When Do You Give Up on Treating a Child With Cancer?

Once Andrew’s illness was diagnosed, he needed a bone-marrow transplant as swiftly as possible. First the doctors had to kill the leukemic cells in Andrew’s bone marrow with chemotherapy, then replace them with a donor’s cells. Andrew’s 3-year-old sister, Lea, and his 5-year-old brother, Wills, were tested, and in the family’s first bit of luck since the diagnosis, Wills turned out to be a perfect donor match. Andrew underwent two rounds of chemotherapy, but there were still traces of cancer when the transplant was performed in February 2015, putting the outcome at high risk of failure.

The Health Issue

The Health IssueThe New Anatomy of Cancer

The Levys had created a Lotsa Helping Hands website, where friends signed up to host play dates or deliver meals (as did our family because our children were in the same school as Wills), and a Facebook group for updates on Andrew’s illness, which 1,700 people joined. But despite all the support, Esther felt deeply “alone with the experience,” she says. Her former life had vanished: She was living in Andrew’s hospital room, sleeping on a sofa that opened into a hard bed. She had left her job and the rest of her family while Dan continued to work and live at home with Wills and Lea. Her nights were punctured by Andrew’s cries; her days were spent frantically trying to distract him from his pain and nausea, cleaning up his vomit, holding him down during blood draws and making stressful medical decisions. He screamed if she left him for a few minutes, even to use the bathroom or shower.

After Esther and Andrew spent three months in the hospital, the entire family moved into a nearby apartment, in order to live in a smaller space they could keep immaculately clean while waiting for Andrew’s new immune system to develop. Esther remained Andrew’s full-time nurse, responsible for a dizzyingly complex regimen of medications and…

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