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Hurricane Kyle: a mother's journey through the storm of childhood cancer

October 28, 2011

Friday,  August 13, 2004 is a day I will never forget. It was not only the beginning of three  hurricanes back-to-back that trampled across Florida, but it was the day my 9-year-old son, Kyle, was transported by ambulance to Arnold Palmer Hospital.

He had been feeling tired for a couple of weeks, but it was the end of the summer and I thought perhaps he just didn’t want to go back to school. We saw our pediatrician on Thursday, and she told me that he had strep throat. She also wanted him to undergo some blood tests once he finished his antibiotics.

As the day progressed, Kyle felt worse. By Thursday evening, he was unable to walk on his left foot. I phoned a friend who was also a nurse; she advised me to elevate his foot and relieve some of the pain with warm compresses. By 2 a.m., his fever was up to 103 degrees. I phoned the pediatrician at 8 a.m. Friday morning, and she told me to take him as soon as possible to complete blood tests.

Did I mention that hurricane Charley was headed for Orlando, my husband was out of the country and I had a 4-year-old son to care for as well?

My neighbors watched my younger son, Luke, while I drove Kyle to Dr. P. Phillips Hospital. They drew blood for testing, and before I could even blink my eyes, we were in an ambulance to Arnold Palmer Hospital. I repeatedly called my husband in Canada to share each update. Orlando International Airport was closed. My husband was not able to come home.

We arrived at Arnold Palmer Hospital in the midst of terrible rain and wind. Kyle was given a blood transfusion, and I still had no idea what was wrong. Doctors and nurses entered and exited as though our room had a revolving door. Hurricane Charley continued to beat on the walls of hospital while in room 7013, we were experiencing our own storm.

Nothing in life prepares you to hear that your perfectly healthy 9-year-old son has cancer. That is what I was told Saturday morning. I had to share this news with my husband over the phone. He could not get a flight home until Sunday morning.

From that first day, I knew we were in a special hospital. Everyone we came in contact with took extraordinary care of Kyle. They took care of all of us. I believe you have to find the good in every bad situation; the staff at Arnold Palmer Hospital was the good in this one.

Kyle worked hard over his 2 1/2 years of chemotherapy. There were plenty of bad days, but he could always find a smile. He worked through the hair loss, mouth sores and complete exhaustion. He always believed that failure was not an option. I am grateful that his doctors and nurses had that same attitude.

It is hard to believe that seven years have passed since his diagnosis. There were days when I thought we wouldn’t see this far into the future. As a parent with a sick child, the fears you face drain your oxygen. You can’t eat or sleep. I used to believe I needed to stay awake at night so I wouldn’t miss a moment of Kyle’s life.

That anguish pushed me to wonder how I could help others. We were blessed over and over again during that dreadful time, and I wanted and needed to help others. I am proud to say that I am now a team member at Arnold Palmer Hospital. I was hired to begin a new program in 2009 and now, I am the manager of customer relations. It is my job to make sure that the needs of each and every patient and family is served to the best of our ability.

Every day is a gift. The struggle our family experienced helps me to bring comfort to others. Every day, I am rewarded by working alongside the staff that cared for Kyle and by serving each family that steps inside our doors.

Today, Kyle is an amazing teenager with a promising future because of Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. I will NEVER be able to thank the staff enough; the depth of my gratefulness is not something I can explain. They not only hold your hand but your heart.