They Told Me My Child Might Have Cancer And It Nearly Killed Me

My husband and I have been blessed with healthy children. We’ve had a few trips to the emergency room but they are big and healthy and strong. A few months ago, when I was out of town, my husband somehow detected a nodule in our youngest daughter’s neck. I wasn’t worried about it but he was. He read that it could be serious but, given how healthy she was, we figured we’d just ask about it at her upcoming annual visit to the pediatrician.

At the pediatrician’s office, they did the typical exam and told me she was at the 95th percentile for height and weight and seemed perfectly healthy. Did I have any questions? I told the nurse practitioner I did have a question and explained about the growths my husband had found in her neck. The nurse practitioner’s demeanor darkened. She laid our 3-year-old down on the table and felt the growth. Then she ran out of the room. Keep in mind that we literally waited 45 minutes in this room for our initial visit. That’s the type of pediatrician’s office it is. But in under a minute, a doctor came into the room and felt the growths and asked a series of questions. Everyone was very serious. No one was explaining to me what was going on but I could pick up on their rather obvious concern.

The doctor told the nurse practitioner to call the lab and explain that our daughter was to have expedited appointments for blood work. There was typing into the system, phone calls and lots more questions. I was instructed to call the lab and make a series of appointments for various bodily fluids and to arrange as quickly as possible for biopsy by working with one of their three preferred pediatric surgeons. “Biopsy?” I asked, hoping for much more information. “Yes,” the doctor explained. So I spelled it out, “I’m sorry, what are they looking for?” And then the doctor responded, as if it was no big deal, “Oh! Lymphoma.” And at that, I felt weak in the knees.

I immediately texted my husband and he immediately began beating himself up for not bringing our daughter in the moment he found the swollen lymph nodes. I tried to reassure him, pointing out that the doctor had said it was just wonderful that the node had been detected early, but he freaked out.

I immediately made appointments for the blood work, getting in around noon the next day for the first round. I told a few family and friends and their reactions were, more or less, to freak out. Only my dear sister remained calm throughout our whole ordeal. My parents began checking in on our daughter roughly 12 times a day. I could see the worry in their faces when we chatted via Skype. I called a friend of mine, a pediatric nurse, so that she could calm me down. She always calmed me down whenever I worried about anything. Instead, though, she responded to the news with, “Oh I’m so sorry. How are you guys holding up?”

When we had our daughter’s bloodwork done, the technician seemed to question the work order since it required so much blood. “Why would they need so much blood from such a little girl?” he asked. He looked through some more of the paperwork and then turned to me, solemnly, and said, “Oh I see.” adding, “I’m so sorry.”

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  • Michelle

    When my SIL was 10 she went into the peds for a check up when she had a cold that was pretty bad. The doctor immediately told my MIL to rush her to the ER where they would be waiting for her. One spinal tap and blood tests later they confirmed that she didn’t have meningitis. They wouldn’t tell my MIL at all what was going on or what they thought she had, just scared the shit out of her walking into rooms with face masks and large needles. To this day my adult SIL refuses to get shots/blood work.
    I work in health care (mainly working with athletes) but I would never keep my patients in the dark about any suspected illness they may have. I think it’s best to be completely informed instead of ignorant to the issues. I would hope my doctor would feel the same as well.

  • Freela

    I understand completely- I felt the same when my youngest was screened for retinoblastoma several years ago. We noticed white reflex (white pupils rather than red) in a few pictures we had taken for Halloween. Just to be on the safe side, I took her to the doctor, and was scared by just how fast things moved after that! We were seeing a pediatric ophthalmologist the same day, and although her intial ‘quick check’ looked normal, she had to be booked in later that week for a more extensive check with her pupils fully dilated. If they were not able to get a good look at her retinas with her conscious and squirmy, she would be sent to a pediatric specialty hospital for a thorough exam under general anesthesia. I worried myself sick until her more thorough check came back normal, and then bawled like a baby when her retinas were clear. It was scary… but ultimately, I’m glad that the doctors took it so seriously rather than shrugging it off. Had her test been positive, it could have made the difference between life and death.

  • anonymous mom

    I don’t want to scare you, but maybe the doctor wanted all those tests because he knows cancer is a terrible, sneaky monster that even when caught early is difficult to stop.

    My 14 year old son underwent monthly MRI’s for a spot on his optic chiasm. A spot that was so tiny, it couldn’t be biopsied. The specialists had lovely bedside manners. When I worried it might be cancer, they said things like “it could be anything” and “let us do the worrying” and “he feels good, so that’s something”.

    Well, after 6 months and 6 expensive and scary MRI’s, the last scan showed the spot had grown big enough to biopsy. And the biopsy showed the spot was brain cancer.

    I was grateful the doctors had kept such a close watch over him. And I would have been just as grateful to them for watching over him if the biopsy had come back benign…better safe than sorry.

    I wish your family peace and health at your 6 month review and always.

  • L S Benoit

    You only need to be thrown into a storm of tests and find out that it IS a category 5 Hurricane once and you’ll never complain that they’ve wasted your time. If the pediatrician, pedi-surgeon, pedi-oncologist had not acted as quickly as they did, my four year old son would not have survived Wilm’s Tumor and turned 23 this week. I’m thankful to Dr. William Loe, Dr. Yu & Children’s Hospital of New Orleans.

  • HP

    Thanks for your story. They have my daughter going through a parade of tests. And have mentioned malignancy a thousand times. They have all been nice and say it is probably nothing. But I can’t help but wonder why all the tests. As you know I am going nuts! I am happy to hear that this can turn out to be a false alarm. I cannot stand the thought of anything being wrong with my perfectly healthy little princess.