By Bill Ericson
At Christmas dinner in 2010, my partner Tom began to feel very ill. He had been experiencing flu-like symptoms for a few days but then realized he was extremely fatigued, not even being able to stand for more than a minute. He rested that night and we headed to the Edgewood Clinic on Sunday morning. His blood pressure had sunk to a dangerously low level and we were rushed off to Emory Midtown and then Emory Hospital, where the diagnosis was acute Myeloid Leukemia. Tom spent almost a month in the hospital with daily chemo for the first week and countless blood and bone marrow tests over the next several weeks.
Towards the end of January 2011, Tom was released to begin a six-month regimen of chemo and many visits to the hospital for tests, including two more weeklong stays for high fevers.
The end of chemo came on May 13, 2011. And after a few more months Tom began to feel as he did before this all began. We were very fortunate that Tom’s leukemia had been successfully treated and that he was in remission. At this writing he has been in remission for 18 months. About every three months, Tom goes for blood work and will for the next four years. As we go about our lives, the thought of relapse is never far from our minds, but as time goes on the long-range outlook gets better and better.
About the same time we were celebrating Tom’s remission, we received word from friends at St. Paul United Methodist Church that a little boy in the neighborhood named Owen had been diagnosed with acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, also known as Childhood Leukemia. The news was almost as devastating to Tom and me as Tom’s illness was. We knew that what Tom had endured for the better part of a year, young Owen would have to deal with for three years, as the treatment for a child is spread out over a longer time with more frequent but less strong doses of chemo.
Very quickly the neighborhood reached out to Owens’s family: parents John and Mittie Fox and sister Mittie June. Members of the neighborhood were preparing meals, arranging play dates, and offering “Love and Prayers for Owen” on Facebook. Soon we would all learn of Light the Night and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s battle to cure blood-related cancers.
Team Owen was formed by Grant Park resident Angela Russell to walk in the November 2011 Light the Night Walk in Centennial Olympic Park. Tom and Owen carried the white balloon of a survivor, and the rest of us carried the red balloon of caregiver and friend. Regrettably, there were gold balloons in remembrance of loved ones not so fortunate as Tom or Owen. Team Owen raised over $17,000 in its first year.
As of today, Owen has completed just over a year of intense treatment including chemotherapy and radiation. For the next two years, he will be in maintenance treatment. Owen turned 7 on August 4 and in the fall will be in the second grade at Wesley International Academy.
Light the Night
By Bill Ericson