemed to feel really good. His sister and I were tested but not a match for the bone marrow transplant he now needed. A non-family donor was found and it would be September before we could get the transplant.
He had to be cancer free. We did outpatient chemo and in June, he had an infection that required a five-day stay. We were in the hospital again for five days in July for inpatient chemo. Over the 4th of July weekend we searched for fireworks from his hospital window in the rain. On July 10th we made our final trip to the hospital. He had spiked a fever, and was admitted. The last couple of weeks had finally worn his poor body down.
On July 17, 2009 at 5:35 P.M., my son took his last breath. I, along with his father, my Mom, brother, sister-in-law, and his sisters Brittany, Hillary, and Kaelynn were there with him. He also had 2 brothers, who were not there, Benjamin and Evan.
We miss him. His friends and extended family miss him. We miss that smile and that deep, deep laugh that would come out of nowhere when he was tickled by something. I try not to question but I sometimes wonder in a world where so much technology is available, why we can’t find a cure for the cancer that is stealing America’s future. I am thankful for organizations like CURE Childhood Cancer who are devoted to finding that cure.