DEER CREEK, Okla. (KFOR) – Four year-old Austin Estes is the baby in a much bigger-than-average family. He absorbs the love and attention of his eleven siblings like a sponge. But as the pandemic locked everyone down in the spring of 2020, Austin complained of a continuing back ache.
His mother Joyce explained, “One day he looked at me, and said, ‘Mommy, we’ve got to get God to take the staples out of my back.’ And I was like… ‘OK?'”
Joyce and Wade Estes say it was an uncanny but accurate way to describe the symptoms of his stage four cancer, neuroblastoma. It’s a cancer of the nerve cells and it was found by doctors at Jimmy Everest Cancer Center in his spine and throughout his body.
Wade Estes recalls, “I was in total denial. I was like, ‘No, it’s something else. It can’t be that.” Joyce nods in agreement. “It was all extremely new, extremely scary, extremely disheartening.”
Neuroblastoma is the type of aggressive cancer that doctors throw the kitchen sink at. Austin had chemotherapy, experimental infusion radiation, a stem cell transplant and surgery.
“The mass was between his kidney and his liver, in the back,” says Joyce Estes.
Austin rarely complained. Instead, he was absorbed by the machines that looked deep into his body.
“He was fascinated, he wanted to know how everything worked,” Joyce explained.
She says his medical team also kept him positive.
“The nurses! They got your back, and they’re catching everything you need,” the Estes explained.
Austin’s medical team walked the Estes family through the treatment, but also the uncertainty of the pandemic.
Just one parent at a time could stay with Austin. That parent was badly needed at the hospital with Austin, but they would be dearly missed at home by Austin’s siblings. Wade Estes tears up at the memory of his daughter crying on the bed before Thanksgiving dinner.
“She was on mom’s bed crying and I just went in and say ‘let’s eat.’ She started crying and I picked her up and started crying and said, ‘I miss mom too!'”
Thankfully, for every tear, there was also a smile as Austin found ways to play games in the hospital. Each day was a step closer to eradicating cancer.
Austin has been given an all-clear. JEC doctors cannot detect cancer in his body, although Austin will be closely watched, and repeatedly scanned for any signs of reoccurrence in the months ahead.
“It’s so wonderful to have people recognize him and love and take care of him” say the Esteses.
If you’d like to help kids like Austin fight cancer, consider donating to JECFriend.org.