I promise you this: I recall each moment with the same, uncanny precision every mother whose child has been diagnosed with cancer can all too-readily recount. Every. Single. Moment.
Throughout the middle of April, I made two visits and had three phone conversations with Dr. D – Paxton’s primary pediatrician – who I adore, respect, and trust. Despite her thourough examinations and careful explanations, I remained unconvinced he was merely suffering from congestion: allergic to his formula: fighting off a head cold: in the early stages of teething. My return to work, on April 26th, was met with countless dismissive assumptions from co-workers that the plaguing concerns running through my brain, on a loop, were merely neurosis typical of a first time mom who had leave her baby for the first time. I remained unswayed.
On Sunday, May 6th, after a long weekend of Paxton eating very little, despite a multiple trips to Target to buy an array of different size/shape nipples and bottles, combined with lethergy and the absence of his trademark bubbly, easy-going disposition – I could wait no longer. I took my sweet boy to Urget Care at Froedtert Hospital. After a brief, generic, entirely superficial assessment, the “doctor” concluded Paxton had Hand Foot Mouth disease. I stated repeatedly and emphatically, that this ‘diagnosis’ simply did not make sense. My insistence fell upon deaf ears. Discouraged, but not willing to accept the broad-stroke bullshit some guy, who somehow passed the MCAT – but clearly would’ve failed a hearing exam, I called Dr. D again on Monday. She said to meet me at her office the following morning ‘…if Paxton didn’t turn the corner.’ Monday night consisted of John or I holding our sweet boy while gently rocking him. He did not eat. He did not sleep. He did not cry. Paxton just wanted to be held by the two people he loved most in the world.
On May 8th, 2012, my sister-in-law, and dear friend, Kelsey accompained me and Paxton to Dr. D’s. We weren’t in her office more than 10 minutes before she directed us to the ER at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. She knew. Paxton knew. I was about to find out. Paxton’s wise-minded and kind-hearted pediatrician crafted the guise of dehydration as the reason for her referral to ER. She was keenly aware I needed to be spared the functionality to safely transport my baby to the only place that may be able to save his life.
I recall the ominious drive to CHW with prestine clarity. It was both the longest and shorest drive I’ve ever made. The gravity of the situation began to swell larger and louder against the walls of my chest. My hands, white knuckled on the steering wheel, continued to lose grip from the sweat which covered my palms. My mouth ran dry. My heart drummed inside my ears. Not once, did I make eye contact with Kelsey. Not once, did I take my eyes off of Paxton’s reflection in the rear-view mirror. All the while, I chanted my first of many futile battle cries, “He will be fine. He will be fine. He will be fine.” At the heart of my sinking heart, I knew something was gravely wrong with my beloved son. I instictively knew this drive marked the beginning of the end of my happily ever-after.
In a matter of hours, we were swarmed by a team of doctors who informed us of the unimaginable: Paxton had cancer throughout his tiny body. Before the words were out of the lead doctor’s mouth, I threw up for the first – of what would prove to be many, many times. Within days: after countless, painful, diagnostic procedures, the team of oncologists at CHW agreed that my twelve week old son needed to begin chemotherapy immediately. Though they were still unable to determine the origin and type of his cancer, they knew it was fierce. Paxton’s tumors were growing quickly, and time was not on his side. My sweet boy began his first round of chemo five days later, on my very first Mother’s Day.
In the weeks that followed, Paxton endured pain and suffering that would bring a grown man to his knees. He underwent five surgeries before turning four months old. He received countless blood transfusions, required platelets, and received around-the-clock-pain treatment regime that was fit for a 50 year old, 300 pound man. He tolerated dangerous CT scans, ultra-sounds, MRIs, blood draws, echocardiogram scans, and countless, countless additional procedures. Paxton received adult-sized chemo treatments, which were NOT appropriate for a teenager…much less a 12 week old, now 5 pound, unassuming baby – who could not even utter a single word.
The side effects from the treatments were relentless. But my sweet boy took everything in stride, snuggling in my arms, even though he was so very sick. My little family unwillingly rode the terrifying roller coaster of childhood cancer. One day Paxton would be stable, the next he would be rushed to the hospital due to a dramatic change in his condition.
On June 30, 2012, after an unanticipated chain of horrifying events – John & I walked Paxton to his final CT Scan. As we traversed the barren underbelly of CHW, my husband handed me our beloved son and asked me to carry him the rest of the way. This was out of character, as we had a routine; Daddy carried Paxton to the procedures – Momma carried him back. John lost his vision on the way to the imaging room. In fact, he could barely keep his footing. In hind-sight, John’s pangs were serving as an introduction to the worst torment a parent can possibly experience. His fatherly-insticts sensed what our minds were unable to accept: our worst fears were about to be confirmed.
Only hours later, Dr. K delivered the most devastating news of our entire lives. The treatments were not working. The cancer had taken over my sweet boy’s tiny, little body. My baby did not want to fight any longer. With our thoughtful and heart-breaking consent, the loving staff at CHW discontinued the grueling treatment regimen and shifted their focus on keeping my Peaceful Warrior comfortable in his last hours.
On July 2, 2012, at the far too abbreviated age of 20 weeks and one day, Paxton Bowe Andrews – the love of my life – ended his battle with cancer. He left us while safely tucked in his Daddy’s strong, loving, protective arms. I was cheek to cheek with my beautiful son when he took his last breath. (For nearly 70 hours, my body was strewn across my husband’s lap; my arms tightly around both of my boys. I would have given anything to have stayed that way for 70 years.) As Paxton peacefully and proudly ended his fight, I never stopped whispering words of profound love and ever-lasting adoration into his ear. I hope he heard every word I said.