All parents’ hearts break when their child is sick or in pain. Thankfully, most little ones bounce back quickly and most often their ailments aren’t serious.
That was the mentality Cassie Busby had when Chase, her three-year-old son, came down with what appeared to be a stomach virus last summer. After suffering from seemingly common symptoms on and off for a month, things took very serious turn.
“I was trying to get him to eat some cereal while he was in our bed, and he had a quick febrile seizure. We got him to the ER, told the doctor about the past month, she consulted with our pediatrician and they did blood work,” Cassie Busby remembered.
“The next time our ER doctor came in, she was gowned up with a mask, explaining she was doing so because Chase’s blood counts were dangerously low and his body was in septic shock.”
What happened next was a bit of a whirlwind. Chase was given antibiotics but would also have to travel via ambulance to Wolfson’s Hospital in Jacksonville.
“There, they would give him a blood infusion and do further testing on what is going on. As I was holding our very sick son in the hospital bed, (the doctor) sat down and told Chris and I what no parent ever wants to hear, ‘I would be remiss not to say that with blood counts like his, there is a chance he has Leukemia,’” she said.
After that, the Busby’s lives became a blur of hospital rooms and big, scary words. Cassie and her husband, Chris, started learning terms that many parents will never have to learn, words like lymphoblastic, neutropenic, absolute neutrophil count. They pored over articles and websites, learning all they could about what was happening to their little boy. They also had the heart wrenching task of holding their son as he endured numerous, painful tests and procedures. It was through one of these — a bone marrow biopsy — that they discovered Chase did, in fact, have Leukemia.
”Once his oncologists found viable bone marrow, it was clear he had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. At that point, we were just relieved to have a diagnosis so he could begin treatments,” she said.
That, of course, was no walk in the park — far from it. Little Chase had to endure chemotherapy given through a port, often having to be held down by his parents while he screamed and cried. Then there were all of the other pokes and prods that come along with the therapy. For Cassie and Chris, it was incredibly difficult, but they feel their faith pulled them through.
“For me, the challenge lies in watching my baby boy go through painful procedures and taking medicines that have serious side effects. As any parent would, I wish I could trade places with him,” she said. “Things are better, but it is still not easy knowing he is going through it. This is certainly an emotional roller coaster, filled with many joys and fears.”
Chase and his family have had good news. After one month of intense chemotherapy, a bone marrow biopsy that showed Chase was in remission. However, the protocol for children his age is to continue chemotherapy for three years to help destroy any remaining cancer cells in the body. He is set to complete his treatments in the fall of 2018.
Along the road to the finish, Busby and her husband have made it a point to keep thing as normal as possible.
“He had a few fevers that landed him in the hospital, but overall, he felt as good as a child could feel when having poison injected into the body. Currently, Chase is in the maintenance phase of his treatments,” she said.
“This is the last phase, but it is also the longest. He takes a chemo pill every night, two on Thursdays and chemo via spinal tap every three months. This will continue for the next two years, and if all goes as planned, he will be finished with treatments by November 2018. We are counting down.”
While the Busbys have had a long, hard road, they are grateful for a positive prognosis. It’s not lost of them that many children stricken with cancer are not so lucky.
And it’s just one reason she and her family are encouraging the community to “Go Gold” throughout September in support of other local families who are enduring the same struggle. And, she said, it’s a fight that could arrive at the doorstep of anyone.
“As a parent, you never think your child will have cancer. You use BPA-free bottles, religiously put sunscreen on your children, provide filtered water, and encourage them to eat healthy. The facts are that cancer does not discriminate, and most of the time, the cause is unknown,” she said.
“Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children. It is not as rare as we think, and it could happen to any of our children. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month. The National Cancer Institute is a government funded division of the National Institute for Health. The research funds that the NCI receives are government allocated research funds for cancer. Of that funding, only 4 percent goes to childhood cancer research.”
To help change that, the Busbys have joined with local activist and mother, Katie Wilkin, who lost her daughter Alexa to brain cancer in 2015.
“One way that Chris and I are giving our support to this month is Redfern Goes Gold. On Sept. 23, they are hosting a block party at the Redfern Village on St. Simons. Many of the businesses are joining in,” Busby said.
“For example, Gnat’s is giving 10 percent of its profits that evening to Team Alexa/CURE and Chadwick’s is selling gold ribbon earrings and charm bracelets to benefit CURE. There will be a Kids Zone, a raffle and online auction, a bone marrow registry drive and more. We’d love to see the community come out to support our fighters, survivors and angels.”