Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dr. Albritton

I went with Tanner to his doctor's appointment this afternoon and I have to say, Dr. Albritton is the most caring doctor I've ever met.  She spent over 2 hours today, personally, visiting with me and Tanner.

She met with us both in the exam room together and then asked me to step out and spent a substantial amount of time with him alone.  Then she came out to the waiting room and talked to me and told me that she was more concerned about Tanner today than she has been in a long time.  She said that she felt he was very much "on edge".  I had to explain to her about a family situation we've had recently and that Tanner is really burdened with anger, guilt, and hurt.

We discussed the fact that some teenagers confronted with a potentially terminal illness deal with the situation by treasuring most every moment of each day - and some teenagers begin to think "what's the use"...  She's worried about where Tanner is emotionally and mentally at this point in his treatment - and which direction he's apt to go at any given moment.

At 17 Tanner was told that he had cancer, and not just any old cancer, but something called Multiple Myeloma - which is rare in itself - but almost unheard of in someone of his age.  We were told that at the stage he was at, he might only have two years to live. He was forced to pack up and basically move to Little Rock where he started the fight of (and for) his life.

He dealt so well with the whole situation.  He was told over and over how strong he was and what a good attitude he had.  For most of six months he went through daily aggressive chemotherapy and two stem cell transplants - and watched some of the other patients, who had become friends, lose their battle with the same disease.  He came back to Fort Worth and has undergone a year of weekly maintenance chemo during which, some of the time, he maintained that "positive attitude" and some of the time he sank into a dark place.

Thankfully, he has had Dr. Albritton there helping him these last several months. She was there for him when he was doing good and she was there for him when things were bad.  It was she that advised him that when things got bad again (and that they would), he had to pull himself back up and get right back on track - and that he couldn't give up.

After talking with us both yesterday, the next thing I knew, there was a social worker there and they took Tanner off to a room and visited with him for over 45 minutes while Dr. Albritton came out and talked to me at length.  We talked about Tanner, my other son Trevor, and some of my other family members.  I explained to her at length about several things going on in our personal life and she started doing everything in her power to see if she could find us some of the help that she thinks we might need at this point in our lives.

I've never seen a doctor who exhibits as much caring and concern as she does.  We were blessed the day that she became Tanner's Oncologist here in Fort Worth.

Sometimes you have to decide when to battle and when to surrender.  Sometimes it takes great courage to fight  - and other times  it requires even more courage to walk away...  Sometimes, when  you come to a point where the hurt outweighs the advantage, you have to face the fact that it's ultimately less painful, and more healthy, to let go...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A little push

Tanner has spent most of this week with Granny Jane and Pop Jerry.  He's getting to eat really well and is completing a lot of those tasks and errands that needed to be done for a while now. 

Granny took him to his weekly doctor's appointment yesterday and last night I dropped him off at Pappasito's for dinner.  Cooks Oncology Department hosted a dinner meeting there where they discussed college grants and scholarships and career choices.  Tanner seemed to have a good time and was full of information when he got back in the car.  Now he just needs to put some of that talk into action.

Today he and Granny are supposed to look into some of the scholarships and grants available. He just needs someone to get behind him and give him a little push - and Granny is the one pushing!!  Yay!

Trevor purchased a "new" little Honda yesterday so, hopefully, that will help him with the ability to get back and forth to work every day and become an independent young man.

I talked with my cousin Jesse today and he's going to help me get a few things done around the house in preparation for putting it up for sale.  We are just going to wait for it to get a little warmer - and for Jesse to get some spare time in his schedule to work us in.

Tanner and I are ready to get out of Kennedale and start this next, new, chapter of our lives.

"Let your mind start a journey thru a strange new world. Leave all thoughts of the world you knew before..  Let your soul take you where you long to be... Close your eyes let your spirit start to soar, and you'll live as you've never lived before..."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Before and After

It's like I've had two lives.  There's the life before my baby was diagnosed with cancer and then there's life after.

