It began as a dull ache in his arm in July of 2008. Conner came home from a boat trip with a family friend and complained that his shoulder and arm ached during the vacation. Everyone thought he had just slept on it wrong or the bunk was uncomfortable.
Throughout the summer Conner continued to complain every couple of weeks of arm pain but we would chalk it up to a hit during soccer practice, football practice, wrestling match with his friends or just being an active teenage boy. After a day or two the pain would subside but then it would come back and each time it returned the pain worsened.
That’s when our fears worsened. Trips to the doctor’s office proved futile. The doctors and nurses assured us he was experiencing growing pains. Looking back, our son’s bone cancer was developing during this growth period, a time when the long bones develop. We were advised to see if the pain would go away on its own, and if not they would run some blood tests. But to check for what? A possible auto-immune disease, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis perhaps? We didn’t know what was wrong but what scared us more was that our doctor didn’t know either. Our son was in pain and nobody knew why. Later we learned that sarcoma cancers often go misdiagnosed during the first year or so, and early detection is crucial.
After an explosive night of pain through his right shoulder in October of 2008, I took our son to the neighborhood clinic early the next morning, expecting to finally get some answers. The x-ray revealed nothing and Conner vomited from the pain. We were told later that soft tissue tumors do not show up on regular x-rays. It takes a contrast MRI to detect them.
Our physician suggested “maybe he has the stomach flu?”
“Stomach flu?” I hissed between clenched teeth, as I gathered our belongings, reached for my son and nearly shouted, “We are going to Children’s Hospital!” I didn’t know who to call or what exactly what was ailing our son but I knew something was terribly wrong and we couldn’t wait any longer. I remembered our oldest daughter had seen Dr. Song for scoliosis years earlier at Children’s and I knew that something must be orthopedically related with our son, so I made the call.
As I talked with the hospital in-take nurse describing my son’s symptoms, much to my distress, Conner added that he had fainted in the shower a couple of times of the last several weeks. He had always been an unassuming kid, who rarely complained. If he was in pain, he meant it! He also assured me that I was overreacting.
The nurse then connected me with the orthopedic department and we had an appointment within 3 days. Our son Conner was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma in his right scapula within 5 days. On October 29th he underwent a biopsy to confirm the original diagnosis and to insert his Hickman line that would deliver the high levels of chemotherapy needed to save his life. The intravenous line was necessary for the near toxic levels of chemotherapy needed to combat the cancer and not destroy his veins. He also was given and NG tube 2 months later after losing nearly 20 pounds and underwent 8 months of chemotherapy to be cured of his cancer.
I am pleased to say that our son is nearly 4 years cancer free. He can no longer play soccer as his shoulder allograph cannot endure the hits and movement. He tried track and cross country for a year and again the repetitive movement to the joint proved too painful. He has undergone 2 surgeries to repair and readjust his allograph and has been in and out of physical therapy but thankfully he is cancer free and is able to enjoy skiing and his work at the veterinarian clinic. He will be starting his freshman year at WSU and would like to major in Computer Science.
I write this story because as a parent you must be your child’s strongest advocate and their voice. If something is wrong, speak up and don’t give up. We never imagined our child had cancer, we thought it would never happen to us. Yet we knew we weren’t receiving the care needed or the answers we were seeking. Cancer doesn’t wait and neither can you.