As September draws to a close and October begins, Geri Edwards, an employee with Iredell Health System, wishes to bring special attention to a topic close, and sadly too close, to her heart — childhood cancer.
September was National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. And though September has just concluded, we should at all times be mindful, raise awareness, and spread hope to those affected by pediatric cancer, the leading cause of death by disease for American children under the age of 19.
According to the American Childhood Cancer Organization, approximately 1 in 285 children in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer before their 20th birthday. One of those 285 was Geri’s son, Dalton.
It was 2013, and Dalton had just started his junior year at West Iredell High School, where he played soccer, football, and wrestled.
In late September of that same year, Dalton was scheduled to have his wisdom teeth removed.
“What was supposed to be a routine wisdom tooth extraction turned into the worst nightmare of our lives,” said Geri.
While at his appointment, right before his wisdom tooth extraction, the oral surgeon noticed Dalton’s blood pressure was alarmingly high. Instead of getting his wisdom teeth removed, Dalton was sent to his pediatrician.
Due to his elevated blood pressure, Dalton’s pediatrician initially suspected he was having kidney issues. His pediatrician referred him to Iredell Memorial Hospital for a CT scan.
“I thank God that the radiology department went higher than the renal (kidney) area and scanned his entire abdomen during the CT,” said Geri.
It was during that scan where Geri discovered her son had a 13-pound tumor inside of his liver.
“There are several I thank and give credit to for finding his cancer, but Iredell’s radiology department was the one to really discover it with the CT scan. They didn’t diagnose the cancer, but because they did the scan higher on his body, the doctors were able to see the tumor,” said Geri.
Dalton was referred to a local children’s hospital.
On September 27, 2013, just three weeks after his 16th birthday, Dalton was diagnosed with liver cancer.
“Now, if you looked at my son, you would never be able to tell he had cancer or a 13-pound tumor in his abdomen. He never complained of pain or discomfort. He had always been healthy, an athlete, and just an all-around happy kid,” said Geri.
After meeting with an oncologist, Dalton was scheduled for a biopsy on October 2 to determine the exact type of cancer he had. The next day, Geri was told her son had both adult and childhood cancers — hepatocellular carcinoma and hepatoblastoma.
Now knowing the type and severity of Dalton’s cancer, his oncology team determined he needed a liver transplant. On October 4, he was placed at the top of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) list.
“We were told it would be awhile before a healthy liver was ever found,” said Geri.
However, just four days later, they received a phone call saying they had a liver and Dalton was to report to the hospital the very next morning. Dalton’s liver transplant was successful.
He was in remission for ten months before the cancer came back.
Throughout the next four years, Dalton bravely endured five surgeries, multiple hospital stays, and countless rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.
Dalton’s story would capture the public’s attention in Iredell County and beyond. Tens of thousands of people would fall in love with Dalton’s personality and resiliency. They followed his journey through a Facebook page where they shared support, thoughts, and prayers.
“Iredell Health System played a very important role throughout Dalton’s fight. In 2017, he was rushed to the emergency department at Iredell Memorial Hospital several times. The doctors, nurses, and staff kept him alive. They were caring and supportive, especially when we were sure he would not make it home,” said Geri.
And for 4 years, 11 months, 2 weeks, and 4 days, Dalton fought courageously.
“Dalton was born here in Iredell County on September 6, 1997, and moved to heaven on October 15, 2017,” said Geri.
Dalton departed this world, but left behind a lasting legacy.
Geri lost her son in an intensely unfair circumstance, but through this hardship, she chooses to raise awareness.
“The main reason I would like to bring awareness to childhood cancer is there is not enough funding that goes toward finding a cure for our children,” she said.
Geri would like people to know that less than 4% of federal funding goes toward researching childhood cancer. This tiny budgeted amount is for all pediatric cancers combined — brain cancer, leukemia, liver, and several others. Because of this, Geri would like to encourage others to support this cause and spread awareness of childhood cancer and the need for more federal funding.
“There are so many other children out there that need a cure. Every day in the U.S., there are 47 children diagnosed with cancer.”