A Letter to Our Oncologist One Year Later

Dearest Dr. Thompson,
One year ago this week, William and I met you, thinking all was well. I’ll never forget you saying how important it was to you that we know you “give a damn about your kid. He isn’t a patient. He is William.” In a world where people rarely see William without seeing Down Syndrome, those words hugged my heart and let me know my son was safe in your care. Relatively speaking, his six month treatment was short and technically uncomplicated but you know that our lives are forever changed. You didn’t want to tell us over the phone; you couldn’t see us looking at each other and holding hands while speaking to you on speaker-phone. You didn’t get to see our faces or watch us hold each other and silently cry the way I did when I was told he may have Down Syndrome. You couldn’t see how your calm manner helped me process and focus as you confirmed what I knew to be true. That must have been hard for you, and I’m sorry. You were so confident and comforting that I was ready and eager to drive to UNC that Tuesday morning.
I find myself missing the familiarity of UNC; all my senses were heightened and the details that are written on my heart may amaze you. What I miss most is the family that you helped create. On our first day, Bowtie Tuesday began. Under your care he learned new words and how to fist-bump. He learned to sit up, to crawl, and to love Taylor Swift. I watched his personality and his body grow. I began to see who William is in those 5 hospital rooms, and you always celebrated the victories with reckless abandon. The nurses and other doctors were his team and you were our coach. A great coach brings out the potential and stands back. You did that for us every week.
You saved William’s life, Patrick. You helped keep our hearts soft and loving in the process.
I think people forget that you are a ‘real person’ too. You have rough days at work, sit in the same traffic, go home to a family and have to keep the details of all your patients’ numbers straight. You did it with grace, but I really treasure the day you came into the room at 5:30 and said, “I’m really tired. It’s been a hard day. Can we save the excitement and full plan for tomorrow after I’ve slept?” Your humanity makes you a great healer.
I have no doubt that you loved my William greatly; as you do each of your patients. You made us feel like he was your absolute favorite and the VIP of the 5th floor.

Now with William sleeping in his bed, unhooked from IVs and with only scars to remember Broviacs and G-tubes, I find myself in the same dilemma as many parents before me. How do you adequately thank a doctor who led your family through cancer? I think the answer will come every time we look at William do something new or change a heart. You played a part in it and can proudly say, “That’s one of my kids.” Thank you for turning an underdog into a Conqueror. Thank you for introducing us to a world we didn’t know we existed and guiding us through it. Thank you for your care, your love and your wisdom. Thank you for teaching me ‘we don’t pay our bills’ and how to turn off the pumps at 2 a.m. Thank you for keeping the dance parties going and for shooting straight. Thank you for keeping us dancing and laughing. Most of all, thank you for being a crucial part of William’s story. Thank you for being used by God as an instrument of healing. If the beginning is this powerful, I can’t wait to see how amazing his life will be. Thank you for helping William conquer. IMG_2977
IMG_3907last chemowilliam letter

With a mother’s appreciation and gratitude,
Kaitlin Erkkila

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2 thoughts on “A Letter to Our Oncologist One Year Later

  1. I THINK my daughter in law got me on the William’s Warriors feed. I almost feel like I know you and William. My prayers have been with you and William especially as my nephew, now in college, had a tumor on his brain as a baby, and has had a scary ride with many surgeries, etc. It was nip and tuck for a LONG time. The last surgery almost took his life through just a screw up on the part of the surgeon, and he now has a permanent trache (sp?). But he is alive and functioning.
    Your ability to draw me into your lives and William’s battle with your words was also impressive. No doubt you and your family are eager to put this adventure behind you but I would bet that there are a lot of families that would benefit from reading a compilation of your posts, in a book format, as trail markers to an eventual victory on their own cancer journeys. Just a thought.
    May God continue to bless you, your family and William! So thankful for the victory! Thanks for sharing your lives with so many.

  2. Although my daughter died, I feel a similar debt of gratitude to our paediatric haematologist in Bristol Children’s Hospital in the UK. Leah had a very rare haematological malignancy and he liaised with experts in America and Australia to give her the best possible outcome. Even after we left Bristol and returned home to Ireland, he was always available by phone and email to give medical advice when it was needed. Leah and I were never in any doubt regarding how much he cared.

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