This piece was originally posted by Kristy Westrom on the CaringBridge page for her son, Liam, who was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in May 2018.
It was a Thursday morning. We had a busy day planned with a doctor’s appointment, going to the gym, meeting friends for lunch, a play date and swimming lessons. It was a regular well-check appointment. I assured Liam that he wouldn’t be getting any shots that day because they were already taken care of.
As the doctor was finishing up the appointment, I brought up that he seemed to be bruising easily. She looked at him and thought he looked kind of pale, so she ordered labs. So much for “no shots.” As we were waiting to be called back for labs, of course, Isla poops and I have to go change her. When we went back to labs, they called him back and got started right away. Little did I know that this awful moment of having to hold one child down to draw blood while my other child watched would only be the beginning.
We are sent back to the exam room to talk to the doctor. Stan texted me to check in about Liam’s appointment. I told him they’re checking his blood levels and I’d update him when we knew more. The doctor came in, told us that he appears to be anemic because his hemoglobin is really low and that she’d be back with the rest of the results soon. I updated Stan, he asked if he needed to be there, I told him that it wasn’t necessary... it’s “just anemia.” Easy fix, right? I’ve managed my own anemia fairly well my whole life.
The doctor came back again and explained that his platelets also appear to be really low. At this point I’m wondering what we can do to fix that. As I’m about to ask, she went on to say that his white blood cells are extremely high and that she needed to send us to Children’s to run more tests. Panic attack No. 1. In that exact moment, I knew what she was telling me.
If you’ve ever had a panic attack with hyperventilation, you can imagine this with me. I was shaking, I was sobbing, I felt dizzy and nauseated, I couldn’t see clearly and I couldn’t breathe. The doctor asked if it was ok for the nurses to take the kids from the room, and I somehow responded with a yes. I called Stan, and I have no idea how he was able to understand me. I’m pretty sure the doctor talked to him and told him the details, but I truly don’t remember.
As soon as Stan got to the clinic, we got all the details, and a call had been made to Children’s informing them that we were on our way. I don’t remember driving home, but we ran home to grab a few things and dropped off Isla with family.
An interesting side note: I noticed my contacts were no longer in my eyes. I found one, but had no idea where the other one went. I found it a few hours later stuck and folded over underneath my bottom eyelid.
That entire day is a blur, yet there are so many random details I remember. I remember the pediatrician hugging me and telling me that the doctors at Children’s are amazing. I remember her telling Liam that his mommy and daddy might be sad, but that he is going to become such a strong boy. I remember the nurses popping in our room to give us print outs and I could see how puffy their eyes were from crying. I remember leaving the exam room to walk to the lobby and hearing all the staff sniffling with tears in their eyes as well.
As I write this, I have tears falling down my face. To relive the beginning of this nightmare will always be painful. Everything we thought our life looked like in the future has changed.
Written by Kristy Westrom
Kristy is a former teacher and mom to two children, Liam and Isla. Liam was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in May 2018. Kristy and her husband, Stan, live in Chaska, Minnesota. They look forward to intense treatments slowing down for Liam so they can resume family activities, like going up to the cabin. Read more about Liam's story here.