The Day I Found Out My Son Had Cancer

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Oakland bankruptcy attorney James Pixton talks about learning that his baby son had cancer.

We have four children. Our oldest is fifteen. He’s a freshman at Encinal High School and plays on the water polo team. Our youngest, Porter, is eight. He’s in second grade at Franklin Elementary. It’s always easy to remember when the crazy, frightening times started: on the day he was born in 2003.

Porter was born by c-section on November 25, 2003 at Kaiser Oakland. I took a video camera into the operating room, planning to catch Porter’s first moments after hatching digitally. Unfortunately, in my jittery state as a husband watching some pretty major surgery take place on his wife, I got a little confused. Unknowingly, I hit the Record button and started filming the floor. Then, when the time came to actually film Porter’s grand entry into the world, I hit the Record button again–and stopped the recording! Missed the whole thing!

The first few hours of his life seemed uneventful. Jen was doing well after being stitched back up and was sleeping. I went home to take a shower and grab a nap. While I was home, I got a call from a nurse back in Oakland saying that Porter was being moved to neo-natal intensive care and asking for authorization to do a platelet transfusion. His blood platelets were low and he needed the transfusion to avoid possibly bleeding to death on the inside.

It turns out an alert doctor had noticed little red dots forming on Porter’s skin: petechiae. This meant that his blood wasn’t coagulating. During those first few weeks, he was in and out of the hospital with respiratory problems and other issues. He always had band-aids on his heels from getting daily pricks for blood draws.

Because he was so small and weak, the doctors put off doing a bone marrow aspiration until he was bigger and stronger. A bone marrow aspiration is basically where they take a small, sharp instrument that resembles a corkscrew and twist it into the bone on the back of your pelvis. Then they yank hard to pop out a piece of bone, leaving a small hole into which they insert a needle and extract bone marrow. The marrow is then sent to the lab for analysis.

The doctors and nurses all seemed to be reading off the same script. They would tell us that Porter would get some tests done when he was stronger “just to rule out cancer.” I realize now that they were preparing us so we could accept what they already suspected: Porter had cancer. I actually chuckle now when I think about it. They really did a masterful job of helping a mom and dad get used to the idea of their child’s cancer. I am grateful for their careful compassion in those months leading up to the diagnosis.

We actually found out about Porter’s cancer diagnosis in a roundabout way, again with the involvement of compassionate doctors. Jen had take Porter to a checkup with his pediatrician at Kaiser Alameda. The doctor had been seeing Pixton children in Alameda since the oldest was a year old and the only child. We have always like her. While she was looking at Porter’s online record, Jen said, she started crying. Jen asked her what was wrong and she told Jen that the marrow tests had come back and showed that Porter, our three-month-old baby boy, had leukemia.

I can barely remember Jen coming home and telling me about the diagnosis. My brain was so foggy. It didn’t seem real. I kept thinking through every thing over and over. Was the diagnosis maybe wrong? They’d been wrong about this kind of thing before, right? Couldn’t it still just be a little platelet problem?

Kaiser set up an appointment for us in the pediatric oncology department. At the time, I barely knew what pediatric meant. Jen had to tell me what oncology meant. The childhood cancer department. That’s where we were going.

We took our little son to the basement of the Oakland Kaiser building right next to the parking garage–I can’t remember the name. That’s where the ped-onc department was located at the time. A nurse led us into a doctor’s tiny office with stacks of papers on the desk. There wasn’t much room there and it was packed. We were introduced to the oncologist, a social worker and a nurse practitioner. Our knees were all nearly touching in the middle of that little room.

The news was bad and it only got worse. Not only did Porter had leukemia, but he had a very rare kind called Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia, JMML for short. There were so few children in the US with JMML, that when they did studies, they had to go to Europe and Asia to find enough children with JMML to get meaningful statistics.

Fine, I thought, we’ll get it treated and move on. “So what’s the survival rate?” I’ll never forget the sad look on the doctor’s face. “It’s not very good.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Below fifty percent.” Oh. When I looked it up on the internet later that day, I saw that the survival rate was more in the neighborhood of 25 to 30 percent.

She also told us that traditional chemotherapy did not work to cure JMML. The only treatment that worked–and that only some of the time–was a bone marrow transplant. Bone marrow transplants are a huge deal fraught with potentially deadly complications. When the recipient is a child, it’s all the more dangerous.

