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Milestones, Signs and Moving Forward

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prom.jpgBy Val Marshall

Val Marshall's cancer journey began in May 2009 when her son Addison was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. A visit to the family doctor for what they thought was a simple high school football injury turned out to be so much more.

Inspired by her son's strength and hope, Val strives to be a voice to help connect other parents on this journey. Her series shares insight into her life as a mom of a typical teenager who just happens to be fighting leukemia.


Addison Marshall Crush Cancer

Get on your dancing shoes, Addie!

That was the "shout out" from the nurses' station last week when Addie was given the all-clear to attend prom.

The "village" at MD Anderson hovered more than PTA moms chaperoning a first date. He was hydrated, poked and prodded for three days. Every member of his medical team helped get his white cells up before the limo arrived on Saturday.

One of the most conservative of oncologists asked Addie how he received the elongated bruise on his arm. His reply, "Bow fishing Saturday night." Wrong answer, try again.

When Dr. N asked about the scratch on his eyelid, Addie explained, "Well, you know, when you grease a watermelon and throw it in a pool and your team has to get it to the other side of the pool?" Wrong answer, try again.

Dr. N politely explained how low his blood counts were and the seriousness of being sick with a possible virus, while battling the symptoms of chemo. I thought it was very professional of him to remain stern until leaving the bedside before shaking his head and chuckling, "Oh, Addison, my boy."

One fever, one ER admission, three-day hospitalization, 18 units of platelets, two bags of blood, three oncologists, four residents, two fellows, five nurses, three antibiotics, two anti-fungals and a partridge in a pear tree.

Going to prom? Priceless.

I was invited to attend the after-party celebration in Galveston on Sunday morning as a chaperone. I was given permission by Addie and Sarah to attend.

After pictures, two prom moms and I headed to the beach to prepare breakfast for the kids. But on the way we witnessed a serious motorcycle accident and stopped to render aid and call 911.

A sobering scene
All three victims were in shock. We knew not to move a potential back injury, as we held on tight to a hysterical teenager. Having the "calm in a crisis" personality type (read: ha-ha!), I told the dispatcher my maiden name (from 24 years ago) and ran back to the car to grab towels and blankets for the victims. At least I appeared calm and in charge.

EMS arrived quickly and we began to leave the scene.

I walked over to pick up my now bloodied "Mary" blanket that was given to me by a close friend in Louisiana post-Katrina. I had told her I would think of her every time I snuggled with "her" blanket.

An emotional snuggle blanket

Mary's blanket accompanied us on every overnight at MD Anderson this year. The patient rooms can be a frozen tundra, and it was also an emotional snuggle blanket. I would wake in the middle of many a night and cover Addie with this special gift.

As I walked over to retrieve my blanket, the police officer picked it up and gingerly placed it under the woman's bent knees. I was startled, but looked at Vicki and we both commented at the same moment that this was God's way of telling me I didn't need Mary's blanket anymore.

Addie has only one more hospital stay left. It was time to pay it forward and help the next family whose life had changed in an instant.

Faith, friendship restore warmth and calm

I know it sounds pathetic, but signs from heaven keep me hopeful that cancer treatment will one day not be the center of our vernacular.

Michelle, Vicki and I were shell-shocked as we arrived late at the beach to begin preparing for the prom procession. Within a few moments, they had wrapped me with fleece blankets to replace my treasured Mary blanket. The circle of friendship when you are shivering is the greatest blankie ever created.

We prayed for the injured and sighed with relief as our prom revelers rolled in, excited but exhausted.

Seeing Addie experiencing a slice of normality was a sweet cherry on top of an emotional week. To see him packed in ice on Monday and dressed up in a tux on Saturday gave the week a bipolar shading that made both of us so appreciative of modern medicine.

My oldest son, Jack, dedicated his weekend to packing and moving Austin back home after graduating from Texas A&M.

I'd like to devote this blog post to the dedicated moms of prom who organized, cooked, cleaned, returned tuxes, took pictures and stayed up way past bedtime to ensure that Prom 2011 was a night to be remembered.

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