Today my Facebook feed is filled with adorable first day of school pictures. All of my own children are either too old or too young, but I do have something I would like to share. This is my back to school story…
16 years ago today was supposed to be my son’s first day of kindergarten. We had just taken the kids to Astroworld for one last hurrah before summer was over. It brought back vivid memories of spending my summers there with my brother and sister. Mom would get us season passes and drop off us on her way to work.
Dallas had just turned 6, Brandon was almost 5, and Mikayla was only 2.We took turns taking Mikayla on kiddie rides while the other parent took Dallas and Brandon on big kid rides. When it was my turn with the big kids, I couldn’t wait to get to the Gunslinger!
…but Brandon wasn’t up to it. He hadn’t been feeling well the past few weeks. Sometimes he would get a fever and he had blisters around his mouth. We chalked it up to him having a summer cold. There was no excitement, no light in his eyes. He was tired and feeling weak. He complained of terrible aches in his legs. We had to rent a wagon to pull him around in. When a kid can’t find joy at Astroworld, you know something is wrong.
His first day of school would be that Tuesday and I took him to his pediatrician on Monday. After a battery of bloodwork and tests, they determined that something was in fact wrong. They didn’t know what that something was, so they referred us to Driscoll Children’s Hospital. “We’ve called ahead,” they told me. “They are expecting you.” I was worried, but not terrified. We didn’t have GPS or cell phones back then, so I just hopped in the car and drove to Driscoll. I didn’t know where the hospital was, but I figured I could stop at the gas station and ask for directions. Turns out, Driscoll Children’s Hospital isn’t in Driscoll at all, it’s actually located in Corpus Christi. Awesome. More time to drive and more time to fret. By the time we found the hospital, my nerves were shot.
My pediatrician was right, they were expecting us. They had papers ready for me to fill out, a room ready for us to settle in to, and a phlebotomist ready to draw more blood. For some reason, Brandon and I both still thought he would make it to his first day of kindergarten the next day. But he didn’t. At almost 11:00 pm that night, the on call doctor came in to tell me Brandon had been diagnosed with leukemia. Now, I was terrified.
16 years ago today, I woke up in a hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas. The realization had set in that my son was diagnosed with a horrible disease that didn’t have nearly the success rate that it does now. 16 years ago today, Dallas started 1st grade. I wasn’t there to take her to school. I wasn’t there to help her get dressed or take first day of school pictures. I don’t even know if her hair was brushed or if she had a sweet note written on the napkin in her lunchbox. 16 years ago today, Brandon was taken into surgery to have a port-a-cath put in his chest. 16 years ago today, my son started chemotherapy.
Brandon turns 21 tomorrow, a milestone denied to many of the other kids being treated at Driscoll Children’s Hospital back then, a milestone we weren’t sure he would reach. He was a tough kid, so much stronger than I. He endured weekly blood transfusions and spinal taps WITHOUT anesthesia. We were told the steroids would stunt his growth, yet at almost 21, he towers over me. We were told he would always walk with an awkward gait because the bone marrow aspirations had ruined his hip, yet at almost 21, he walks with the swagger of a Hollywood celebrity. He has been in remission for so long, he is considered “cured.”
I am taking Brandon to get a tattoo on Thursday. That’s what he asked for and I am happy to oblige. We won’t be hitting up the bars tomorrow, now that he will be of legal age to drink. He will be spending the day with his girlfriend and that’s okay with me. I will; however, make a silent toast to him and his fallen friends as I sip my cold Lone Star after dinner tomorrow.
Happy 21st Birthday Brandon with many, many more to come! You made it, kiddo! And Happy First Day of School, Moms…