In a stark contrast to many cheerful images of pediatric cancer patients, Dallas-area mother Kaitlin Burge recently posted striking black and white images of her 4-year-old son Beckett Burge, who is under treatment for leukemia, as he leans over an open toilet following chemotherapy. In one, his sister, Aubrey Burge, 5, rubs his back.
“I want people to know what childhood cancer looks like,” Kaitlin Burge said. “The good, the bad and the ugly.”
Her early September post—which coincides with National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month—has gone viral after being shared more than 40,000 times by followers of the Beckett Strong Facebook Page. The photos illustrate what the cancer journey has been like for the young boy and his relatives.
“One thing they don’t tell you about childhood cancer is that it affects the entire family. You always hear about the financial and medical struggles, but how often do you hear about the struggles families with other children face,” Kaitlin Burge said in the post. “To some, this may be hard to see and read. My two kids, 15 months apart, went from playing in school and at home together to sitting in a cold hospital room together. My then 4 year-year-old watched her brother go from an ambulance to the ICU. She watched a dozen doctors throw a mask over his face, poke and prod him with needles, pump a dozen medications through his body, all while he laid there helplessly. She wasn’t sure what was happening. All she knew was that something was wrong with her brother, her best friend.”
Courtney Vastine, an oncology social worker with Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center, explains the critical importance of preparing the entire family for the journey that lies ahead when someone is diagnosed with cancer.
“The word ‘prepare’ is very important—even before some of these symptoms and side effects pop up—to fully engage the entire family with a discussion about the side effects of chemotherapy,” Vastine said. “If there is weight loss or nauseua, vomiting or hair loss, that is often seen with chemotherapy. It is good to mentally prepare the family to fully explain what it may look like. That way, when these symptoms occur, family members won’t be completely shocked or taken aback.”
Today, Beckett is in remission, but he and the entire Burge family still have a long road ahead of them.
“Beckett is doing well,” Kaitlin Burge said. “He is getting chemo nightly in a pill form and then he gets another one once a week and another one once a month. He gets three-to-four chemos a month. He takes an antifungal. We added it up. At one point, he is taking 10 to 12 pills a day.”
Although this season of Beckett’s life is often unpleasant, Burge said she wanted to take photos of moments to share with him as he gets older.
“I told myself way before I made Beckett’s Facebook page that I was going to document this chapter of his life in case he ever wants to know about it,” his mother said. “I took pictures that were—I guess, painful to the public eye—so he could see them as he got older.”
The September 3 post has received more than 3,000 messages.
“I want people to know that these families are not alone. There are so many families fighting the same battles, going through the same side effects,” Kaitlin Burge said. “It is hard, but they will get through it. Post the good, the bad and the ugly because people need to see it. I feel like it is the only way to get the awareness out there.”
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