When 5-year-old Patrick was diagnosed with cancer, he was over 14,000 miles from home.
His family had just moved to Indonesia for Patrick’s dad, Joe’s, job and were just starting to get settled when Joelle, Patrick’s mom, noticed a bump was getting larger under his left eye. When it didn’t go away, Patrick and Joelle flew from Indonesia to Singapore to try to find out what could be happening. When one procedure to heal the bump only made it worse, Joelle dug even deeper for answers. The news they received changed all of the family’s plans – Patrick was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma.
Joelle and Joe, Patrick’s dad, said they were in shock for at least 48 hours after Patrick’s diagnosis. It wasn’t easy to find out where they could get the best medical care – they were in an unfamiliar country with new, complicated systems to navigate. They even got on a call with doctors in Indonesia and Minnesota to talk through Patrick’s treatment options. After a lot of consideration, the Olivers decided to leave their home in Indonesia and move back to Minnesota for Patrick’s treatment.
“I posed the question, ‘Where is home for us?’ to a friend and I loved the response,” Joelle said. “‘You have a home here and you have a home there, and love is everywhere.’”
Patrick’s treatment included 24 weeks of chemotherapy and 28 rounds of proton radiation. Joelle describes this time as a “roller coaster” for their family – most of their belongings were still halfway across the world, and she and Joe juggled the schedules of Patrick and his three siblings. Patrick was getting used to scary medical procedures, like getting his port accessed, which involves watching a large needle go right into his chest. Patrick’s parents are proud of how bravely he has handled the worst parts of cancer treatment, but sad to see him growing up too fast.
“Once needing to be physically retrained prior to getting his port accessed, he is now having a conversation with nurses about what he expects,” Joe said. “He has developed an approach that works for him with a maturity no 5-year-old should ever have to exhibit.”
After so much change and instability, Patrick had a hard time getting back into a routine. When it was time for him to start going to school regularly, he got very nervous and refused to go in. Now, he is happily going to school and making friends, but Joelle says this has been another unexpected part of the roller coaster that is childhood cancer.
“It is difficult to navigate this new path we are on. When we least expect resistance from Patrick, we may get it full on. When we expect him to be resistant, he may glide right through it. And our roller coaster will not end soon.”
Patrick finally received his last dose of chemotherapy at the end of April, and doctors removed his port in early May. He wore leg braces because chemotherapy weakened his legs, and doctors are keeping watch of the spot under Patrick’s eye, where he received radiation. Patrick will have ongoing eye care needs, such as drops and possibly surgery, in the upcoming years. But he has now fully transitioned back to school and his family is settling into their new home in Chaska, Minnesota.
This doesn’t mean that cancer is behind him, but Joe and Joelle are glad to see Patrick returning to the things he loves to do most. This summer, he got to be involved in a powerlifting event and traveled to Washington, North Dakota and Florida with his family.
What’s next for the Oliver family? For now, they’re staying in Minnesota, where their support system carried them through the toughest times.
“We felt the support, and it is what helped us focus on our family and treatment,” Joelle said. “Our community is where we are right now.”