Life as we know it can change in a shattering instant. In 2017 our family's reality shifted and a shocking pediatric cancer journey began.
My husband James and I began our love story as college sweethearts. We relocated to the SF Bay Area with one way plane tickets and our worldly possessions packed into suitcases. Hopes, dreams and wishes overflowing abundantly to create a life together. Over the years, five beautiful children were born into our waiting arms and hearts; each one adding a unique and special dynamic to our family.
When our firstborn and oldest son Mason was a senior in high school, he continued his part time work he started at 16 as a busboy. He enjoyed the independence, was very thoughtful with his earnings and saved his money well. We started to hear some concerns of pain in his right knee and leg, but he and we thought it could be growing pains in addition to him being on his feet for extended periods of time in the restaurant business. Mason just kept going even as his discomfort grew and he developed a slight limp. It got to the point where there was undeniable leg swelling and he was rushed to John Muir ER.
The compassionate physicians at John Muir explained Mason was suffering from a DVT (blood clot) and they feared it was the result of a large tumor in his right tibia. The word cancer exploded into the air from worried doctors’ lips as Mason and we just sat in stunned shock trying to absorb in disbelief what was being explained.
Our brave son's words are forever within my heart, "Mom, I don't think I have cancer, but if I do, I am glad it's not you or dad or my younger brothers and sisters."
His unconditional love and loyalty were immediately and unforgettably apparent. How could a young man who just graduated high school a month before with his entire future ahead now be diagnosed with Osteosarcoma? This most ancient, rare and aggressive bone cancer that strikes at any age, but predominantly in the teen population. To the dismay of all, the only semi successful frontline protocol chemotherapy called MAP is the very same treatment used and unchanged for the past 40 years for all osteosarcoma patients. What? How can this be?
Mason endured toxic chemotherapies, an above the knee amputation, lung surgery for metastatic tumors, countless scans, tests, labs, clinical trial in attempts to save his life. His disease relentlessly progressed over and over, cruelly ravaging his once strong body. Our sweet young man never did ring the bell. No evidence of disease (NED) was not a status in his battle to survive. Cancer never took his spirit or determination to fight for each and every day given. He wanted to survive and thrive against all odds, never giving up hope or feeling sorry for himself. Staying positive and moving forward following Mason's lead, our family drew closer in love. His words, "I'll try anything until it works."
James and I have welcomed 4 of our babies into this world over the years at John Muir hospital. Four times I pushed the button to hear the lullaby play as we headed home with our newborns.
I heard the lullabies again that day playing softly in the background for all the other babies starting their new lives as I told my son to fly free from his broken body. To our greatest sorrow, our beloved Mason succumbed to this insidious beast on November 7, 2018. Leaving the hospital without our son coming with us, is an indescribable anguish to the soul.
I am writing this letter to you today because I want to tell you the staff at John Muir Health was our biggest blessing through Mason's cancer journey. Mason's fierceness, grace and kind heart has left deep impressions with the extraordinary compassionate health care heroes, including the physicians, nurses, child life specialists, physical therapists, and so many more, who went above and beyond to provide professional care not only to our son, but to our entire family. Whole family care for the Wilsons who made sure Mason never spent one inpatient night alone.
It was Mason's great desire to give back in order to bring light, love and hope to pediatric oncology patients. In the weeks before his passing, he received true joy in gifting presents to the pediatric patients of all ages and especially the adolescents and young adults. In his memory and honor, our family tries to keep up the annual tradition around either his angel day or birthday of giving back and bringing smiles to the children and also to the remarkable staff who cared for him then and who continue to care for our family now.
Photo Credit: Portraits of Grace Photography