We knew very little about the disease. We researched online, reads books on the topic and talked to several doctors about it. I turned my attention to alternative medicine including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). I wanted to find a way to avoid chemotherapy. The thought of endangering Philipp’s life even further by wasting too much time in my search terrified me extremely, but there was no other alternative. Time was a factor and I had very little information.
The following Monday we took him to the hospital where he would begin with his treatment. He was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a type of cancer that overproduces abnormal immature white blood cells. These mutated blood cells are incapable of combating infection. They reproduce quite fast, hence “acute”, and by doing so, they eventually fill up the bone marrow leaving no space for the healthy red cells, the platelets as well as for the healthy white cells to do their job. If this disease is not treated within weeks or months, it can be fatal. There are many different sub-types of AML. Our son had the “M4” type.
The chemotherapy treatment began. It was divided into five blocks and they were administered once a month for a period of about five days each, during which he had to stay at the hospital. He was allowed to go home after each treatment. Soon enough Philipp started dealing with the horrible side effects of the chemotherapy: hair loss, nausea, mouth sores and feeling weak. With the help of acupuncture and acupressure, some of the side effects were minimized. Charcoal pills were recommended by a friend of mine and healer to reduce mouth sores and Chinese herbal medicine, which was sent to us by another good friend and family doctor from China to help restore his bone-marrow, were all administered with the consent of the doctors in Berlin. I even placed a crystal underneath his bed.
The last block ended on Christmas Eve and we were extremely happy to be able to celebrate Christmas at home together. Cooking for that occasion became a family event, full of laughter and joy! We sang Christmas carols, unwrapped presents, had a great turkey dinner and had a wonderful time by simply enjoying each other’s company with a different sense of awareness. We savored every minute of it with love in our hearts, immensely grateful for this blessing.
New Year arrived and with it the radiotherapy. Philipp showed a lot of courage throughout the chemotherapy as well as the radiotherapy treatments. He admitted that the thought of dying never crossed his mind and was just happy that the whole ordeal was over. He began attending school once again; life came back to normality. The year 2006 became the year of hope for all of us, especially for Philipp. So far, it seemed like the treatment was a success at inducing remission.
In February 2007 he went to the hospital for his monthly checkup after school. I had planned for that evening to go with a friend of mine to a concert, but that morning I woke up with an incredible pain in my eyes. I could not figure out what was happening to me nor could I explain where this pain was coming from, but as the hours passed by, it became more and more intense. I thought I would not be able to drive anywhere being in this condition and decided to cancel the appointment altogether. As soon as I had made up my mind, the phone rang; it was Philipp. I could tell from his voice that he was sobbing. A cold chill ran through my spine and I found myself thinking, “oh no, please God, NO!” And then he broke the news.
I called my husband and we agreed to meet at the hospital. We were both devastated. I do not know how I managed to drive; the only thing I realized was that all that pain I was experiencing in my eyes that day was suddenly gone. Was it a “mother’s premonition”? Was I intuiting something before that I did not want to “look” at because it was too painful? What was it? I remember driving, trying to stay calm and saying to myself that an automobile accident was something I did not need now. I prayed to my parents asking them for protection. I kept asking to myself, why, why, WHY!
After a couple of attempted chemotherapy treatment failures, the doctors told us that the next step was going to be a bone-marrow transplant. This time, the leukemia cells in Philipp’s body were much more aggressive. They were not quite sure whether the cells were a new, more aggressive type or if the old ones had simply gone through some mutation process. The doctors were not too optimistic. Their top prognosis was 30 percent.
The search for a bone-marrow donor race began. It is highly recommended to find a donor with a similar genetic make-up as the patient’s in order to avoid complications. In Philipp’s case that would have meant perhaps a long search because my husband is German and I am of Okinawan ancestry. Since he was being treated in Germany, finding a donor there with a similar genetic make-up would have been extremely difficult. Perhaps in Japan? The best option, however, would be to look among the siblings. Philipp’s ten-year old sister turned out to be a match. It was not a perfect match, but good enough according to the doctors.
To be continued…