Michelle Wahoske never expected to be part of the American Cancer Society Relay for Life event or to have the reason come from her 4-year-old son.
Young Jake Wahoske of Breezy Point is the youth sponsor for the Relay for Life event Saturday.
In November of 2010, Michelle Wahoske noticed her son had lumps on the side of his neck that seemed very large. A trip to the doctor came back with the diagnosis for strep throat. When the swelling didn’t go down, another antibiotic was tried.
Two weeks later, Wahoske said she noticed large lumps growing under her son’s arms. More concerned than ever, she took Jake back to the doctor. Another medication was recommended. During that next week, Jake’s breathing became more labored.
Frustrated and worried, Wahoske said she went back to the doctor and her son was sent to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis for a biopsy.
The diagnosis: an aggressive T-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Wahoske, who had a bad feeling about his illness already, said her heart sank. Then she went into “mommy mode” and focused on taking care of her young child. Friends and family provided support immediately upon learning of the news.
“(Jake) spent 72 hours in intensive care sedated until the swelling went down and he could breath more comfortably on his own,” Wahoske said.
The tumor started in his chest and then to his lymph nodes. He then spent another seven days in the hospital to start his chemo and have a port put in.
“He would be doing treatment for the next two years and then after that he would be checked every few months to make sure the cancer wasn’t coming back. This is a very difficult time for us because his dad works nights and we spent a lot of time down in the Cities.”
The family — Michelle with her husband, Chad, and two older children, Madison, 9, and Dylan, 11 — live in Breezy Point. After Jake’s diagnosis and initial treatments, life was further complicated by illnesses Jake suffered in the aftermath of the chemotherapy. Mouth sores made him sick so he was unable to eat.
“My mom had to spend a lot of time staying with the other kids to help out,” Wahoske said. “Between family and friends we have had a lot of help to make this journey easier.”
She said she never understood how much chemotherapy children and adults undergoing treatment get and how their bodies deal with it.
“It’s very hard to watch. I have had to access my son’s port myself and give chemo in it and he takes chemo pills every night and he will get chemo until Dec. 30 of this year,” Wahoske said.
Jake has chemo put in his spine weekly. He developed diabetes while being on high doses of Prednisone, but his mother said once off the Prednisone the diabetes hasn’t returned.
“Although Children’s Hospital is a wonderful place and everyone there is more than amazing and supportive it’s a very emotional and physically exhausting ordeal for these cancer patients,” Wahoske said. “Try keeping a 2-year-old still and happy for hours if not days worth of treatments.”
Jake is an amazing wonderful energetic 4-year-old now and has six more months left of treatment.
Wahoske said for families going through this it’s not only the medical side and treatments but it comes with the financial challenge covering transportation to weekly appointments in the Twin Cities and additional hospitalizations.
“In the long scheme of things you do worry about it but you just care more about him getting better and know that you will worry about the rest later,” Wahoske said.
She said her son has rolled with the punches given the circumstances in his young life. Being part of the Relay for Life is a way to make more parents aware of what they could face. For Jake, his cancer is in remission.
If she had to give any advice, Wahoske said it’s for parents to trust their own instincts even when a medical professional is convinced the illness is nothing more than a case of strep throat.
“Don’t ever underestimate how you feel, because you know your own child,” she said. “You have to remember, doctors are human. They make mistakes.”
Sue and Kevin Stunek are the adult sponsors for The American Cancer Society Relay for Life. The event is planned from noon to midnight Saturday at Adamson Field at Brainerd High School.
The event is designed to give people a way to take up the fight against cancer, celebrate a survivor or remember loved ones lost. For the relay event, teams of people take turns around the track at the athletic field and candles are lit inside bags filled with sand and bear the names of a person touched by cancer or lost to the disease.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.