When your sons are both diagnosed with cancer

Javon and Terrell Graham pictured with their parents at Fenway Park in 2002.
Javon and Terell Graham at Fenway Park in 2002.

“There isn’t really a word that can describe what we were feeling,” recalls Ebony.

Her sons Javon and Terell were diagnosed with cancer two years apart, when they were each two-and-a-half years old.

“Javon had already finished treatment and we were so concerned about his cancer coming back. The last thing on our mind was that our youngest son would then be diagnosed as well,” recalls Ebony.

In her own words, Ebony describes the experience:

It can feel innocuous at first: our two-year-old son Javon was complaining about a bit of pain at daycare. After a visit to the pediatrician, they sent us to the hospital for emergency surgery. There, they discovered that a mass in his body was causing the pain. ‘Cancer?’ we feared, but it was too early to confirm.

As young, first-time parents, their father and I were unsure where to turn for help. There is no manual on how to be a parent when you hear the news that your son has been diagnosed with cancer.

Our doctor referred us to Dana-Farber’s Jimmy Fund Clinic for its reputation in treating childhood cancers. For two years, we traveled to Boston where Javon received treatment.

When Javon turned 4 years old, the doctors told us he was in remission and only needed to visit Dana-Farber every six months for check-ups. For a while, everything seemed fine and our family was in good health. Then we started to notice something was wrong with our youngest son, Terell.

At first we thought it might be an infection. We were trying not to panic, but we knew we had to follow our instincts. We brought Terell to his primary care physician.

Numerous tests later, we were growing more concerned. I kept thinking ‘you have been through this before – it is rare for siblings to be diagnosed with cancer.’

I remember Terell was sitting on my lap when the doctor told us, for the second time, that our son had cancer.

Having already gone through this, we knew Dana-Farber was where we had to take Terell to get the best possible care. Although our sons were diagnosed with different types of cancer and were receiving different types of treatment, things felt very familiar.

As a family, we started to settle back into a familiar routine and we forgot the unusual circumstances of our situation.

I remember we were at the hospital for Terell’s appointment when one of the nurses asked about Javon. The question was so innocent, but the reality of it brought about powerful emotions inside me. It was then that I realized the truth: I had two sons in cancer treatment. I could not bring myself to answer the question; I broke down in the lobby and cried for a long time.

After that, I started to see a therapist through the Jimmy Fund who gave me tips on how to be there for both of them.

Every visit to the Clinic restored our sense of hope. The care we received went beyond our sons’ treatment. Little things like parking – when we were running late for an appointment – would send us into panic mode and the staff at Dana-Farber would greet us to park our car. In situations like this, it really was the little things that mattered most.

There are no words to describe the joy we felt when we were finally told that our sons were finished with treatment. We knew that because of the care they received at Dana-Farber, our sons had been given everything they needed in order to be cancer free.

Now in remission, Javon and Terell only visit Dana-Farber once a year for an annual checkup. Javon, 19, is taking some time to pursue creative endeavors. Terell, 17, enjoys playing tennis and video games.

Terell and Javon pose for a photo with their mother at the 2012 WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon presented by Arbella Insurance Foundation
Terell and Javon pose for a photo with their mother at the 2012 WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon presented by Arbella Insurance Foundation

In 2012, Ebony and her sons were asked to share their story at the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon.

“Sharing our story at the Radio-Telethon was a great experience. That year, the broadcast happened to land on my birthday which was a reminder of the gift that I had been given…their continuous health,” said Ebony.

Make a gift to help advance Dana-Farber’s mission to conquer cancer for patients like Javon and Terell at the 15th annual WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon presented by Arbella Insurance Foundation on August 29 and 30.

Roxy Bischoff
Online Marketing