Jessica Reeves is a one woman show when it comes to cancer information.
She is a relative newcomer to the dreaded disease after her son Lucas, now 5, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a very aggressive form of cancer that attacks the nervous system, two 1/2 years ago. Her most outward symbol of how cancer has changed her is her recently shaved head, which she had done July 29 in Hollywood as part of a national campaign called “Shave for the Brave.”
She even has a button that reads “Ask me why I’m bald” as another way of demonstrating her support.
She remembered the day Lucas was diagnosed.
“February 25, 2010,” Reeves said without blinking an eye or flinching when asked the date. “I was very scared at that point.”
Lucas had seen three different doctors and was told he was suffering from allergies, despite bruising above his eyelid, a marble size piece of skin on the side of the head and his eyeball being pushed out. The cancer reached stage 4 in just three weeks time, had worked its way around the optic nerve and was pushing the eyeball so far it was protruding outward, Reeves said. The bruising had doctors asking and believing it may have been a case of child abuse.
With Reeves denying child abuse, she went back home twice, getting more frustrated by the day. Reeves said she had asked the doctors to draw some blood but was told it was rare to draw blood for such a young person. She still refused to push the issue, thinking the doctors knew what they were talking about.
“I was too scared to speak up,” Reeves said. “I knew it wasn’t child abuse but they just kept asking.”
As things began to get progressively worse, Reeves took her son to seek medical help a third time, this time going to Weatherford Regional Medical Center. It was Dr. Ness Kahn who may have saved the boy’s life.
“He took one look at Lucas and sent him to Cook (Children’s Medical Center),” Reeves said. “As we were on our way there, ambulance personnel said he had lost half of his blood volume and probably wouldn’t have made it another few days at home.”
At Cook, Reeves said she was still dealing with doctors and nurses trying to trick her into admitting it was a case of child abuse.
“They were asking me about exact dates of when things started,” Reeves said. “I was so distraught about my son I couldn’t remember exact dates. I was scared they were going to take me to jail.”
Focusing on Lucas
While at Cook, Reeves said for the first time she was able to focus and look at her son.
“I just sat there and stared at him and I didn’t realize how bad he looked, Reeves said. “I just felt scared.”
After running some tests, doctors and nurses finally had the idea that something was wrong. One of the surgeons eventually came in and told Reeves her son had cancer.
“It was very difficult hearing that from a surgeon,” Reeves said.
He immediately began chemotherapy treatments, Reeves said, with the knowledge that only 15 percent of patients with that form of cancer survive for five years. Over the next four months, he underwent six rounds of chemo. The cancer had progressed throughout his body to the point where he had five brain tumors and tumors had wrapped around his carotid artery. The therapy, combined with some experimental medication still in a clinical trial, helped beat the cancer.
Doctors were still reluctant to say he was out of the woods but conceded earlier this year that the cancer had gone into remission. Reeves said the experimental medication, which didn’t even have a name, simply a number, caused him a lot of pain.
“Many children that start it don’t finish it because of the pain,” Reeves said. “He got through it.”
Reeves said there was nothing new in the development of child cancer research for the last 30 years until parents such as herself started pushing and asking for more to be done.
“I hate the fact that I didn’t say anything at first,” Reeves said. “If I had demanded testing be done earlier, he may not have gotten to Stage 4 and wouldn’t have had to suffer as much as he did.”
Wanting to do even more, it seemed almost fate that Reeves was found by a mom whose own child had undergone chemo as well. Reeves said she was a big help in helping her find tips and found a website called www.46mommas.com. It was through the website that she found out about Shave for the Brave back in 2011. The event and website come from the fact that 46 mothers find out their children have cancer every week day in the U.S. A group of moms from the hospital got ready to take part in the 2011 event.
While fundraising for the event, one of the mothers saw her child die. At that point, Reeves, who had hair below her shoulders before the event, decided she wanted to take part in the 2012 event.
“Hair grows back. Kids don’t,” Reeves said. “After what we’d been through, I just saw it as a great way to promote the cause.”
Reeves had begun interviewing for a new job in the radiology department at WRMC. During the interview, Reeves was very forthcoming about what she wanted to do and why she wanted to do it.
“She was amazing about the whole thing,” Director of Radiology/Cardiovascular Sharon Huskey said. “We thought it was simply amazing what she was doing. She has got the biggest heart and we are just so proud of her.”
Proceeds from the event go toward St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a volunteer-driven charity dedicated to funding childhood cancer research. In its third year, Shave for the Brave has raised $778,400. About $1,000 of that came from Reeves herself.
She thought she might have had some second thoughts right before the trip but didn’t. The event took place July 29 outside the Dolby Theater in Hollywood. She said the whole shaving took about 15 minutes.
“They shaved the hair in small sections so the cut hair could be donated (for wigs),” Reeves said. “I can’t explain it but it felt great to be able to do something for everything he went through.”
Since her return, Reeves says everyone has been “phenomenal” in their support of what she did. She said Lucas likes it but her 10-month-old still looks a bit perplexed when she sees her mom.
Reeves wanted to bring her story out because the month of September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and hopes more parents will stand up and be aggressive about treatment after what she has been through.
For more information on the cause, visit www.46mommas.com.
Jessica Reeves is a one woman show when it comes to cancer information.
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