Today is September first, the beginning of childhood cancer awareness month. My heart goes out to any family having to go through this with their child. It’s not fair, and I could never imagine what it’s like. We naively go through our days without thinking twice about how good we have it, or what it could be like if the people in our lives were battling to survive each day. Kids don’t desserve to go thorugh this, and it can flip an entire family’s life upside down. When Jessica, a highschool friend, reached out to me about sharing a few links and rescources online for childhood cancer awareness for her son, Hudson, I didn’t want to post a few stories that disapear in 24 hours. Today, Jessica is going to be sharing Hudson’s story on my blog, and all of the ad revenue will be donated in honor of her son Hudson. #HudsonStrong
Please don’t hesitate to leave Jessica and her family a comment. I will make sure she sees them 💜
Did you know that every 2 seconds a child is diagnosed with cancer? That’s 43 children per day. Or that it’s the number one disease killer of children in the United States? Out of every five children diagnosed, one of them won’t survive. Odds are you weren’t aware of these statistics. I wasn’t either, until I became a childhood cancer parent.
Hudson entered the world on March 31, 2017. This is the day my heart left my own chest and was beating outside of my body. My whole world was immediately consumed by this little perfect bundle of cuteness. I hadn’t had much baby experience prior to my own, so the transformation was surprising. I immediately went into the only role I felt I was put on this earth to do, being a mother. His infancy was overall very healthy other than some acid reflux which was treated with a prescription of Omeprazole. Nothing we couldn’t handle. Until he was sixteen months old, he was exclusively breastfed with some solids being introduced. He was the child who consumed all the food groups, ate his vegetables, loved fruits and rarely ate foods that weren’t organic. He wasn’t overexposed to germs but also not isolated. He was fully vaccinated and had no daycare exposure. We live in a small town outside of the Quad Cities in Iowa, so we did have some farms that surrounded us but we lived in town. Location matters because of exposure risk. Basically, Hudson wasn’t living on a farm where herbicides and pesticides were used. He didn’t have exposure to high amounts of radiation or have any type of known genetic or familial risk for developing cancer. As far as risk goes, he didn’t really have any. This is the case for so many children. Fast forward to his first birthday, I was pregnant with our second child, Violet. Life for her started out very similar. She was exclusively breastfed, fully vaccinated and no daycare exposure. I can remember being in the studio for Violet’s newborn photos when the photographer had Hudson lay beside Violet. This was in November of 2018. She showed me the photo on her camera, and instead of telling her how adorable they looked and how amazing the photos was, the sentence that bluntly came out of my mouth was, “Hudson looks sick.” She instantly acted surprised and of course reassured me how adorable they both looked together. I brushed it off at the time, but kept thinking his eyes looked puffy, not himself. A mother knows. Fast forward a few weeks to when Violet was around six weeks old, in January of 2019, and Hudson was around 22 months old. Somehow, both kids came down with a viral illness. Our pediatrician treated them both as Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). They were treated with supportive care and both Hudson and Violet improved and we were back to normal life. Until we weren’t.
Mid-February of 2019 I was playing with Hudson in the toy room when I noticed some purple spots on his arm, called petechiae. Fortunately I work in medicine and knew exactly what they were. I also knew what they could be caused by–leukemia. Over the next couple weeks the petechiae disappeared, but I noticed some dark circles under his eyes that stood out as strange to me. I also noticed some change in appetite, but what almost two year old doesn’t have constantly changing eating habits? I monitored his temperature for a few nights and sure enough he had low-grade fevers. You see, I knew the warning signs of leukemia and other childhood cancers, so many parents don’t. No fault of their own. Most colleagues, friends and family that I voiced my concerns to dismissed them and told me to stay off google. I didn’t need Dr. Google, I knew in my soul Hudson had cancer. I took Hudson to our pediatrician and told them I wanted a CBC blood test to check for leukemia. She agreed to order it so I would sleep at night. After his blood was drawn I felt an instant sense of relief. I knew that we would have answers quickly and we could start treatment if he did have abnormal labs. About an hour later, our lives changed.
I was holding Violet when my phone rang. It was our Nurse Practitioner. She asked if I was sitting down and if I was holding Violet. I knew in my core what was coming next. “Hudson’s labs are abnormal.” The next twenty minutes were such a blur. I started hysterically blurting out partial sentences that mostly consisted of “Hudson can’t die!” or “He’s going to die! My baby is going to die, isn’t he?” Our NP told me Hudson’s lab values. His hemoglobin was around 5. To put this into perspective, they give blood transfusions usually when less than 8. His absolute neutrophil count (ANC) which shows how much of an immune system he was, was less than 20. His platelet count was around 15. Low platelets cause bleeding, or petechiae. She told me to pack some bags and immediately go to the 11th floor of University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. I asked what floor was the 11th. It’s the pediatric hematology/oncology floor. Hearing the word oncology made it that much more real. I got off the phone and immediately called my husband, Kyle. It was his last day at a job he had been at for ten years. All I could do was scream at him that Hudson was dying and had cancer and that he needed to get home immediately. The next phone call was to our friend Shari. She is battling cancer herself. She knew. She is one of the only ones who didn’t dismiss my maternal gut instinct. She walked out of work, asked me where the kids were and if they were with me and walked me through motions of what to do. That day we made our first trip to the children’s hospital.
