September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Join us today, September 2, 2014 as CURE Childhood Cancer honors Joshua Mack. Join our fight as CURE’s Kids Conquer Cancer One Day at a Time! Donate to Jushua’s fundraising page.
Move over Oprah… there’s a new kid in town! And when we say “kid,” we mean it – literally. Eleven year old Josh Mack wants to be a talk show host and take over where Oprah Winfrey left off, and he’s not about to let cancer stand in his way.
A little over two years ago, Josh, an outgoing, healthy and typical 7 year old boy growing up in Cincinnati, starting getting sick… a lot. He had very high fevers, and mouth sores so bad inside and out that he couldn’t eat. He started to lose a good deal of weight… troubling for a child who was already thin. His pediatrician figured it was some sort of virus, but Josh’s mom, Andrea, knew something else was wrong. She treated his fever so Josh could attend his second grade Valentine’s party, but he came home shivering with a temperature of 103.5. The next day, they were at a satellite hospital of Children’s Hospital of Cincinnati for a complete blood count. Then, they waited. “I was actually going to the beauty salon when I got the call that Joshua had little to no white blood cells in his body,” Andrea said. “I had to sit in front of the house to get myself together before I went in to tell Josh and my husband that we needed to go over to the hospital.”
The doctors started running tests, but at first it wasn’t clear what was wrong with Josh. He was screened for all types of viruses. His mom would cross them off a list as test after test came back negative. “One day, I realized I had crossed them all off in my notebook and my heart sank. What could it be? In my mind we were headed home with a whole lot of antibiotics. The big 8th birthday party was planned at the popular inflatable place! We had to go home.”
Doctors decided the next step was a bone marrow aspiration. The doctor who performed the procedure told the Mack’s it was very difficult to get into the bone. They later learned the cancer cells were the reason. The procedure made Josh achy all over.
On February 22nd, Josh’s doctor needed to talk with Andrea, but this time, instead of talking outside his hospital room like usual, he asked to talk with her down the hall, in a conference room. “It was the longest walk of my life,” said Andrea. “My husband was at home where I had sent him to install our new dishwasher. We hadn’t expected any word until the next day. It was surreal to hear the words Leukemia and my only child spoken in one sentence.”
Andrea recalls the next day was a blur as they were moved to the oncology unit. They had to tell Josh what was happening. Andrea and Richard brought Josh back to his room from the playroom to tell him the news. He looked at them and said, “Is that all? You could have told me that in the playroom. Can I go back?” Turns out, that was a good indication of how Josh was going to handle his diagnosis and treatment. During his five weeks in the hospital, he decorated his room and became the darling of the playroom. He made suggestions to the staff about fun things to do there. They set up a “play” restaurant, with other patients helping serve and making menus. ”It was his world away from cancer treatment,” according to Andrea. “They allowed him to put up a sign that said ‘Josh’s Place’. If Josh had a slow day or didn’t feel like going, the Child Life staff would come looking for him!”
While in the hospital, Josh had a wonderful and reassuring message for his mom and dad. ”He told us one day in the midst of his treatment that God had told him he was already healed. That blew us away! He was so assured and my husband and I were in so much angst. I suppose that is why it’s said, ‘…a child shall lead them.’”
Josh did have some bad days when the treatment zapped his energy and spirit. In an effort to cheer him up, a hospital social worker and doctor told Josh about the “Make a Wish” program. His wish was to meet the person that ran the hospital, and to become a famous talk show host and take over where Oprah Winfrey left off. Josh practiced and honed his skills by interviewing his parents, who played the part of celebrities and news makers. Mom and dad recorded all the interviews. A star was born!
In July of 2011, Josh’s health was improving and his wish came true. He met and interviewed the CEO of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. During their chat, Josh “grilled” Michael Fisher on the hospital playroom, asking him to expand it. The interview netted big results. The playroom was expanded! Josh loved the entire experience and he and Mr. Fisher became fast friends. Josh returned the favor by speaking at events and fundraisers, at Mr. Fisher’s request. The two still talk and email today, long after Josh’s hospital stay.
Through good times and tough times, Josh remained a great patient. Sometimes the anemia, fever, low blood counts and severe back pain kept him out of school for weeks at a time. He is experiencing some issues with his memory and is having some difficulties with math. But this trooper has still managed to make the honor roll at school! He still smiles and laughs and still plans on being famous, participating in every article, photo shoot or television interview that’s asked of him, and taking each very seriously, especially if it helps to spread the word about the need to find a cure for childhood cancer.
The Mack family relocated to Marietta and say they’ve found a supportive and caring treatment team at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite. The whole family is looking forward to August, which will mark his first year as a survivor! “We are thankful for every doctor, nurse, child life specialist, chaplain and anyone else who we have come in contact with, who have made it possible for us to continue to hug our Joshua,” said Andrea. And don’t be surprised if someday, when you’re looking for something to watch on TV, you see that sweet, healthy boy with the big smile hosting “The Josh Mack Show,” perhaps sharing the good news about a cure for childhood cancer, and bigger playrooms everywhere.