Mrs. Tibbetts, a Leesville Road High School math teacher, remembers the struggle with cancer within her family. Her son, Andrew, was diagnosed with leukemia the summer before second grade at the age of 7.
The process of diagnosing his disease started when she began to notice strange bruises on Andrew a few months prior to his diagnosis when they were at the pool.
“[I would] be like, ‘Andrew where’d you get that [bruise]?’ [He’d respond], ‘I don’t know.’ At first I thought, ‘Okay, well, it’s not big deal,’ until some other people at the pool would say to me, ‘What are you doing to your son?’” said Tibbetts.
Right after school ended for summer, he was at a basketball camp, and when he got hit in the face with a ball, he wouldn’t stop bleeding. The doctors told her not to worry about it, but Tibbetts scheduled an appointment for blood tests. The week prior to his blood test appointment, Andrew had a bloody nose that would not stop, so Tibbetts took him to the pediatrician. The pediatrician ran some blood tests, and referred him to UNC because she thought her machine was broken since she wasn’t getting a white blood cell count.
“Like twenty minutes after we are in the room, the doctors came in and said, ‘Andrew, do you mind if I talk to your mother and your father for a second?’ And that’s when I knew it wasn’t going to be okay because why would they be pulling us out of the room? So, that’s when they told us [he had cancer],” said Tibbetts.
He began a long treatment process of three and a half years. It started with intense meds and then started to back off as time passed. For the first year or so, Tibbetts gave him IV chemo at home.
“There is a reason why I’m not a nurse. It’s not what I signed up for,” said Tibbetts.
Andrew was unaware of what the spinal taps and bone marrow tests were, and since he didn’t exactly know what was being done and was sometimes put to sleep, they didn’t seem daunting to him. Even though the physical aspects of the disease didn’t seem to faze him, the emotional aspects presented more of a challenge.
“He lost his hair. At the very beginning, because he was on high levels of [Prednisone], he gained a whole bunch of weight. Then, once we were off the [Prednisone], and he stopped eating, he was skinny and had that gray tint and had no hair. So then, he hid under his hat. He would not go anywhere without a hat and just wouldn’t talk: [He] just wanted to be ignored,” said Tibbetts.
This tragedy that not just Tibbetts’ son, but Tibbetts herself, had to endure was one that changed her outlook on life and the way she treats others.
“A lot of kids — it’s not just cancer — are walking around with a lot of baggage. And you just need to be careful. It has made me more flexible; it has made me definitely more empathetic. Especially if it’s a kid whose parent is going through it — I can’t imagine a child having to watch their parent go through that,” said Tibbetts.
Even though Tibbetts clearly recalls all of the bad things that happened during the course of Andrew’s struggles, she also remembers the joy of when he finally was declared cancer free.
“[The most memorable moment was] the day they told us [he had cancer] — that sinking feeling in your stomach. But then, [on] the flip side, I remember that day that the doctor came in and said, ‘He’s done, no more chemo,’” said Tibbetts.