When your sons are both diagnosed with cancer

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One day, our 2-year-old son Javon complained about a bit of pain at daycare. It seemed harmless enough. But after a visit to the pediatrician, we ended up in the hospital for emergency surgery. There, they discovered that a mass in his body was causing the pain. “Cancer?” we feared, but it was too early to confirm.

As young, first-time parents, their father and I were unsure where to turn for help. There’s no manual on how to be a parent when you hear the news that your son has been diagnosed with cancer.

Our doctor referred us to Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, and for two years we traveled from Brockton to Boston, where Javon received treatment before entering remission when he was 4. For a while, everything seemed fine and our family was in good health, visiting Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s every six months for checkups.

Then, we started to notice something was wrong with our youngest son, Terell. At first we thought it might be an infection. We were trying not to panic, but we knew we had to follow our instincts and we brought Terell to his primary care physician.

Test after test, we grew more concerned. I kept thinking: “You have been through this before; it’s rare for siblings to be diagnosed with cancer.” Although Javon had finished treatment, we were worried about his cancer coming back. The last thing on our mind was that our youngest son would go through the same thing.

But that’s what happened, and we ended up at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s once more, this time with a different patient. Although our sons had different diseases and treatments, things felt very familiar. As a family, we started to settle back into a routine and we forgot the unusual circumstances of our situation.

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Javon and Terell at Fenway Park in 2002.

I remember we were at the hospital for Terell’s appointment when one of the nurses asked about Javon. The question was so innocent, but the reality of it brought about powerful emotions inside me. It was then that I realized the truth: I had two sons in cancer treatment. I could not bring myself to answer the question; I broke down in the lobby and cried for a long time.

Every visit to the Jimmy Fund Clinic restored our sense of hope. The care we received went beyond our sons’ treatment. Little things, like parking when we were running late for an appointment, would send us into panic mode, and the staff at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s would greet us to park our car and soothe our worries. In situations like this, it really was the little things that mattered most.

There are no words to describe the joy we felt when we were finally told that our sons were finished with treatment. Now both in remission, Javon and Terell only visit Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s once a year for an annual checkup, and both live full lives. Javon, 19, is taking some time to pursue creative endeavors, while Terell, 17, enjoys playing tennis and video games.

This story originally appeared on the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Insight blog. 

Learn more about Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.