Thursday, October 22, 2009

Happy Birthday

Today is my son Sam’s 17th birthday. While all birthdays are cause for celebration, Sam’s birthday is special. Every year I celebrate Thanksgiving on October 22. I’m grateful for Sam every day, but on his birthday I’m especially aware of how fleeting life can be and I’m reminded that miracles can and do happen.

Ten years ago Sam was too sick to enjoy his 7th birthday. He was experiencing joint pain so intense that he couldn’t walk. He was unable to eat and had dropped so much weight that his already slight frame was skeletal. The two weeks leading up to his birthday were spent shuttling him to pediatricians and specialists who were unable to determine the root of the problem. At first, it was suggested that he had a virus and there was nothing to worry about. One doctor thought he might have juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. The doctors scratched their heads, and Sam got sicker. He developed a low-grade fever that refused to subside. He continued to lose weight. Finally, an appointment was scheduled with a hematologist who diagnosed acute lymphocytic leukemia. Sam was rushed into the hospital and began a three year regimen of chemotherapy that ultimately saved his life.

Leukemia used to be a death sentence, but thanks to the tireless efforts of selfless researchers and doctors committed to finding a cure, most children with ALL now survive. The fact that Sam was saved through medical treatment doesn’t make his survival any less a miracle. I use his birthday to reflect on all the people who helped us in our difficult time, and to offer a special prayer of thanks for them and to thank God for his grace and mercy.

So thank you, Doctors Selsky and Hajjar, for dedicating your lives to pediatric oncology when you could have chosen a medical field that was far more lucrative.

Tonight, we’ll have cake and ice cream and Sam, 7 years cancer-free and healthy, will be able to join the party. Of course, he’ll open presents. And everyone gathered around the table will know that every day is a gift.

Happy birthday, Sam. May you have many, many more.