Lori and Oscar Hoit of Austintown are still waiting for their “new normal” to kick in after their son, Connor, was diagnosed with leukemia last year.
Until then, it’s one day at a time, if not one second at a time, as they try to adjust to their new lives as parents of a child with cancer.
“Your whole world changes,” Lori said. “The life our family knew before Connor’s diagnosis will never be the same. We were told we would eventually get to our ‘new normal.’ It’s not easy and it takes time, but it will happen.”
For the Hoits it began in mid-March 2016. Connor, who was 4 years old at the time, had been battling a GI virus and wasn’t being himself. He wasn’t eating well. He took more naps than normal and complained of leg and belly pain. He’d been to his pediatrician twice in the previous 2 months and tested negative for strep and flu viruses.
The Hoits insisted on a blood test.
“We needed to know what was going on,” Lori said. “Something just wasn’t right.”
Sure enough, about 2 hours after leaving the appointment, Lori and Oscar received a call with results from the blood test. Their pediatrician told them to go immediately to Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron. It appeared that Connor may have leukemia. From there, the Hoits’ world turned upside down.
At Akron Children’s, a diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) was confirmed. Connor was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), where that night he had a blood transfusion. The next day, he underwent surgery to have a port placed in his chest so chemotherapy could start right away.
“At that moment, you’re devastated and heartbroken,” Lori said, describing how her family’s life was changing before her eyes.
Jeffrey Hord, MD, director of the division of hematology-oncology at Akron Children’s, sees stories like the Hoits’ play out on almost a daily basis.
“When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it forever changes the lives of not only the child, but also that of the parents, siblings, extended family and close friends,” Dr. Hord said. “Remarkable progress has been made in curing childhood leukemia. Today the overall long-term cure rate is around 85 percent. But the treatment journey is difficult and lasts 2 to 3 years.”
Connor achieved remission within 30 days of starting treatment. But remission isn’t without its challenges, including a barrage of chemotherapy medications – from daily and weekly pills at home to monthly IVs. He also undergoes quarterly spinal taps at the hospital.
He had to delay starting kindergarten because of his treatment schedule. His parents also kept him home through the cold and flu season due to his compromised immune system.
“We were told he has a 95 percent or greater survival rate,” Lori said. “His leukemia is now classified as low-risk, but it’s still cancer. There’s always a fear that we could start this all over again at any time.”
As their journey continues, the Hoits draw encouragement from their faith, the support of family and friends, and from Connor’s fighting spirit.
“He’s a very strong boy,” Lori said. “I get my strength from him. He’s very brave.”