We were swarmed with nurses and residents. Dr. Terry, a pediatric oncologist, came over to me and wanted me to give him any history I could. He was very impressed at my specific details and assessments. When I used the word petechiae, he knew I worked in medicine. More labs were drawn to rule out other causes of abnormal blood work, such as an autoimmune issue or virus. We only hoped it would be one of those as the cause. In the midst of all the chaos, we consented for Hudson to receive blood products. I never thought I would ever have to consent for my child to have a blood transfusion. I am so grateful there was blood on the shelves when he needed it, because that night he needed a lot of blood product. A nurse actually told us recently she remembers the night Hudson came in. She remembers our nurse spending the whole night having to do transfusions to stabilize him. He received three blood transfusions and one platelet transfusion. Without blood donors, he wouldn’t have survived. Did you know most blood donations go to cancer patients? I sure didn’t. A bone marrow biopsy and lumbar puncture was performed. I was sitting in the corner chair, holding my sweet Violet. She was not even 10 weeks old. Dr. Terry kneeled down in front of me. He looked me in the eye, with the most sympathetic face, and told me it looks like Hudson does have cancer and that it appears to be Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). He had no risk factors and no known cause. This is unfortunately the case for childhood cancer victims. Unlike many adult cancers that are due to poor lifestyle choices, most of the time the cause is unknown for pediatric cancer patients. I immediately handed Violet to our friend. I thought in that moment that I was going to die. I repeated over and over to Dr. Terry that Hudson cannot die. He absolutely couldn’t die. If he does, I will too. Dr. Terry was incredibly sweet but confident that they would do everything in their power to save our boy. More results continued to come in that gave us more details about the genetics of the cancer. Unfortunately, they had a possible leukemia cell in his spinal fluid. This changed his protocol a bit. The following day we met Hudson’s oncologist, the phenomenal Dr. Dickens. And so his treatment began. Because ALL is the most common of childhood cancers, there is more research and treatment options. Who knew I would feel fortunate about what type of cancer my child had. Not every child is that fortunate. Not every child has many options. Only 4% of funding from the National Cancer Institute goes to childhood cancer. The other 96% is spent on adult cancers.
Hudson is now in the Maintenance Phase of his protocol and will continue in this phase until May of 2022. To get to this phase, he had to survive Induction, Consolidation, Interim Maintenance I, Delayed Intensification and Interim Maintenance II. During Induction, Hudson was on a month of high dose steroids. This completely changed Hudson. He stopped walking, talking and lost his entire personality. We were convinced he was gone forever. A Nurse Practitioner on our team stopped me during one of our visits and said, “He’s just not your little boy. But he is in there, he will be back, I promise.” It was true. He did start to return, but it was a very difficult time. He had to relearn to walk because he was in so much pain and had so much weakness from his medications. He refused the medications because they tasted terrible. This led to the start of his NG tubes. Shortly after Induction was over, I went upstairs to get Hudson out of his crib. I saw my husband frantically pulling out his pillows and bedding. When I looked down I instantly realized what he was doing. Hudson’s beautiful hair was falling out. Never should a parent have to experience that. I would go to kiss his sweet head and his hair could stick to my lips. I would notice it on my hand when I went to rub his head. Or his shoulders after he was done playing. Over the course of the next few months Hudson had multiple inpatient stays for fevers, low blood counts, dehydration or medication refusal. He managed to pull out his own NG tube three times at home. Each time I replaced them myself. Kyle would hold him down and I would put the NG tube down his nose and throat. While I did this, Hudson would scream at me to stop, beg me, kick at me. It was extremely traumatic. But, we did it. We didn’t have a choice. This is our reality. He needed his medications and I knew how to put in NG tubes. During Delayed Intensification he received a red chemotherapy drug, called “Red Devil” or “Red Death”. These are the types of medications children have to receive because not enough funding is available to study new drugs. We are in the Maintenance Phase now, but it’s no walk in the park. It’s more of a nightmare rollercoaster that we can’t get off of.
Childhood cancer is a thief. It’s stolen the life we had envisioned before cancer, experiences and memories we could have had with our children, our son’s health and moments we missed with Violet. Violet was essentially raised in a hospital. Instead of friends or family seeing her milestones, it was the nurses on the 11th floor experiencing them with us and cheering her on. We are no longer who we once were. Not in our marriage or our friendships. Our entire lives are changed, forever. After the things we have seen and done, how couldn’t we be different? Would we do it all again? Absolutely. There is something so much grander than all the side effects, traumatic experiences, pain, fear and chemotherapy drugs and that’s the love we have for our child.