I find myself thinking often of the day that Tanner broke his leg.  I remember being at work all day and getting a call from him asking if he could go to a friend's house to swim for a while and then later getting the next call with him saying that he had fallen and that he thought his leg was broken.  I asked if he needed me to come and pick him up and he said no, that Rickey was with him and that they would drive back home.

They pulled into my driveway and Tanner was driving (he was worried about the insurance on the car)!  He opened that car door and almost fell out onto the driveway.  Short little Rickey came around the car and picked up 6 foot tall Tanner and carried him to my car and we headed off to the Emergency Room.
I was upset and worried because he was in such pain - and because it was so obvious that his bone was broken completely in two.  Never, ever did a thought of cancer come near to entering my mind.  Thoughts of the pain he was in, casts having to be placed on the leg, normal thoughts for a "simple" broken bone.  Those were the thoughts in my head that night.

I think of those moments sitting in that exam room waiting on the results of the x-ray.  As unexpected and stressful as it was to have to be at the Emergency Room for a broken leg, I had not a clue that those would be the last moments that he or I would EVER have that would be without the worry of "cancer" hanging over our heads.

After the pain pills starting doing their job and Tanner could relax from all the pain, there was laughter and talk - and no serious worries beyond having to wait for them to come back so that the cast could be put on the broken leg.

The doctor walked in and we smiled at him, clueless, and then he spoke those words that started the whole process that has forever changed our lives, "There is no easy way to say this other than to just say it, there's a tumor in the bone". 

 Tanner and I looked at each other and the worry was immediately in both of our minds...  Cancer...

One of the first things he said to me was "Kelson".  His beloved cousin Kelson who had just recently died, too young, after his own battle with this dreaded disease.


That was the first night of our journey down this new life with cancer...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A fresh start

Well it's cold and raining and starting to snow so I think it's going to be a day to just hole up in my room reading and maybe watch a movie or two.

Tanner and I had a long talk this morning and I think we have just about decided to go ahead and get some of the work done around the house and put it up for sale here in the very near future.  I think we are both ready for a fresh new start.

Sometimes you have to make a move, get away from the people around you, go somewhere new and just start over.  I think that's where Tanner is, and in a way, I think maybe that's where I'm at too. 

I was thinking about a small apartment on the other side of town maybe near Aledo or Saginaw - but Tanner was asking about heading up to Montana.  He said he thinks we would both benefit from a complete fresh start somewhere new.  Beth has mentioned that she could probably help me get a job in the lab where she works, and we really don't have much family left here in the Fort Worth area, but I don't know about going all the way off to Montana.  It's cold and snowey - and how would we get back to Arkansas every four months to see Dr. Barlogie (Jane said maybe I could get a job at MIRT and we could move to Arkansas)? 

I'm thinking maybe we should just start with the small apartment on the other side of town.

I can tell that he is really serious about making some changes to his life - and I've come to realize it's time for me to make some changes too.  It's not all going to be easy, but something has to be done to get us headed in a new, positive, and healthy direction.  Both of us....

Monday, January 3, 2011

Fort Worth Star Telegram Article

By Robert Cadwallader
Special to the Star-Telegram

KENNEDALE -- Tanner Walker bought a cool, sleek metal cane to use when he starts college in the next six months or so.

But really, he hopes his purchase will be gathering dust in the closet by then. "I can already walk without a cane, but I get kind of sore if I don't use it," he said.

The 18-year-old Kennedale native has been working to get his life back on track since a broken leg in June 2009 revealed a type of cancer that almost never strikes young people.

The jolting diagnosis led to stem-cell transplants and aggressive chemotherapy at an Arkansas medical center, ongoing maintenance chemo treatments in Fort Worth, a possible surgery to repair the slow-healing fracture in January and a $400,000 pile of medical bills that his insurance company won't pay.

All in all, not so bad.

"I'm in remission," Walker said. "That's what I see as the big deal."

A minor bump

His troubles started innocuously enough. While washing his dad's pickup, he bumped his shin on a trailer hitch and didn't think anything of it until a large bump appeared several days later.

