Instead, since Matthew’s blood count was dangerously low, he was sent to Dayton Children’s Hospital for additional, more complicated tests.
“In my heart,” his father said, “I just knew we were going to get real bad news.”
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No truer words were ever spoken. That night — just hours after a father/son fishing trip and a week after Matthew’s 10th birthday — they were told their son, entering fifth grade at Grigsby Intermediate School, had leukemia.
“Cancer,” the doctor told the family.
“We were both like, ‘Repeat that please,’” Betsy Harrison remembered saying.
In the 20 months since the diagnosis, Matthew has received chemotherapy treatments, undergone periodic lumbar punctures, had fluid drained out of his stomach and received numerous blood and platelet transfusions. Early in the process, the Harrisons were told not to count the surgeries, the procedures, the needle sticks.
“Close to 100,” said Shane Harrison, who obviously counted.
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In January 2018, the Harrisons “almost lost” their son because his liver had a reaction to the chemotherapy regiment. His liver was eating his platelets and his stomach, full of fluids, nearly collapsed his lungs. He was hospitalized for three weeks until his liver started functioning again.
“His spirit was crushed,” his mother said. “That was the worst pain he had ever felt.”
Matthew, 11, is a sixth-grader at Chamberlain Middle School. He sounds and acts much older than his age. His every sentence seems to have great thought. Matthew has “an old soul,” his mother said.
He has shown that maturity throughout his walk with cancer. He’s been a fighter the entire time. He has been that way since Day 1.
“He took it much better than we did,” his father said of the cancer diagnosis. “He said, ‘I’m going to beat it. No big deal.’”
Told he had leukemia — a word he couldn’t pronounce or spell at the time — Matthew started playing video games on his cell phone in the hospital.
“At the time, not exactly knowing what was going on … but I knew I’d be OK,” Matthew said. “I just knew. I was told by God.”
Meanwhile, his parents could only pray.
“As a parent,” his dad said, “you want to protect your kid. But when you’re told they have cancer, you can’t do that. You have to have faith and that’s very hard because it’s your little dude.”
His last chemotherapy treatment is scheduled for September 2020. That’s a day circled on the Harrison calendar.
His mother said: “We’re hoping…”
“That nothing goes wrong,” his father added.
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Throughout the medical process, Matthew kept a journal, but when he was unable to finish it, his mother contacted author Sarah Curry Rathel and illustrator Bob Kelly, who have produced books about children with serious illnesses as part of their Smile Books Project. Matthew’s book is called “My Cancer Life.”
In his book, which has sold about 1,000 copies, Matthew gives insight about being diagnosed with cancer. He’s a kid talking their language. He gives five tips if you have cancer and how to properly meet someone with cancer.
He met a young girl, another cancer patient, who told him she was being bullied because her chemotherapy treatments had stolen her hair and she had a breathing tube. Kids can be cruel. Even to those with cancer. Matthew hopes his book can change the way cancer patients are viewed.
“It’s not fair to treat people different,” he said. “We’re all just kids. Some of us just have cancer.”