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This kid we can call a survivor. A four-year survivor.

Today’s scans, which included blood work, a chest x-ray, EKG, ECHO, and abdominal ultrasound, all came back clear. Unchanged, no evidence of disease, and (my fave) unremarkable. Which always strikes me as ever so remarkable.

As we walked out of the Clinic hand in hand after five hours of appointments, he swung my arm and casually said, “That was fun.” And he meant it. Which also strikes me as ever so remarkable.

And most remarkable of all is that in 365 days, two measly scans away, we’ll be able to use a whole different C word in reference to Austin:

Cured.

Ah, what a difference a year makes. Last Mother’s Day was not so good. I mean, the weather was nice enough that we were able to go on our annual picnic and hike. But the cloud that hung over my heart at that moment, the horrible certainty I carried in me that this would be my last Mother’s Day with two children, could not be lifted.

Yesterday, on the other hand, was cold and rainy and we didn’t really do much (although staying in your pajamas until 1pm is pretty special), but it just doesn’t matter. I don’t need intricately planned outings or lavishly wrapped gifts to celebrate being a mother. A pile of school-made cards and two sweet boys snuggled up beside me as we wiled away the morning reading Harry Potter in bed is more than enough. (And bacon and eggs — thanks, Mark.)

But the icing on the Mother’s Day cake (oooh, now that’s a good idea . . . Mother’s Day cake) came Friday afternoon with our visit to Austin’s oncologist. Confirming all that I’d reported two weeks ago, his chest x-ray was clear and his kidney numbers hold steady. So, we can now say without hedging that Austin is truly and officially three years cancer-free, 60% of the way to the other, much more pleasant C-word.

Since his new doctor is still learning his case, she showed me an email she had requested from a member of Austin’s team at Rainbow, providing a broad overview of his five-and-a-half years of care. Much of it was formal and technical but I scanned quickly, with Austin quietly Minecraft-ing beside me, searching for any hint of editorializing. Maybe a little clue of his future or a confirmation of what we’d believed was, well, a pretty big deal. And it was there: “Austin has had an impressive and complicated course of treatment since his initial diagnosis in July 2007.” Impressive and complicated, indeed.

Today, we just use the word “impressive.”

I guess that last one should have been titled The Year in Picture. This one can be the Year in Pictures.

2012 started with a family trip to Jamaica, with requisite swimming, horseback riding and playing with cousins:

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Once back at school, Braedan was the youngest kid in the district to join Ski Club. He enjoyed it immensely despite record little snowfall:

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At the end of February, Mark and I went to Charleston, South Carolina with friends. A wonderful weekend in a beautiful and charming city:

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March was dedicated almost entirely to St. Baldrick’s events, from the Bluffton Basebald trip to our Cleveland Heights event to the always fun downtown head-shaving. I was surrounded by bald people all spring long, which could not have made me more proud:

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Then we ventured off to Colorado for a spring skiing adventure, complete with an ambulance ride to the medical center for Austin’s low oxygen levels:

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We fully expected May to kick off the grand two-year cancer-free celebration, only to instead plunge into sixteen days of darkness and despair upon believing Austin’s cancer had returned yet again. A lucky double rainbow and a long overdue MRI provided intense relief at the end of the month and our good-year-gone-bad reverted to great.

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Then it was summer and all the joyous relaxation that comes along with it, including endless hours of baseball. baseball, baseball, swimming and waterskiing in Chautauqua and biking through Europe:

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And of course, our tenth wedding anniversary and our super celebration-of-everything party:

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Fall meant back to school for Braedan and off to school for Austin:

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More travel, this time for Mommy and Daddy on their own:

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Plus birthdays and fall sports, school events and some “little” surgeries, a lot of lost teeth and holidays, holidays, holidays. Of course, this was all interspersed with fighting, crying, whining, random ailments and injuries, complaints about school and battles over homework, boredom, sibling rivalry and the like. But I suppose that’s what makes it all worth it. The year ended with a few days of skiing in Chautauqua in near magical conditions:

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It was definitely a year to remember, filled with significant milestones and an awful lot of globe trotting. But what matters most is what remains: health, happiness, family, friends, luck, love, laughter. We’ve got it all.

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Well, my friends, it’s more than time to celebrate.  When Austin first finished cancer treatment way back in the winter of 2008, I remember thinking about having a big party until my mom and I sat down with a list of registered Carepage readers and realized we simply didn’t have enough room for all those people.  But now Mark and I have a huge yard with a huge porch and even more to celebrate (as that 2008 party would have obviously been a bit premature).

