By Meghan Campione
When Joseph Campione was born, his parents adoringly held their first child -- a healthy 6-pounder with a head of black hair. But when he was only two weeks old, they were told that a small growth on his bottom that was present at birth and had been thought to be benign was diagnosed as rhabdomyosarcoma, an extremely rare form of muscle cancer. Now, five years later, as Joseph prepares to enter kindergarten, his mother Meghan reflects on the milestone and the emotions that come with it.
Five years ago, an oncologist walked into our hospital room and told my husband and me that our son, Joseph, was born with cancer. Today, we're preparing to send him off to kindergarten and that moment seems like a lifetime ago.
As Joseph meets yet another milestone, I'm left with mixed emotions. Our prayers were answered. We have been blessed with an incredibly wonderful, healthy boy who is ready for school. However, my little baby who needed me to hold his hand, sing to him and assure him that he was "the little engine that could" and he could do anything he put his mind to, is now off to face the world.
He's definitely ready. I'm just not sure that I am. In June, Joseph had another clear scan that showed no evidence of cancer and his school evaluation test results came back "as expected." They just echoed what we as parents already knew: Joseph is doing exactly what a normal, cancer-free, 5-year-old should be doing.
As I looked at the test results, I couldn't help but be flooded with the thoughts and memories of all he endured to be normal. The truth is that he's no ordinary child. Joseph is extraordinary.
When he started chemotherapy treatments at only 3 weeks old, we didn't know whether he'd survive. But he persevered and continued to thrive over the following 18 months of treatment, which included a trip to Houston for proton therapy.
Joseph was born a fighter and he'll always have that spirit in him. He fought cancer and continues on the path toward a long, healthy life.
But he's not defined by cancer. He's starting a new chapter and as much as I want to protect him, I'll take my normal "as expected" kid, put a smile on my face and drop him off in his classroom on the first day of school and every day after.
Nothing about that day will be easy for me. However, this is Joseph's time and I know he'll shine.
Read Joseph's story
Listen to a podcast about proton therapy for childhood cancer