Learning to cope with a child (grandchild) who is fighting Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), has not been an easy task. Andrew Joseph Bay who is now three years old was diagnosed with leukemia in July 2013. His little body has too many lymphoblasts in the white blood cells. Malignant, underdeveloped white blood cells constantly reproduce causing overproduction of these bad cells in the bone marrow. A.L.L. causes damage crowding out normal cells in the bone marrow. It often spreads to other organs and can cause death. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is most common in childhood with a peak incidence at 2–5 years of age, and another peak in old age. In A.J.’s cause he began having severe stomach pain and unexplained anemia at the age of almost three.
It took the doctors several week and many trips to the urgent care to get a diagnosis. AJ kept complaining his stomach hurt. First, the doctor told mom it was just a virus and to take him home and it would pass, Next, visit they decided to draw some blood. This time they decided that AJ was anemic. They told his parents again to take him home and begin to give him iron.
After another, week passed AJ began to become very pale and did not want to eat nor play. His parents decided to take him back to urgent care. This time mom told them they needed to do more tests as this behavior was not normal and there was something really wrong. The doctors appeased mom and drew more labs. They sent the family home and told them to continue to give the little guy iron and watch him. AJ was not improving.
A few days later on a Tuesday in mid-July his mother received a call at work. They told her she needed to go home and get AJ and bring him to the Children’s Hospital at Loma Linda University Medical Center immediately because they needed to admit him as they believed he had Leukemia. By 6 pm that evening it was confirmed little AJ had ALL leukemia.
AJ spent the next two weeks in the hospital having tests run and beginning to receive chemo therapy. They had to draw blood every few hours for testing. The took his vitals every two hours so sleeping well was out of the question. AN adult had to be present with his at all times so mom, dad, and grandparents had to all take time off work to help.
Watching this little boy go from a rambunctious two-year old to being lethargic and lifeless was heart wrenching. He did not want to do much of anything except be held and watch movies. The little moments of a smile or “I want to play with my truck,” were cherished and still are cherished. During the first two weeks AJ had to often had be restrained by the medical staff as well as family so that his blood could be drawn, IV’s could be placed and changed, or to give him his oral medications.Trying explain to a 2-year-old child that he has to take all this medicine is almost impossible.
He was placed in isolation. He could not have any child visitors nor could he leave his room. We were told his ANC was zero. Another new term. So what did this mean? To us it meant we had to wear masks, gowns, and had to make sure his environment was as clean as possible, but it also meant is that we all had educate ourselves and understand what was really happening.
The term ANC is short for Absolute neutrophil count. This is a measurement of the number of neutrophil granulocytes. Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell that fights against infection. This became a new way the medical staff and family judged how AJ’s immune levels were doing. Chemo therapy causes the ANC to drop over-night sometimes. A normal ANC is above 1,500 cells per microliter. An ANC less than 500 cells per microliter is considered as a high risk of infection. Neutropenia, which is the condition of a low ANC, is the most common measurement used in the setting of chemotherapy for cancer. So, now the family and doctors talk in terms of AJ’s ANC as to whether or not AJ can join if family functions.
Everything has happened so fast and continues to happen fast. Our family continues to band together and help. We have put AJ on several prayer chains. We also pray for him ourselves. It is so easy to question God as to why any of this is happening or why such a young life is having to deal with so much pain. None of us can say those thoughts have not cross are minds, but we continue to be trusting and faithful. It has been almost 4 months and AJ is still with us and fighting.