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How cancer brought together a mother and son

Posted by on in Primary Care
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Wimage002-1hen you’re a parent, you come to expect certain things. Like bumps and bruises your child gets from playing on the playground. The back-talking teenage years. That proud and reflective day your child dons a cap and gown. What you don’t expect to hear is that your child has cancer.

Tarie Crawford’s son Shaun was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma when he was 19 years old. A referral coordinator at Oak Street Medical and Oregon Allergy Associates, Tarie says it was a turning point in her and her son’s relationship.

That fateful year

The year Shaun was diagnosed was a rough one for him. It was 2002, and he’d recently totaled his car, was let go from his job and was living at home. The bond between mother and son was strained. At the time, Tarie was raising three kids on her own and living in Placerville, Calif.

Throughout his life, Shaun suffered from frequent asthma attacks. His attacks, however, were becoming more and more severe. After several doctor visits, adjustments to his medications and a stay in the hospital for what they thought was pneumonia, a CT scan was finally ordered, which revealed several abnormalities. A biopsy followed.

Stricken with fear, Tarie and Shaun waited for the results.

Shaun blogged about that fateful day 10 years later: “I don't think the doctors ever said ‘tumor’ directly to me. They might have said as much to my mother … I was 19 and not at all ready for the world … That's not to say that I didn't know what was going on, of course …”

They’d found growths around Shaun’s aorta, trachea and lungs, which were contributing to his various symptoms. Hodgkin lymphoma, they learned, is a blood cancer that spreads from one lymph node group to another.

“There are a lot of things I don't remember … But I do remember the day I began treatments,” Shaun writes. It was two days before Christmas. “I had my first round of ABVD (adriamycin, bleomycin, vinblastine and dacarbazine – a.k.a. four ways to poison yourself in order to get healthy).”

Standing by familyimage001-1

Shaun’s candid sense of humor was one of the things that got him through chemotherapy treatment. The other was his mom.

“Something must be said for the fact that my mother pretty much stuck by my side in the hospital, sleeping in what I can only describe as the most uncomfortable chairs and ‘beds’ the hospital torture division could come up with.”

Raising three kids on her own, Shaun worried how his mother would pay for the treatment he needed. Things were tight, but they managed.

Two weeks after chemotherapy began, he started losing his hair, so he had a friend shave his head.

Throughout treatment, Shaun was hospitalized three times. To keep Shaun’s spirits up and to pass the time, they played rummy.

In his words: “I massacred her. And she lost badly.”

“I didn’t let him win, he just beat me every time,” Tarie says.

Eventually, he was put into isolation because of his fragile immune system. It was the first time Shaun talked about death.

“We didn’t see light at the end of the tunnel until we were told he was cancer-free,” Tarie says.

Putting it in the past

It’s been more than 10 years, and today Shaun is cancer-free. The memories remain, but he has moved on with his life, receiving a bachelor’s in literature, a master’s in English and a full academic scholarship at the University of Florida, where he’s working on a Ph.D.

In sharing their experience, they hope to bring awareness to the disease and encourage others.

“I would tell other families going through this to try to keep a positive outlook and to focus on recovery – nothing else matters,” Tarie says. “Reach out to any organization you can. Become informed.”

The American Cancer Society sent them information about Shaun’s cancer type, chemotherapy, nutrition and more. They even provided a volunteer survivor who mentored him through the process, took him to treatment when needed and visited regularly.

“In some ways, I think cancer was a blessing,” Tarie says. “Shaun and I had a very difficult time when he was a teenager. Cancer brought us closer together. Because you realize that life can be cut short, and all the tension and arguments don’t mean anything in the long run.”

September is Leukemia and Lymphoma Awareness Month. To learn more, go to www.lls.org.

Independent and progressive, Oak Street Medical provides a unique combination of complementary health care services that includes Primary Care, Diabetes and Mental Health, as well as Allergy, Asthma and Immunology through Oregon Allergy Associates.