How our Family Changed the Day My Son was Diagnosed with Cancer

Our son Jonah was diagnosed with leukemia on October 29, 2014. Prior to that, we had been to see the doctor a couple of times for what seemed to be typical seven-year-old stuff. When he had headaches after being hit at hockey, we went to CHEO (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario) where he was diagnosed with a concussion.  Then when he complained of being tired all of the time, not wanting to eat and night sweats, we thought it was the flu and took him to the clinic. On the morning of October 28th, my husband John took Jonah to the lab to get his blood work done; the doctor wanted to check for anemia.

That night, I remember the clock beside the bed read 9:16 when the phone rang. My husband had just left for work and the kids and I were already in bed. The gentleman on the phone said, “Is this Jonah’s mom? This is the Dr. E from the clinic. I am calling because we got Jonah’s blood work back. You need to get up and take him to CHEO immediately. And I want you to remember the word platelets. Now repeat it.” I repeated the word. “Good. His platelets are at 13; one, three. I know that probably doesn’t mean anything to you, but Jonah needs to go to the hospital right now, do you understand?” I said that I did and he said, “Go now” and hung up.

Not even 30 seconds later Jonah walked into my bedroom and said, “Mum, I can’t take this sweating anymore.”  It was pouring from his arms like an open faucet. I said, “It’s okay babe, we are going to go to the hospital right now.”

Everything shifted that night, even our family dynamic. It became all about taking care of Jonah. John is stepdad to Jonah and his brother Beaudin and we have a little girl, Maeve. The boys would typically spend every weekend in Kingston with their dad George, his wife Charlotte and her daughter Brooklyn. Jonah couldn’t do that anymore, we didn’t want to separate the boys and we were not willing to let any relationships slide, so George, Charlotte and Brooklyn often stayed at our house in Ottawa.

The usual daily routine quickly became more complicated. We adjusted our schedules and took time off work to accommodate caring for Jonah, school drop off and pick up for Beaudin, and childcare for Maeve. All day treatment meant all day parking and meals at the hospital, gas back and forth, and unexpected daycare costs. And having three new people in the house made mealtime and housework chaotic.

It was definitely a challenge blending the two families, but we had to or it just wouldn’t have worked for the kids. Everybody had their own stressor. For me it was fear of the unknown all of the time; George became obsessed with staying on top of the laundry; Beaudin had to deal with lots of questions at school; and Maeve went from one day in daycare to five because we needed the security of knowing the baby was safe and taken care of.  It was the hardest thing our family has ever gone through—emotionally, physically and financially—but it has brought the eight of us closer together, especially the kids, and Jonah is the hub. He knows he has a couple of years left of treatment but he never seems defeated. He is so mature for his age. This experience has made him wise beyond his years.

—Satara Stephens

Satara Stephens and family

Left to right: Jonah, Satara, John, Beaudin, Maeve


P.S. I would like to thank Marilyn, our POGO Interlink Nurse for being such a huge support to our family. Marilyn even spoke to Jonah’s class to help them understand what was going on and make things easier for Beaudin at school. I would also like to thank POGO and everyone who donates to the financial assistance program—it lifted a huge burden at a time when we needed all the help we could get.





Learn more about POGO programs that help children, families, survivors and others affected by childhood cancer.

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