With everyone trying their best to be optimistic as a child battles cancer, there’s always a looming cloud of doom that follows you. When Teri’s son Danny, who had leukemia, went with her husband to the funeral of a boy who had been going through the same treatments, she stayed home and cried. And she wondered when it was Danny’s turn.
In June of 1993, my cousin Teri and her family were living in Norway, and her brother Rick and his family were visiting from the United States. Throughout their visit, Teri watched Rick and his wife give their young daughter her chemo pill, as she was battling leukemia. On the last day of their visit, Danny became very ill, vomiting in a way Teri had never seen before. Still, they figured he must just have a stomach bug.
Rick and his family left Norway, and a few days later, Teri noticed 11-year-old Danny’s back was covered in bruises. She wasn’t entirely worried, as Danny was a goalie for his soccer team. But then he had a fever and started vomiting again. Teri knew something wasn’t right, but she never imagined it was cancer.
“The doctor said he hoped he was wrong with his diagnosis, however, we needed to have tests done at the hospital,” Teri said.
The normal range for white blood cell count was between 4,000 and 11,000 cells in every microliter of blood. Danny’s was 168,000.
“All of a sudden I got confused and started to really worry,” Teri said. “But my thoughts were that we were in the hospital ward with kids, and I needed to put my big girl pants on. We were told he was going to have minor surgery to extract bone marrow from his hip to get the results, if this was leukemia or a blood disease.”
It was leukemia. Like his cousin Jennifer, Danny was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
“My mind went crazy,” Teri said. “Both (my husband) Ivar and I were very quiet and in a state of shock. No crying and no reaction. All the doctors were wondering why. Our reaction came when we were alone and nobody was looking.”
Teri and Ivar’s reaction, or lack of one in the hospital, came from a common thread in their family: bad news. It was too familiar for the couple, whose daughter Marina was diagnosed with spinal meningitis just six years earlier. She wasn’t expected to survive, hooked up to nine machines that kept her alive for five days. Sure enough, Marina pulled through.
“I’m positive this is part of what makes us tough-skinned,” Teri said. “Bad and horrible news was par for the course.”
Danny began chemo immediately after the diagnosis and continued treatment for three years. For two of those years, he was hospitalized nearly the entire time. Danny faced a number of terrible issues due to the chemotherapy treatments, but his family was always by his side. His stepdad Ivar even shaved his head to show his support for Danny, who lost his hair.
The radiation also curbed Danny’s growth throughout chemotherapy, and it wasn’t until he was 14 and finished that he started growing at normal rates.
“The role of having a kid with cancer, it was just an automatic duty,” Teri said. “I did what I had to do and that was be a mother. I felt lucky because we never lost Danny to this disease. We had really close calls, but we learned from it.”
Danny turned 38 on February 4, and works for a Norwegian Company in Asia. He was told he might not be able to have children because of years of radiation treatment, but Danny has two boys, Ethan and Isak.
“They are my little emperors who are currently learning three languages: English, Mandarin, and Norwegian,” Teri said. “We are very proud!”
Leukemia and lymphoma are blood cancers that many families face, and it is particularly destructive on the bodies of children. To support families impacted by these horrible cancers, please make a donation here.