It was December 2007. Little 7-year-old Claire was at a Santa Claus breakfast, unable to enjoy the festivities. Exhausted, she rested her head on the table, complaining that her wrist hurt. Her mother, Lauren Brobson, took Claire to the hospital to have the wrist X-rayed. It wasn’t a broken bone, it was worse than that.
Claire was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the blood and the most common cancer among children. The holiday festivities were suddenly turned upside down, as Lauren and her husband, Kevin, a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge, tried to get their bearings. What did leukemia mean for their beloved daughter? And what would it mean for hert wo little brothers, whose lives would also be impacted by her cancer?
(picture at right: Claire and her brothers shortly after her cancer diagnosis)
“It was a surreal week,” Lauren explained. But they were able to bring Claire home for Christmas, which suddenly had a whole new meaning. “We were surrounded by family, and reminded of what was really important.”
For the following two years and three months, Claire’s life revolved around her cancer treatments. There have been tremendous advances in childhood leukemia, which only a few decades ago had an extremely high mortality rate. Now, leukemia is most often curable. But the treatment is not easy on a child.
“The first eight months were the most intense. We wanted her to go to school, but were worried about germs. Her school, St. Catherine Leboure, was terrific and Claire was able to maintain some semblance of a normal second-grade experience.”
There was one frighteningly close call, though, and Lauren choked up even as she recalled of how close they came to losing Claire. At one point in her maintenance treatment, Claire started running a fever that soared as her blood counts plummeted. She was hospitalized and went into seizure. The medication that stopped the seizure also stopped her breathing. Claire was rushed to intensive care withthe nurse trying to keep her airway open.
Now, a year-and-a-half out of treatment, Claire is cancer-free and feels like any other 11-year-old girl. Those scary moments are behind them, although Lauren said, “as a mother, I don’t know if I’ll ever really exhale.”
(picture at left: Claire with her brother Will at his preschool graduation.)
“After Claire’s diagnosis, our lives became a blur of doctors, hospitals, treatment protocols and chemotherapy, but the one thing that became very clear and steady to us was family,” Lauren said. “Our parents and siblings, who don’t live here, rushed to our side. Kevin and I somehow found time for each other. And as we obviously had to spend more time with Claire, we also made it a priority to spend time individually with our other two children.
“We became very focused on family — and what we had in each other — which is something that has carried through after Claire’s treatments were over. I guess we found out that the most important obligation we had was to connect with each other.”
Originally published in the November/December 2011 issue of Central PA Magazine
YOUNG WARRIOR (picture at right: Claire Brobson this past summer at 11 years old.)