Val Marshall's cancer journey began in May 2009, when her son Addison was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. A visit to the family doctor for what they thought was a simple high school football injury turned out to be much more.
Inspired by her son's strength and hope, Val strives to be a voice that connects other parents on this journey. Her series shares insight into her life as a mom of a typical teenager who just happens to be fighting leukemia.
In the many sleepless nights in the hospital, I chased sleep like a toddler denies it. I always returned to my "happy place" to visualize Addie's success in completing this 1,108-day jog that felt like a marathon without refueling breaks.
The happy place was watching Addie walk across the stage at the Foster High School graduation. May 26, at 10:43 a.m., that daydream turned into a reality.
Graduation is a surreal event for all families as visions of rocking colicky babies, naked toddlers and Popsicle grins brimming with braces flood your memories.
As we sat in gratitude watching this milestone, Jack and I savored this season as we were never assured of the guest list.
At the time, with Father's Day looming, I was reminded of how hard fathers work on behalf of their families. With 1,108 days of treatment, it necessitated one parent to be available and another to take up the slack at home and work.
Jack drew the short straw but never complained that the house needed a "professional organizer," or at the least a housekeeper.
He understood that when life has been shaken like a salt shaker, that survival is just messy.
A new chapter
As I boarded the plane for Washington, D.C., Austin and Jack escorted Addie to Texas A&M for orientation and the next chapter of his life.
Aussie also begins anew, as he starts physician assistant school at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. He doesn't want us to escort him like a freshman, since he is going to graduate school. He still has the "me do it" mentality that he sported at 3 years old.
Aussie will soon turn 23 and it has been healing for our family to have this stolen year all together. Come Aug. 15, Jack and I will be empty nesters.
My trip to D.C. was productive and exciting, as the Creating Hope Act was attached to the successful FDA bill that is being readied for the president's signature. This will offer market incentives for drug companies in the production of medicines for pediatric cancer.
The beauty of this cause is that it's bipartisan and no taxpayer money is needed. We also worked on gaining co-sponsorship of the Childhood Survivor Act, because there are 350,000 childhood cancer survivors living with horrific late effects from their treatment.
I don't think I would have embarked on this adventure if I didn't have an East Coast support team. My friend Sherri lost her precious baby nearly two years ago, but still made time to escort me to and from Capitol Hill while navigating D.C. traffic, and serving as mentor and docent to this wide-eyed Texan.
My friend Sally drove three hours to pick me up and transport me to Philadelphia. She drove me to the exact spot where Washington crossed the Delaware and patiently stopped as I scurried out while the car was still in motion.
After all, I just wanted one more teachable moment at home. Too bad that our dog, Pineapple, showed more interest in the picture of this historical stop than my offspring.
Our old neighbors from Austin provided a bed and breakfast and happy hour each day, complete with pictures of Austin and Addie as youngsters at breakfast alongside the Washington Post.
It reminded me of the bond you create when your kids are little. Nothing brought home that thought more than when Andrea admitted that her favorite memory of Addie was when he burped the entire alphabet for her when he was 6.
Yes, I did glow with pride, as she knows the real story of Addison Marshall.
"Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten." -- B.F. Skinner