Healing Hunter -
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Hunter was born on Sept. 21, 2006. His original due date was Sept. 25th......so he was only 4 days early. My pregnancy was amazing. I never experienced morning sickness. I never had any complications, no bumps in the road, and as far as everything else..........it was absolutely perfect. I went into labor around 7am the morning of the 21st and Zen and I waited it out at our house until about noon. We didn't want to get to the hospital too early and have to "walk the halls". So we waited as long as we could, within reason. Not to mention that the hospital was only about 10 minutes away.......so we could get there quickly.
I went into full on labor once we arrived at the hospital around 12:15 and Hunter was born at 5:20pm. So only about 5 hours of labor. Not bad. We had a natural birth and did it without an epidural......based on our yoga and birthing classes....we did it all by taking deep breaths and focusing on different things - other than the actual pain of a child actually exiting my body through a hole the size of a dime. All I can say is holy cow......what a bizarre, yet wonderful experience. Hunter came down the birth canal to Jack Johnson and once he arrived he was cool, calm and collected. He was truly amazing. Weighing 8lbs. 6oz. and 21 inches long.......he was as perfect as can be.
We brought him home 2 days later and he was an absolute joy. Such a fantastic baby right from the get go.......not finicky, not a complainer and definitely not colicky. Thank goodness for that, because we heard that's not too fun.
We chose to breast feed for as long as we could, and we were able to do so for 6 months. I wanted to go longer, but for some reason my body just plain ran out of milk. So we then switched to organic formula and spent a small fortune at Whole Foods to give Hunter the best formula out there without the added sugars and preservatives.......he got Earth's Best for his remaining months before the next stage of food began.
We took him with us everywhere. We hit the road when he was only 6 days old to head up to Oregon from California to photograph a wedding. Hunter was a trooper. A total road tripper already. He was such a breeze to care for and love and we all just got along so fantastically. A true team and it just seemed like everything was exactly how it was supposed to be. We were a complete family unit and started on our little life journey to live it all out together. We couldn't imagine things being any different.
Hunter continued to go with us on all of our photo shoots, every event, every outing and all of our travels. He rarely had a babysitter. And on the days that he did, they were usually with us on site.........we never really left him alone.
Throughout all of this, I was busy planning our wedding. Zen proposed to me in December of 2005 and then we got pregnant with Hunter in January of 2006. So we decided to focus on the baby first and the wedding second. So now that Hunter was born and we were getting pretty settled.........the wedding planning officially begun. Our wedding day was truly amazing and we shared our vows with about 120 of our closest friends and family. A day we will never forget.
About a month later.......Hunter took his very first steps on his own! He walked from the couch to the table and was just so thrilled with his accomplishment. Zen and I were so proud and were so excited about all the fun things that were now about to start happening. The very next day, Hunter seemed to be getting sick, (little did we know that those steps he took the night before, were going to be his last steps taken for the next 6 months).
We started the pediatrician visits to try to figure out what was making Hunter sick. He wasn't himself and he seemed very tired and very lethargic. For a baby that always had lots of energy.......all of a sudden - his energy was gone. He would start to crawl and then just collapse from exhaustion. At first he was diagnosed with the stomach flu.....they gave us a prescription for antibiotics and said that he should feel a little better in about 7-10 days. Well we waited it out and after about 7 days........there was little improvement. So back to the pediatrician we go........for another diagnosis.
Could be a virus, could be an infection.....they recommended we switch up the antibiotics to see if we can attack what is ailing him with a different combination. Again, about 5-7 days later.........no difference. Hunter was clearly not getting better and something was DEFINITELY wrong.
Finally our pediatrician suggested we check ourselves into Children's Hospital Los Angeles. She trusted us and our instincts when we said something is wrong and it needs to be found, it seems to be going beyond a stomach flu or a virus.
By the time we checked-in to CHLA, it was the day before Thanksgiving and Hunter was barely moving. He was sleeping a good bit and things seemed as if they had taken a turn for the worse. He was evaluated by several doctors, we were asked question after question after question. What has he been exposed to, where have you guys traveled, has he been around any animals.........on and on and on. Still.......nothing was found. Test after test, doctor after doctor, scans, blood cultures, everything under the sun. And they still kept coming up empty handed. Finally after about a week, they did a Spinal Tap.
Low and behold.........they found something that was going to change our lives forever.
Zen and I were coming up the elevator when the doors opened and all of the doctors were standing there anxiously awaiting our arrival. They all had very serious looks on their faces and said that they had some news for us and that we should go into the conference room. We all sat down in silence and within 10 minutes our world came crashing down. They revealed that Hunter has Leukemia. And not only does he have Leukemia, but he's got the more serious and more aggressive Leukemia. Instead of ALL, he had AML. And then to make it worse, he had one of the hardest types of AML to cure.
So our horrific and terrifying journey began. Just like that......we were now living in the hospital, devoting every moment to Hunter and his treatment. Our business was put on hold, our minds were adjusted and refocused and our lives came to a complete stand still. Hunter's life and his survival became the very most important thing to us in the world. All we wanted and all we cared about was him surviving this dreadful disease, and we were going to be by his side every single step of the way.
Not knowing anything about Leukemia, we were advised of a particular treatment plan that has a higher success rate then some of the other treatment plans. So we went with what the doctors suggested and went through 5 rounds of pretty intense chemo over the course of 6 months. We had several scares and many ups and downs and it was truly an experience that we will never, ever forget. We had basically lived in the hospital for about 9 months when Hunter was officially stamped "cured" and we were on our way to returning to a normal life. Things were slowly going to start getting back on track.
We got released from the hospital and Hunter had his last surgery at CHLA in June of 2008. Once we were back home.....Zen and I decided to pack up and leave the craziness of LA and move to a place where life can be just a little more appreciated and enjoyed. So we moved to Oregon 2 months later.....and never looked back. For the next 3 months we hit the road and traveled up and down the coast......enjoyed the ocean, ate delicious food, stopped off at parks and zoo's, just took in life and all it had to offer. Exposed Hunter to everything that he had missed the last 9 months of his life. We finished off our road trip with a month long stay in Australia with very dear friends and Hunter was just soaking it all up and taking it all in......thoroughly enjoying himself.
While traveling, Hunter spiked a fever about 3 times on random days, but they always seemed to pass. We had clinic once a month that we alternated between California and Oregon hospitals and it's just a basic blood draw to check his labs and the status of his cells. They all had been checking out "normal" and Hunter was remaining in complete "remission". So YAY, we were all excited that Hunter seemed to have been cured.
We had another lab draw on December 16th once we returned from Australia and again, Hunter checked out perfect. So now we were on our way back up the coast to return to our new Oregon home. Once we arrived, Hunter seemed to not be feeling too well. We weren't sure if he was exhausted from all of the traveling or if he had caught a cold or if it was just a little bug. Cancer wasn't at the forefront of our mind because he JUST had a test and his labs were great. No sign at all of anything being amuck. So we got through Christmas, but went into the pediatrician at Doernbechers Children's hospital before the New Year and expressed our concern that Hunter was just not feeling well.
So once again, he was diagnosed with the flu and we were sent off with antibiotics. And, once again, after about 5-7 days, the antibiotics were not working. He then got a shot in the leg and switched to a stronger antibiotic and we were sent off again. Five days later........Hunter was still sick. Finally, on my birthday, we checked ourselves into OHSU and that night we were told that Hunter's cancer had returned.
Stunned, shocked, devastated...........scared, dreadfully worried and just plain sick to our stomachs with fear.
To be Continued.......