The 5th Anniversary of Leukemia

Last week marked the 5th anniversary of when we sat in a room at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital and heard that our son had cancer. Devastating day. Each year since then, I’ve written a post with some reflections about cancer, faith, and our family.

Funny enough, I was filming some teaching for the Bible study version of the book about our son, our family, faith, and cancer on the anniversary of Joshua’s diagnosis. In fact, it wasn’t until mid-afternoon when someone reminded me that it was October 18th.

Funny how time flies. Or maybe not so funny. I can’t decide which. But I do think that now, 5 years on the other side of the diagnosis, it is a matter of God’s grace that the anniversary crept up on us. We were busy with swim team, barbque’s, riding bikes, and… living I guess.

This year, I’ve decided that instead of writing a post of brief reflections, I would just post an excerpt from the book that is releasing soon. Along with that, here are some links to the previous year’s posts.

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

Year 4

It’s not that difficult to tell when someone has something they need to tell you but really don’t want to-you can almost always sense the news coming. It’s the same
feeling you have right before a news broadcaster interrupts the regularly scheduled programming for a special message. Or when your spouse is talking on the telephone to someone in grave, hushed tones, only to hang up and invite you to “Have a seat. I have something to tell you.” It’s that feeling where you hold your breath without knowing it and you feel your heart beating inside of your head.
Dr. Collins had ordered a blood test after examining Joshua; while the blood test came and went I tried to keep a 2-year-old preoccupied in the prison-cell sized examination room. We played with trucks. Then we played with a lot of medical instruments that I’m sure we weren’t supposed to touch. Joshua ate one strip of his sandwich. Then the doctor came back. He sat across from me. Looking at him, I subconsciously held my breath. My heart started beating in my head. Why was I nervous? We had been to the doctor before. But something was different this time. Then he started saying words that I never expected to hear: “hematology”; “children’s hospital”; “call your wife”. Then he said the word that would become part of our everyday vocabulary at heart-breaking speed: “leukemia.”
What do you do with a word like that? How do you respond? What questions do you ask? I didn’t know; I still don’t know. But I think I do know that there are some words in our vocabulary that are heavier than others. They are the kind of words that linger in the air long after they are said. They echo in your mind and pierce your heart over and over again, and when they are first spoken, they drop to the pit of your stomach like lead. Leukemia. There are always questions surrounding a diagnosis like leukemia: is acute myeloid leukemia hereditary? What treatment is available? Where do we go from here?
Two hours later Joshua was still playing with his trucks, but he was playing with them on the floor of an examination room at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. My wife had joined us and we were waiting for the results of a secondary blood test they had done. We didn’t speak. We didn’t cry – much. We hoped, we tried to pray, we wanted to believe. And then we had another “sit down” moment.
Amidst Joshua’s truck sound effects and laughter, we heard the confirmation that our 2 and a half-year-old boy had a childhood cancer of the blood. And it felt as if someone had punched me as hard as they could in the gut. Leukemia. There was that word again, and there was the lead-heavy residue in the air. It echoed in my heart.
Over and over again the words punched. The emotion welled behind my eyes until I thought my head would explode. How could 82% of his blood cells be affected? He’s playing with trucks! How could he have cancer? I made him a sandwich this morning! And it wasn’t just the emotion that throbbed; it was the questions. So many questions that I didn’t even know where to begin.
There were the questions you’d expect:

“Is Joshua going to die?”

“How can he be sick? He looks fine!”

“Isn’t it just a rash?”

“How do you treat leukemia?”

“What does this mean about the future?”

But then there were the other questions:

“Why this little boy, God?”

“How could You let this happen?”

“Is this punishment for something we have done?”

“Are You even real?”

Joshua finished his sandwich, and I started to cry. I cried because there he was, eating his strips of PB and J the same way he had hundreds of times before. And while he ate, I wondered how many more times he would…

Preorder your copy of Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal here.

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  • Jenny Williams says:

    Hey Michael, thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to read the book! Hope everything is going well for you 🙂

  • Tamra says:

    Praising God with you today! Can’t wait for the book.

  • Crystal says:

    Going back and reading your reflections for the four years – incredible depth. I don’t know why God allows the pain that He does, but I know that it teaches like no other. You have the gifted heart of a minister, Michael. In Seminary, one of the professors I admired the most was in his 80’s. During one of our classes, he stopped for a moment, looked at each of us in turn, and said, “I’m scared for each of you. I can sense the gifts and the calling on you, and I know that it will bring deep suffering and trials in your lives.” He would have certainly said the same of you. You are a man after God’s own heart, and I am so thankful that Joshua is doing well. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  • MK says:

    Thanks for these kind words, Crystal – and thanks for sticking with us over the years.

  • Andy P. says:

    As I read this now, tears come to my eyes and so many emotions as well. God taught me much about myself and Himself through the Kelley family and your story.

    I will never go for a run and not think about and pray for yall.
    I will never watch the World Series without thinking of you.
    By grace there are some issues that I no longer wrestle with God about- He reconciled them with me during those years.

    God has redeemed much in my life over the last 5 years. Thank you for being a very significant part of that.

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