Katie And Jim

Hofr CallenbedCallen #HeroesofRVA

When we tell people that Callen has leukemia, they almost sound relieved. “At least it’s now and not ten years ago.”  “At least it’s this form of leukemia and not the other.”  Jim and I are physicians. Yes, we know that survival rates have improved, but when he was diagnosed, all I could think was, “This is my worst nightmare.” A 90% survival rate is definitely more promising than some of the other more aggressive cancers, but Jim likes to use this analogy: There are ten airplanes, and you have to put your kid on one of them. Nine of the airplanes are going to land safely, but one is going to crash and everyone on that plane will die.  Now, put your kid on one of those planes and tell me how you’re going to feel during the flight. 90% is not 100%.  Because if you end up being the 10%, that 90% doesn’t really matter, does it?  And you have to face that.

Callen #HeroesofRVA

“Everyone goes into remission.” That was another one of those buffers that people wanted to put around us. But I remember looking at his attending physician the week before his day 28 bone marrow biopsy and asking him, “So what happens if he doesn’t go into remission?” He looked at me and said, “I cannot tell you the last time that happened.” I just had this feeling that it wasn’t going to come back the way everyone was saying it usually does.

Callen #HeroesofRVA

We ended up getting the phone call the night that several of our friends and colleagues planned to come by for a picnic in our front yard. We knew they were coming, but then I looked out my dining room window and saw them standing there with banners and pails of ice cream. They even crocheted blankets for us. It had all the makings of being a celebratory evening. Then, right as we were about to go outside, my phone rang. And my heart sank when I saw the number come up because good news doesn’t come at that hour. When you’re a physician, you call to give good news the minute you get it. It doesn’t wait until the end of the day. And I knew that.

Callen #HeroesofRVA

With dads, it’s a more of a solo journey. I’ll break down with Katie occasionally, but never in front of the kids. I make a thirty minute commute to our satellite office twice a month, and during that that first year of his treatment, I think I screamed the entire drive to the office. Two times each month, I was alone and that was when I could let it all out. Then I’d compose myself and go in to do what I needed to do. Just this past week, I was talking with a patient and she told me how she lost one of her sons in the line of duty. I had a hard time maintaining my composure at that point. When your kid is going through something like this, the idea of that kind of loss is always at the forefront of your mind. It’s hard.

(Note: These photos were part of a series that ran in September 2016 for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Photographer Kristin Seward spent many hours with the families and staff whom Connor’s Heroes has come to know as we work together to help these brave children.)