My head was spinning at this point. The one positive point they gave us–if you could call it that–was that his cancer was currently “simmering.” It wasn’t in remission; it was just kind of sitting there. That meant that we had time. We didn’t need to jump into treatment. The proposed treatment for the immediate future was to wait and watch.

Well, wait and watch we did. And we read and studied and called and made connections. We found other families with JMML children. We had our other biological child typed and miraculously she was a perfect match to be a stem cell donor. What a blessing there!

I joined Team and Training and Porter became one of the honorees for the cycling season. The Luekemia and Lyphoma Society gave us tremendous support. So did our church community. Our families were out of state so they offered prayers.

It appears that God heard those prayers. The leukemia has uncharacteristically remained “simmering” and we have continued to wait and watch–for eight years now! Apparently, some kids have simply outgrown JMML. Perhaps that is what’s happening with Porter. We don’t know, but don’t take any moment of his life for granted either. He has been a gift to our family–a crazy, rambunctious, happy, easygoing gift.

The Day I Found Out I Had Cancer

Oakland bankruptcy attorney James Pixton talks about being diagnosed with cancer.

The year was 2004. I had been running my bankruptcy law office in Oakland, California, for about five years. My wife Jennifer and I had four children between the ages of seven and six months. Our youngest was suffering through some serious health problems. We weren’t expecting this, but then I guess no one ever is.

A couple months earlier, I had caught a cold and the lymph nodes in my throat became very swollen and tender–not unusual for me and colds. After the cold worked its way out of my system, however, the nodes on the left side of my neck stayed swollen. I remember sitting in my office in Olde Oakland working on bankruptcy files for my clients, running my fingers up under my jawline and feeling a lump.

Finally, I went to the doctor to have it checked out. The GP took one quick feel along my jaw and agreed vociferously, “Wow! That is a big lump!” He immediately sent me to a throat specialist. A few days later, I was in Kaiser Oakland with some sort of specimen collecting syringe jammed up into the growing lump under my jaw. A few days later, I got a call from the doctor saying that the biopsy was inconclusive. He suggested it might just be an infection, so I should keep taking my antibiotics and then call for another appointment if the swelling didn’t go down in a few weeks.

Well, the swelling didn’t go down. I made another appointment and this time, the doctor went at the lump with a bigger, much nastier looking device clearly intended to collect a large enough sample to find whatever it was they were looking for. That was on a Wednesday.

On Friday afternoon, the phone in my office rang. At the time I was on 9th Street in downtown Oakland. I set down the client file I was working on and grabbed the phone. I really wasn’t expecting a call from my doctor, but that’s who it was on the line. I’ll never forget the odd way he pitched the diagnosis to me. He said, “I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news is that your biopsy came back and you have lymphoma. The good news is that now that we know what it is, we can start treating it.” He finished the call quickly and politely and hung up. I just sat there too stunned to move.

People have asked me since then if it bothered me the way the doctor told me I had cancer. I’ve always answered no, not really. I was certainly bothered that someone was telling me I had cancer. But I’ve thought about it some since then and always conclude that there’s really no good way to tell someone he has cancer. Think about it. How would you tell someone?

I appreciated that he told me as soon as he found out. I appreciated that he went straight to the point. I appreciated that he told me I’d be getting a call from the oncology department on Monday. It was probably about as good as any such lousy situation could get.

I left my office early in that afternoon, went home and looked up lymphoma on the internet. I guess I had a deer-in-the-headlights look on my face because when my wife immediately went pales when she came home and saw me sitting there on the edge of the bed. Her first question was, “What’s wrong?” I told her that I had lymphoma. We both cried. It was kind of like telling her that I’d received a death sentence with only a small possibility of clemency from the governor. One of the worst days of my life. Gratefully, I’m still here to look back on that day and shudder.

The Downtown Parking Garage: A Glorious Monstrosity

I remember the protests and the threatened (and actual) boycotts. I remember the op-ed pieces for and against. I remember neighbors and neighborhood taking sides. “It’s going to destroy the small-town feel of the Park Steet corridor!” “No, it’s going to revitalize Park Street–bring it back from the dead!”

