Surviving Katrina & My Son’s Leukemia

Mary Webb, Guest Blogger

In 1996 when I graduated from college, I caught the first train out of New Orleans, swearing two things – I was going to go as far as I could from this city, and I was never going to come back to it. If God really does laugh at the plans we make, he must have fallen off the throne and rolled on the floor holding his sides about mine.

There really is no place like New Orleans, and definitely, no place like home. It took two severe occurrences to make me realize this – Hurricane Katrina and my 4-year-old son’s leukemia diagnosis.

Without those two life-changers, I’d say I was doing well without New Orleans.  Sure, I’d lament  proctoring TAKS tests (Texas’ LEAP counterpart) on Mardi Gras day while the rest of my family was on Orleans Ave. watching the Zulu parade.  And, there were frequent hankerings for po-boys from Dooky Chase. But mostly, I’d adjusted to life in Memphis, and then Denver, and finally Dallas and felt like that’s where I belonged until the next big city beckoned.


Then, I saw the Circle Foodstore on CNN in 2005, and it was almost entirely underwater. In that very moment, I was suddenly achingly homesick for The Big Easy. I got a bit of a reprieve when my sister and her family and my brother came to stay with my sister and I in The Big D. One by one, my siblings left. John to D.C. where he’s resided since. Melinda to Maryland to go to a prep school near an aunt. Linda back to New Orleans to help run one of the first schools to reopen after the storm. Christine back to New Orleans to get married. Last was my nephew Melvin who had finished his school year in my care.


When my son,Quentin and I arrived back in Dallas in 2006 after delivering Melvin back to his mother, our apartment felt so much larger and emptier. I knew then we’d spend one more school year in Texas, and then, we go back home, too.




Except, when it was time to start considering schools and day cares and rental property, a year hadn’t been enough time for New Orleans to recover. I settled on my husband’s lil’ po-dunk community of Patterson, about 90 miles southeast of New Orleans. I figured it would be a stepping stone to home. In the meantime, it was close enough that I could get to the city whenever I wanted to. In 2007, I  moved back to Louisiana during the first weekend of JazzFest.


I started  commuting back to New Orleans often to reconnect with the city, but with within weeks, I would travel to New Orleans many, many times.


Quentin acquired a mysterious swollen eye. Because he was sleeping in a sleeping bag, as our furniture had not arrived from Texas, I figured he was allergic to something in the carpet or had been bitten by something in the carpet. Eye drops from a pediatrician reduced it, but I noted apprehensively, that it hadn’t completely eliminated it.


Everyone said not to worry. More said I was being extra and hormonal. I had just announced my second pregnancy. I thought I was being a mom, but I tried to take their advice and forget about it.


But then he started to complain about an ailing arm. I didn’t see anything– but, he was adamant. He was in pain. He was just not himself. Bruises appeared.  And then, I panicked.


It took from April to mid-July  and countless doctors and tests for Quentin to be diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia on July 12, 2007. Due to the suffering he endured during that spell, I often wished I’d have stayed in Dallas just a little bit longer. My cousin was Quentin’s pediatrician there. I know that she would have discovered his condition sooner because she would have run all the tests she could have. She would have believed him and me even if he was having a good day when the appointment occurred. She wouldn’t have blown me off and said I was worrying over nothing because my hormones were raging out of control.

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In the end, I know I was where I was supposed to be – home. New Orleans and my family played a colossal role in Quentin beating his cancer. The last appointment he had before he was diagnosed, the doctor I saw told me she would call me in the morning with results. She called me two hours after I left her office and told
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me that she was preparing a bed for Quentin at New Orleans Children’s Hospital. I had to go that night. If Quentin got so much as a nick of cut, he would bleed out. She also told me to be prepared to “stay for a while”. I pressed her to make a call, but she deferred to the doctors there. They would tell me once and for all what was wrong with my child.

I cried every minute of that 90-minute drive to New Orleans . I called Lori, or Dr. Seibert, to ask what she thought it meant. I had long suspected leukemia. As much as she could, she confirmed this for me. We had traveled to Dallas that weekend, so when I called one of my best friends Jeanene, she could not appreciate how Quentin’s health had deteriorated in a matter of four days. His eye had blown up like a balloon again while we were there, but, like me, she couldn’t wrap her mind around what was happening. She Web MD’ed leukemia and checked off all the symptoms Quentin had experienced this summer.

My brother John was getting married that weekend; Quentin was slated to be the ring bearer. John’s fiancee’s wedding shower was literally down the street from the hospital, and it wrapped up minutes after we got to Children’s . My family brought the party right on over to the hospital, complete with some tacky bling-bling  party favors that the bride-to-be promised to wear to work the next day.

Given the choice between the tears and the festivities, I latched on to the latter for dear life, because my dear son’s  life was at stake. Pretty much every weekend after that Quentin’s hospital our room was Grand Party Central.

Early on, we were offered the opportunity to get a second opinion or to seek treatment somewhere else, perhaps St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Having lived in Memphis nearly four years, I was completely aware the hospital’s prestige. Still, I politely declined. My money was soundly on Children’s Hospital and New Orleans. After all, aren’t we the king of comebacks? Who else celebrates a life with a jazz funeral? Who else wore bags on our heads, but eventually were crowned Lombardi royalty? Who else could make the gains we’ve made eight short years after being more than 80% under water?


New Orleans, New Orleans, New Orleans!


Note: Quentin celebrated his 5th transplant anniversary last March and is doing just fine.

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