Despite everything Hudson has endured, my husband and I still consider ourselves fortunate. Most have a hard time believing that. Until you see what we have seen, you won’t fully understand. We have seen families being admitted on our floor, and the parents leaving without their child earth side. We see these mourning parents having to take out their belongings and the room being left empty and the nurses trying to carry on with their shift. Even though Hudson is walking through Hell, he is still with us. Still fighting. Still alive. We’re still able to kiss him, snuggle him, touch his soft beautiful hair, read bedtime stories and play together. We are grateful to watch him be the most amazing big brother to Violet. Even when he is feeling sick or in pain, he still has the sweetest personality and loves his sister. Violet, who is only 2 years old, has taken on this role of his caregiver during his rough treatment weeks. Somehow we were blessed with the most empathetic, kind hearted and caring soul of a daughter. She rubs his back, sits with him when he’s nauseous, bathes him when he can’t stand the feeling of bath water and makes sure all of his needs are met. We are truly honored to be their parents and to see their love and compassion for another human in their weakest moments. We will continue to fight and to spread awareness, both for childhood cancer and blood donation. Children deserve so much more than 4% of funding. I hope this post not only opens your eyes to the importance of cancer awareness and blood donation but also gives you a new perspective. Hold your children. Love your children. Remember that even in tough times, it could always be so much worse. We hope you will spread awareness for the precious children who have paved the way to new therapies, those who are currently fighting for their lives and those whose battle has yet to begin. In the time you read this post, at least one child was diagnosed with cancer. One out of every five children diagnosed in the United States won’t survive.
Great resources for education and awareness and for donations towards childhood cancer.
Blood donation facts:
4.5 million Americans will a need blood transfusion each year.
Someone needs blood every two seconds.
Only 37 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood – less than 10 percent do annually.**
About one in seven people entering a hospital need blood.
One pint of blood can save up to three lives.
Platelets promote blood clotting and give those with leukemia and other cancers a chance to live.
Much of today’s medical care depends on a steady supply of blood from healthy donors.
Children being treated for cancer, premature infants and children having heart surgery need blood and platelets from donors of all types, especially type O.
Shortages of all blood types happen during the summer and winter holidays.
The rarest blood type is the one not on the shelf when it’s needed by a patient.
There is no substitute for human blood.
If all blood donors gave three times a year, blood shortages would be a rare event. (The current average is about two.).
If only one more percent of all Americans would give blood, blood shortages would disappear for the foreseeable future.
A mother’s tears can’t save her child, but your blood can.
How you can help the McKearney Family:
Our information from our caringbridge
529 College Fund Info:
Hudson J. McKearney – 78Y-366
Violet M. McKearney – X3B-E82
Thank you all for taking the time to read Hudson’s story. Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or reach out to Jessica ♥️ Remember to go gold this month.
This absolutely moved me to tears. God bless your sweet family. I’ll be praying for your beautiful son, and holding my daughter a little tighter tonight. Thank you for sharing all of this information, too! Eye opener for sure.
Jessica Mckearney says
Thank you for your sweet words and prayers 💛
Also brought me tears. If you ever need family photos we’d be happy to do them for you at no cost. Thank you for telling your story and reminding us of what is truly important (health, family, love).
Jessica Mckearney says
Thank you for reading and taking our journey to heart ❤️
Shawnee Saunders says
Jessica thank you for sharing your story. I’m so sad that your beautiful family is having to go through this. No one should have to ever go through this. I will definitely be holding my little boy a little tighter from now on.
Jessica Mckearney says
Thank you for your words. Please hold your babe tighter, love on him, kiss him, take in every detail, be present and enjoy every moment 💛
Thank you for sharing your friend’s family story. I appreciate the courage it took to share a personal story.
Thank you for sharing this story! Sending all my prayers big hugs for Jessica, Hudson and the entire family. No one should be going through something that horrible, especially a child. God bless your family💛
I am so sorry that your precious Hudson has to endure all this. He and your family will be in my prayers. I am a blood donor and donate as often as I can.
Jessica, I grieve with you and I wish so badly you and Hudson didn’t have to go through this. NOTHING is stronger than a parent’s love; I truly believe that and I see it in you.
This absolutely breaks my heart and I cannot even imagine what you and your family go through on a daily basis. Thank you for sharing your story and I will be keeping ya’ll in my thoughts <3
This is such a heartbreaking post. Sending so many prayers to little Hudson, Jessica and her sweet family! I can only imagine the pain they’ve endured throughout all of this, and it still cannot even be close. I agree with you Taralynn, no child should ever have to go through this – and same for parents and loved ones. It is just horrific. It truly brings some perspective to how we can get caught up in day to day things that we feel are terrible, and they’re so minor and pretty insignificant when you hear stories like these.