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Drew's Battle with Cancer: A Mother's Perspective

stephanieEvery Friday during National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month  each member of Drew's family will share their story and how they have been impacted by her diagnosis. 

Drew, my sweet, full of life, 3-and-a-half year old was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) in June 2014. We went to my aunt's ranch and Drew's eyes were swelling. My eyes were also swelling due to allergies, so I gave her allergy medicine and thought the problem would go away. When we got home Drew kept grabbing her head saying "My head hurts." I would check her head for a fever but she was never warm. Her eyes were still swollen and when she woke me up at 6 a.m. grabbing her head I knew I had to take her to the doctor. The first visit was a Monday. Our pediatrician was out of town that week so we saw a nurse practitioner. She said Drew had strep throat. I told her "I am not worried about strep throat. My kids have had strep throat. I am worried about her eyes!” We were sent home with antibiotics. On my birthday she looked up at me with blood in the bottom of her eyes... My heart sank and I panicked. We immediately took her back to the doctor and they told us she broke a blood vessel. We were sent home with antibiotic eye drops. Surely this would help, I thought. The next day Drew fell. I didn't see her face but my Dad did. She couldn't breathe and started sobbing. I will never forget the look in his eyes as he warned me, "Something is wrong!" Drew, being the tough kid she is, just shook it off. The following day, Friday, I lifted up her shirt and saw a huge bruise on her back. I said to my husband, “This looks like leukemia!” I am known to look at Web MD too much so he politely told me to stop. Saturday we had all of our bags packed to go on a family trip, but I had to take Drew into the doctor one more time to make sure she was okay. So I told my husband to go on without me and I would meet him at the resort. In the pit of my stomach, I knew she had leukemia. I called my husband, David, and cried and said "I need you to tell me she doesn't have cancer." The doctor came in and I almost didn't tell her about my suspicion but the mom in me blurted it out. I noticed blood dots on Drew’s  neck. Only 3 blood dots, but I noticed them and I knew what they were. The doctor ordered a blood test and within 10 minutes she and another doctor rushed in and said "I do not want to alarm you … but we think your daughter has leukemia. You can either take an ambulance or drive to Texas Children’s right away." My ears started ringing and I couldn't hear anything else around me. I went to sob and Drew looked up at me. I told myself in that moment that my daughter would never see me cry. Now was the time to be tough. I'll be completely transparent and tell you the first thing you think when they tell you "your daughter has cancer" is my child is going to die. For me, personally, that was gut wrenching and something I don't want any mother to experience ever again. After we found out it was leukemia we were transported to Texas Children's main campus. It brings tears to my eyes writing this. The doctor on-call that night is Drew's doctor today. It just happened that way and I'm so glad it did. You are out of your element. You are frozen. All of these people rush in and take over and tell you "We will save your daughter, you will see her get married one day." Do you even realize what that means to a parent? I use to say I wasn't from anywhere. I moved around numerous times as a kid. "I'm from all over," I would tell people. I was sitting in a hospital room when we got the news Drew had ALL and not acute myeloid leukemia. We were told her chances of living were 98 percent, all because Texas Children's is dedicated to these kids. It was in that moment I told my husband "I'm a Houstonian." You don't realize how lucky we are to have Texas Children's at our back door until you are in a position like my family and I were put in. When my daughters learned of Drew's diagnosis they were more concerned with her than themselves. Of course there were trials and hard times where they felt put to the side. I remember when they first diagnosed Drew and they told us "We have Child Life. They can help with the siblings and explaining to them what's going on," and it hit me. How would my other babies handle this? Drew has made it through with little to no "scratches." She threw up maybe once during the harsh chemo therapy, wiped her mouth and said "I feel better now." We are blessed. She is in the last phase of her treatment and will be done September 2016. She starts school again in 4 weeks. 11040858_610487352425769_159261588892456596_nI will forever be changed from this entire experience. No mom should ever have to hear her child has cancer. No mom should ever see her child in the fetal position screaming at people to leave her alone. No mom should have to spend weeks away from her other kids. No mom should have to tell her daughter she cannot go play with other children. And no mom should have to break down in a closet to cry. Most importantly, for my friends who have lost their children, no mother should ever have to lay their child to rest. Drew is not the only child with cancer. Drew is one of the luckiest kids I’ve seen with cancer. I thank God for Texas Children's, for saving my child's life. I pray I see a cure for childhood cancer in my lifetime.

Stephanie Carroll, mother of patient