Bang That Gong ... Softly

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By Val Marshall

addiiiiiii.jpgVal 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

Addie checked off the giant red letters on the calendar that represent 16 long days of proton radiation to his brain and spine. Radiation started on a rough note, but typical MD Anderson snapped to attention when I reported at midnight one night that Addie mentioned the sounds and side effects were causing him anxiety.

On day one, I asked Addie what reward he would like to visualize at the end of radiation. He didn't hesitate, "Fogo de Chao," the Brazilian, all-the-meat-you-can-eat male feeding trough. He had even determined the guest list.

His girlfriend, Sarah, was appalled to discover that Jack and I were not on the A list but Addie grinned and said, "Well, I guess they can come." Ah, the sweetness of appreciative offspring.

Gong represents restoration

The pictures are of Addie banging the gong on the last day of radiation. Above the gong is this saying, "The ringing of this gong symbolizes a restoration of balance, harmony and life energy." It also says to ring the gong softly, one time.

As the loving staff surrounded us, I envisioned Addie treating this like a workout and banging it not so softly and perhaps more than once. I wonder what the insurance charges are for replacing a gong?

I guess parents will forever see their 5-year-old in front of them and hold their breath just hoping for the behavior they've been taught will kick in at that exact moment. Although, I don't remember saying, "When you get cancer, promise me you will follow all the rules of etiquette you have been taught."

I didn't need to worry, as he delicately rang the gong with a sense of peace that has risen to the challenge placed in his hands.

Catching up
Addie was able to squeeze in the ACT and SAT exams on his weekends between radiation visits, and he did quite well. I guess I never thought radiation to your brain was a wise jump-start to those long, intimidating tests.

The boys have teased me and asked what my scores were. I don't remember. Yes, that's it.

Addie also had to drudge back to school and take the three TAKS tests that he missed in the spring.

His first days of summer came in July and his first stop was a family reunion with Sarah and her parents. I knew Addie needed a break from medical-obsessed parents. As I gently reviewed the manners checklist for meeting "the family," he looked up and said, "Mom, I'm not 5 and don't worry, I won't act like I do at home."

It was a treat to go to bed and not watch the clock and listen for the garage door to open.

"Let this kid live his life"

Addie is now in the maintenance phase of treatment for the next year or so. Oral chemotherapy at home and weekly visits for armchair chemo with the random spinal tap tossed in for good measure.

He is now port-less and has been cleared to play football.

Dr. (Robert) Wells looked at Addie and said, "As long as your counts pass weekly, you're free to be tackled." I looked at Dr. Wells and said, "Gee, thanks, whose team are you on?" He muttered something about living your life, already working out three hours daily, blah, blah, blah.

The word "maintenance" strikes fear in our hearts, as that was the stage when Addie relapsed last year.

I asked Dr. Wells what I was supposed to do now. He smiled, looked me in the eye and said, "You need to keep busy and let this kid live his life." Ouch! Don't you just hate it when your oncologist is so on the mark?

Addie's grandmother told him she was going to call his coach and tell him he was on steroids, so he wouldn't be able to play football this season. My mom always has my back. He was on steroids during radiation and that may have explained some of the prickly behavior. But our sweet, thoughtful and fun-loving kid is back.

"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."-- Charles Darwin

The Sweet Tooth Shoppe hosted a blood drive over the Fourth of July and 57 loving souls donated to help replenish the significant amount of blood that Addie's body absorbed these past two years. The Sweet Tooth offered complimentary ice cream to all donors. You can't get any sweeter than that. Thanks to Dave, Karen, Wendy, Lauren and Marie.

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