Initially baffled, his doctors eventually diagnosed multiple myeloma, a bone-marrow cancer rarely found in people under age 50. Scans showed more than 100 lesions.

"It was like the cancer was coming out of my bones -- it was pretty scary," said Walker, now grateful for his careless encounter with the trailer hitch. "They said that if I didn't break my leg it would have been a lot more serious than it already was. I was at the beginning of stage four, and within another few months it would have spread to my organs.

"So I thank God that I broke my leg."

His treatment at the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, part of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, appears to have worked.

His mother, Angela Walker, said she had little hope for him after the initial diagnosis. Survival of 10 to 15 years is common for adults given standard treatment at the institute. "When we first found out about this, they said he had about two years. Now they assure us he will live to be quite old," she said.

Medical costs

Finances are the second front in Tanner Walker's cancer battle. His insurance company declined to pay for one stem-cell transplant and most of the chemo, calling the treatment experimental and beyond the standard of care for treating myeloma.

The myeloma center's staff took issue with the coverage decision. "He was 17, and there's no one who has a standard on how to treat a child," said Bonnie Jenkins, a nurse and program coordinator for the institute. "We've been here 21 years at this institute. We've seen five kids under 18 [with myeloma] in our history."

A state law enacted a year ago gives patients new appeal avenues for denial of coverage for treatment that insurance companies deem experimental, said John Greeley, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Insurance. However, the Walkers' claims were rejected before the law took effect, so it can't help them. But they said their bills have stopped mounting since the state's Medicaid program started covering Tanner Walker in June.

Battling back

Walker has coped with other setbacks as well.

At Christmas time 2009, just after going into remission, he and his mom -- his parents are divorced -- arrived home from Arkansas to find their home ransacked by burglars. A few months later, another intruder stole his video game console.

Also, he's lost touch with most of his school friends, partly because of the cancer routines but also because he started a home-school program at the end of his junior year to graduate early.

Lately, his thoughts have focused on a career -- video game design -- and he has started visiting some area colleges.

Although he loves his virtual battles with video villains and opted for a somewhat virtual senior year of high school, Walker is ready for a brick-and-mortar college. "Going there made me feel excited about getting back into school because I'll get to see other people again," he said. "I'm excited just to be doing something again."

Now, he said, he's ready for the next phase of his life, and a counselor he sees on his visits to Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth is helping "get stuff off my chest."

"Sometimes all this makes me feel sad, but I try not to let it get me down," he said. "I noticed that life goes fast, but I still have a lot of time."

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Saturday, January 1, 2011

A new ending

Happy New Years!  I have to say I'm glad to see the end of 2010.  Let's hear it for a new year; a fresh new year...

I was talking to a friend the other day and the topic of New Year's Resolutions came up.  He said he didn't really believe in them.  He thought you shouldn't wait for the beginning of a new year to make necessary changes and while I agree that you shouldn't WAIT for the new year to arrive to make changes to your life, I do feel like it's an opportunity to look at where your life is now, at this moment, and consider what you would like to change (or maybe just have to change) in the coming twelve months.

I mean, it's the very beginning of a fresh new year.  January 1, 2011 and we really haven't had time yet to do anything much in just this one day.  Are there some things you would like to change, need to change, or maybe just have to change to save your sanity?  Some decisions you need to make?  Some things you need to work out?  Some things you need to leave behind?  Some things you need to seek?

Wouldn't the beginning of a fresh new year be the perfect time to search your heart and decide what's most important?  Maybe take some of those steps, no matter now painful, that need to be taken to become the person you know you need to be?  Isn't this the perfect time to try to start to restore your heart and soul?

As I heard that a wise person recently said, "I can't control anyone but myself". 

It's the end and the beginning of a year.  The end and beginning; goodbye and hello...

I personally think this is the perfect time to take at least a few days to search my soul and consider what steps need to be taken to make this next year a better, healthier, happier time of my life.

I'm tired to the depths of my being of hurting.  I need to become a stronger person.  I need to heal.

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending...