Mother seeks support for families battling cancer
Sometimes, the best medicine is a simple, understanding conversation. This is something Cindy Hamilton of Gardnerville longs for.
Three months ago, her 18-year-old son Charlie was diagnosed with bone cancer. Since then, many lives have been turned upside down – Hamilton, her husband Vance and their two children, James, 11, and Allie, 5; Charlie’s father, Chuck; grandparents, friends, other family members and Charlie, himself.
“When something like this happens, you wake up sometimes and say, ‘This must be a dream,'” Hamilton said. “It doesn’t seem like it could be really happening.”
Charlie Paradis, a “good kid” with freckles and red hair, lived in Gardnerville for five years and attended Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School. He returned to Pinole, Calif., to be with his father, Chuck Paradis, two years ago.
In January, Charlie complained to Chuck of a sharp pain in his tibia bone right below his knee. After going to see a doctor, who immediately did an X-ray of the area and saw a tumor, Chuck called Hamilton to tell her he was concerned about Charlie.
Hamilton, who has a children’s day care center in her home, was immediately shocked.
“As soon as he called, I just knew,” she said. “I just had this feeling my child had cancer.”
Although a biopsy hadn’t been done yet and the tumor hadn’t been officially diagnosed, Hamilton immediately called the parents of her day care charges and asked them to pick up their children and she traveled west to be near her firstborn.
After the biopsy, with Charlie’s grandparents in attendance as well as Hamilton and Paradis, divorced for more than 17 years, the attending doctor said the tumor was malignant andCharlie had osteosarcoma – a condition which occurs in one in a million individuals.
“We were all sobbing when the doctor told us,” she said. “He told us Charlie was one in a million. The bad thing was, he also told us it was a genetic condition.”
Charlie was immediately fitted with a central line to his heart for chemotherapy and aggressive treatment began right away.
“Every weekend for three weeks he has to have chemotherapy and then he gets three weeks off,” Hamilton said.
“He goes to hell and back with it. The doctors say we’re lucky he’s a big kid – 6 foot, 2 inches and 250 pounds – because even if he loses 50 pounds, he’ll still be big.”
Every weekend, Hamilton travels to the medical center at the University of California, San Francisco, to be with her son. She often brings her other two children, who sometimes watch the treatments on their big brother.
“This is life,” she said. “I can’t censor it from my other children.”
Hamilton said one of the most disturbing things about entering the pediatric oncology wards of the hospital is the large number of children she sees suffering from various forms of cancer.
“I have seen so many kids with cancer – so many babies whose parents just don’t come back to get them,” she said. “It’s awful. They call them ‘crib babies.’ I go to visit them when I’m there.”
Osteosarcoma is a cancer which usually occurs in the thigh or shin bone near the knee. A typical patient is between the ages of 10 and 25 and is diagnosed after a few months of deep pain and swelling in the area.
Once treated with radical amputation, osteosarcoma is now more effectively treated with aggressive chemotherapy and perhaps a partial bone replacement. Success rates are currently at 60 to 70 percent with this treatment.
“This is what they are going to do with Charlie,” Hamilton said. “He has a muscular skeletal surgeon, Dr. O’Donneol, the number one specialist in California, who will cut out five inches of his tibia and replace it with titanium. After that, he’ll have to learn how to walk all over again. Kaiser (insurance) has been great about everything.”
Next Thursday, Charlie will undergo the bone replacement surgery that will hopefully save his life.
Two weeks later, his mother and father will be tested to see who is carrying the gene responsible for the osteosarcoma.
Through the stress that her son’s illness has put on her Gardnerville family, Hamilton said her husband, Vance, an analyst at Harveys Casino, has been a great help.
“It’s been hard on all of us, but he’s been awesome about it,” she said.
Hamilton said that while she appreciates special friends like neighbor Cindy Alumbaugh, who has been a tremendous source of support the last few months, she also yearns to find other parents who might be going “to hell and back” with a child affected by cancer.
To that end, she is hoping to start a support group.
“If I didn’t have Cindy, I don’t know what I’d do,” Hamilton said. “She’s an angel from heaven.”
But no one knows what it’s like to have a child with cancer unless they’re living it, Hamilton said, and she feels people can help people by simply talking together.
“I know we aren’t the only ones going through this,” she said. “If somehow we could be a help to each other and share experiences, it would be great.”
If you are interested in contacting Hamilton about forming a support group of parents of children with cancer, or if you have any information on an existing group, call her at 265-7995.
Alumbaugh, who has two children, ages 7 and 2, said she hopes her friend can find the support group she is seeking.
“It makes it so much easier to have someone to talk to. Life is a struggle as it is, but if someone told me one of my kids had cancer, I think my brain would just go dead,” she said.
“I would do anything for Cindy, but nobody can really understand what it’s like.”
Hamilton said Charlie, a senior at Pinole Valley High School, is tutored in the hospital and will be able to graduate with his class.
“He is determined to walk across that stage and get his diploma,” she said.
“He already has his cap and gown.”
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