The recorded announcement tells us that we've reached the Children's Hemato-oncological Department. The elevator doors open, and we step into another world. It hits us that our lives have now changed forever. We swallow hard and reluctantly push Shir's stroller into the department. Our first encounter: bald-headed children hooked up to IV poles, their parents sitting beside them, their eyes telling us in no uncertain terms "welcome to our world, be strong, this is going to be really hard…"
Much could be written about this first moment, but there's no real way to capture our emotional reaction as we entered the oncological department, a world in which it is logical that a tiny baby should have a large tumor, where it's apparently reasonable that such a young creature should have to fight such a cursed and treacherous disease, where his parents must find, mobilize – even 'invent' – every ounce of strength and courage just to keep on living.
It all started eight months ago, with diarrhea. What one-year-old baby doesn't have diarrhea?! We're experienced parents and not easily concerned or excited, for we know that teething, a virus, nearly anything can cause diarrhea. When it didn't cease we started to investigate. We went through a full series of tests and diagnostics. No findings, and yet the diarrhea continued. All the while, Shir continues to be a smiley and lively baby, revealing no sign of what's really going on inside his little body.
Three months into all this, a second opinion sends us to perform ultrasound imaging. It is scheduled for December 8, 2020, precisely the day that, after months of COVID-19 home-bound lock-down, Assaf is to finally start a new and promising job. Feels like another routine day…yet another test to see how to stop Shir's diarrhea. But this is the day dark clouds start blocking out the sunlight. The 10-minute ultrasound exam extends to 40 minutes. The radiologist will only say that "there's something in there that's taking up space and pushing against internal organs." We embark on the longest 15-minute ride across town to our doctor. He introduces us to the terminology of nightmares and hell: tumor; cancer; neuroblastoma.
It's 2PM. Assaf informs his new employer that he's got to go. We meet at the emergency medical department at Rambam Medical Center. Test, tests and more tests, and on each Shir is on the bad end of the scale. The final diagnosis: Neuroblastoma Stage 4, metastasized to the lungs. We're crushed. The sky falls.
Just a moment ago we were parents to a baby with diarrhea. Now suddenly our baby has cancer. The tumor is enormous, over 4 inches. Shir undergoes 6 weeks of chemo. He suffers but this aggressive treatment brings no respite. The secondary tumors continue to grow and Shir undergoes surgery to remove the cancer. And then a second round of surgery. Something goes wrong and the doctors are constantly in consultation with physicians around the world, as the disease appears to be developing aggressively and in uncommon patterns. We continue with the chemo with the addition of biological and antibody treatments. But to no avail: the metastases continue to grow. We know that time is running out and overtaking us!
Throughout, the only thin light is Shir himself. In and despite all of this he continues to be strong and brave, to smile and make us laugh, to give us strength and show us the way. The mission is clear and there's no time to spare. We scrape ourselves off the floor and find new hope with a world-leading expert in New York. We know that this is our one chance, Shir's hope!
We must give him this opportunity; nothing will stop us from saving our baby. We're embarking on this journey with everything we've got, and we will return home with Shir - victoriously. There's no other option!
Please – help us give Shir this chance to win and live!