Austin is not keen on being the center of attention, so we’re wrapping many milestones into this one bash, and … on Saturday, July 28 we are hosting a great, big, long, loud and late party to celebrate all that is right in our lives: Mark is turning 40 in November (if you can count that as something that is “right” in our lives….), our 10th anniversary is in early August, our house projects are pretty much/almost/really close to done and, of course, last but far from least, Austin is two-years cancer-free.

Our fun and fabulous (and tree-friendly) invitation can be found here. Please know that even if you don’t receive an official invitation delivered to your email, you are indeed invited. Yes, all of you. Of course, I have no idea who or how many “all of you” are, but if you’ve ever gone to bed at night with fear and sadness in your heart after reading my updates or with relief and joy in your heart after reading my updates, then I’m talking to you. Leave your computer behind and come celebrate with us in person. But you must let me know that you’re coming! We really need a head count if we’re going to be even the slightest bit prepared. Of course, there are a few of you who may want to plan a surprise visit, but you better really be worth it. No fair “surprising” me with your presence if you live ten minutes away.

And note, Austin’s good health may be at the core of this party, but Austin himself will only be here until about 9pm and then he and Braedan will be shipped off somewhere quieter. In other words, call your babysitters, people, this is a grown-up party.

See you in a few weeks . . .

That’s what it was. Not actually “nothing.” To be exact, “Apparent hypoechoic area described on previous ultrasonography study is likely due to echo spin shadowing from surgical clip along the left psoas muscle.” Or, in our own language, that thing we saw in the ultrasound was caused by ultrasound waves bouncing off the titanium clip that was placed in his kidney as a marker and forming a shadow. It wasn’t a mistake. There really was a shadow on the May 7 ultrasound, some new spot that measured 1.4 centimeters and that warranted further study. That was it.

The same paragraph of the official report says, “No evidence of new left renal mass lesion.” And that says it all: No new left renal mass lesion.  There is nothing new in his left kidney that could possible be a tumor.

This is the report that was handed to me in person when our oncologist pulled into our driveway yesterday evening around 6:30. (The same report Austin later spilled champagne on.) I lost it. Absolutely and completely lost it (not over the spilled champagne). I don’t think I could have possibly cried harder or louder if we’d been told he had three weeks to live.  I have never felt that degree of relief over any piece of news we’ve received in the past five years. Never. Except that poor Mark was upstairs while the boys were showering and heard the doorbell ring and then heard me crying and assumed the worst. As he whisked the boys into their jammies, he was able to discern laughter in our tears and bravely ventured down to hear the news.

Then it was celebration and laughter and more tears, champagne and sprinklers and more tears. And some wonderful spontaneous visits from random people who couldn’t resist giving a hug.

And I’ll say one thing for that Dom Perignon:
it doesn’t taste all that different but you sure don’t wake up with a headache!

So I don’t know how to account for all this craziness. Was it just me overreacting? Was it the power of positive energy, good wishes, prayer?  Was it the healing oil a colleague of Mark’s dropped off, which we rubbed on Austin’s belly Wednesday night? The double rainbows, the wishing stars, an act of God? Good luck … a miracle? Or just plain echo spin shadowing? Call it what you will, my child is two years cancer-free, a fact made extra clear by the extra clear images of the MRI. This milestone, which we’ve been so eagerly awaiting for the past five years, means several things: The chances of Wilms tumor coming back after two years are extremely extremely slim. And if, at any point in the future, his kidney should start to fail, we can set the wheels in motion for transplantation while hopefully avoiding dialysis altogether.

In non-medical terms it means this: We made it. Austin made it. We have done what we hope is our life’s hardest thing. We have done our life’s hardest thing.

Why, what on Earth makes you think I’ve had too much sugar?

A successful day all around.

Austin is good. Liver, kidney and lungs remain unchanged, heart has actually improved slightly, lab numbers good. He is now officially sixteen months cancer-free — the longest cancer-free stretch he has had in his entire life.

We should have two more sets of tests like this before he reaches the golden two-year mark. Then his scans move to every six months and some things, like the chest CT, get downgraded to a chest x-ray which exposes him to considerably less radiation.

He handled the day well, although it does get exhausting to be there for all those hours and he feel asleep in the car on the way home (with Mark, who had to relieve me at 2:50 so I could be there to walk Braedan home from his first day).

And speaking of that first day, he is thrilled. A way different reaction than he had last year when he came home and cried for three hours. (Not that there was anything dramatically wrong with his first grade teacher — she was perfectly nice — but he never felt a warm connection to her and Braedan is all about the warm connection.)

He asked tonight if he had school again tomorrow and when I said yes, he cheered, “Yay! I get to see Mrs. Nice-and-Fun Teacher!”

Now I just need all of today’s results to last and last and last.

Heading out

Too cool for school?

Hey, don’t forget about me!

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