My law office is just up the street from the garage on Oak Street so I’ve watched its effect on Park Street from a ringside seat. My first observation is more of a recollection. When my wife Jennifer and I first moved to Alameda in 1998 with our one-year-old (he’s now a freshman at Encinal!), I remember driving down Park Street and remarking that other than for a haircut or Asian food, I had no reason to set foot on Park Street. I’ve since gone bald so if things hadn’t changed I would never go to Park Street at all because Asian food doesn’t always agree with me.

I also remember driving down Park Street after sundown and thinking it looked like a ghost town. It would have been perfect for a zombie movie.

Fast forward to 2012 and I’ll be the first to say that the yeasayers were prophetic and the naysayers lacked vision. Since the parking garage and the attached multiplex opened, I can count on one finger the number of times our family–with three more kids now added to the mix–has left the island to see a movie.

With such convenient parking we have also focused our dining attention on Park Street with enthusiasm. I admit that the restaurants have always been more diverse than I used to realize, but it took that parking garage for us to start exploring.

Mission accomplished! The Pixtons are staying on the island to spend our money. My wife says half jokingly–and I know she’s not the only one–that if we just had a Target, we’d never leave the island. I think if I dig deeper I can get everything I might find at Target in the local businesses we already have just up the street or avenue in Alameda.

And the garage itself simply doesn’t look that bad. Does anyone remember that shack on the corner of Oak and Central that housed Video Maniacs? How about that oddly-paved parking lot where the careless speeder could easily drop a transmission? How could this not be an improvement?

The only gripe I have concerns that infernal elevator. Someone should call the folks at Guinness because I think we might have the world’s slowest elevator.

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Oakland-Hayward Bankruptcy Attorney James Pixton Authors Booklet About Avoiding Ten Dumb Mistakes in Bankruptcy

East Bay bankruptcy attorney James Pixton recently authored a short booklet for consumers considering bankruptcy. The 12-page booklet entitled “Ten Dumb Things That Can Torpedo Your Bankruptcy Case,” explains in simple language and with clear examples what everyone in the Bay Area needs to know before filing a bankruptcy case.

Order the booklet at www.pixlaw.comThe bankruptcy trustees in the bankruptcy courts in Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose are very aggressive when it comes to going after friends and family of Bay Area residents who file for bankruptcy. Sometimes, relatives and friends can find themselves in the cross-hairs of the federal government for reasons that don’t even make sense at first.

This booklet, one in a series of pieces by Attorney Pixton, will give consumers the information they need to avoid major headaches in their bankruptcy. By arming themselves with the right information, they can make sure their attorney does things right and make sure they get the full protection of bankruptcy law when they file. If things are handles right, San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland bankruptcy trustees will just have to look elsewhere to get paid.

Order the book today by going to Attorney Pixton’s main website at pixlaw.com. You can also call his office at (510) 451-6200 to request a copy. You can also use the handy form below. GET THE INFORMATION YOU NEED TO PROTECT YOURSELF TODAY!

IMPORTANT: Get this Free Consumer Guide and make sure things get done right!

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Consider Bankruptcy If You Want a New Financial Start in Oakland, Hayward or the East Bay

Has the economy wiped you out? Can’t cover the credit card bills anymore? Is your car lender threatening to repossess? Are you taking cash advances on your credit cards to pay your mortgage and cover utilities?

How would you like to make all of financial stress end in an instant? That’s exactly what happens when you file a bankruptcy case with Oakland attorney James Pixton. Once you file with Pixton Bankruptcy Law, you are immediately protected from nasty phone calls and threatening letters. None of your creditors can bother you (in most cases) while you’re in bankruptcy.

All Oakland and Alameda County bankruptcy cases are filed in the Oakland Bankruptcy Court on Clay Street. When he gets the bankruptcy case number from the bankruptcy court, attorney James Pixton goes to work from his Alameda office, protecting his clients and going after creditor for violations of bankruptcy law, if necessary. Over the years, Attorney Pixton has obtained thousands of dollars of sanctions from creditors that include banks and check cashing businesses. East Bay bankruptcy attorney James Pixton is very serious about protecting his clients.

Give James Pixton a call today at (510) 451-6200 to schedule an appointment. Or take a look at his website at www.pixlaw.com.