Sometimes laughter really is the best medicine, at least for the Petersen family.
After both his wife and son were diagnosed with different forms of cancer over the last two years, Paul Petersen said he doesn’t shy away from using humor in the face of not one, but two major health crises in his family.
“I have joked that if you come to our house and I offer a glass of water, you might want to think twice before you accept,” he told The Christian Post via email.
After feeling sick for multiple weeks, Petersen’s 13-year-old son, Pike, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in July, just one year after his mother, Mica, battled through chemotherapy after being diagnosed with lymphoma.
Following Pike’s diagnosis, he underwent a chemotherapy study that same week, which later confirmed that he has AML Level 3, which Petersen said presents the highest risk and made it necessary for Pike to have a bone marrow transplant.
AML is characterized by a rapid growth of abnormal cells in the bone marrow and blood, which then interferes with normal blood cell production. Occasionally, AML can spread to the brain, skin or gums.
Petersen said while some have compared the family to “modern-day Jobs,” he’s not as convinced.
“As a family, we aren't into comparisons,” he said. “So many have it more challenging than us. ... Our world is full of examples that remind us to thank God for all we have been spared."
That’s quite a statement coming from Petersen as the family faces the daunting prospect of finding a bone marrow transplant for Pike, an effort in which they have partnered with Earl Young’s Team and Park Cities Baptist Church (PCBC) in Dallas — and so far, the response has been encouraging.
More than 1,280 people came out in person to attend a PCBC bone marrow drive last month, while about another 400 people requested testing kits online.
Petersen said the event was the largest post-pandemic effort for a bone marrow drive.
“We had firemen, friends we had not seen in 20 years, people off the street and people from three hours away we didn't know coming in to get swabbed,” he said. “So incredibly affirming that good people put their Sunday plans on hold to come out and help our son.”
While there are over 50,000 potential recipients waiting for a bone marrow match, he said he believes it’s only a matter of time until they find one for Pike.
“I have always had complete peace that we would find a match, just a matter of 'who' and 'when,’” he said, adding the process should be completed in about four to six weeks.
After undergoing a second round of chemotherapy, which Petersen said has “progressed well,” Pike is set for a “high dose” treatment in October ahead of a transplant which is tentatively expected to be sometime in November before Thanksgiving.
And through all of it, Petersen said Pike is pushing forward.
“Like most 13 year olds, Pike's attitude has been great, but he has also had his valleys as well,” he said. “In some ways, I believe that kids are 'sturdier' than adults.”
The family, he added, has acclimated to Pike’s diagnosis following a similar journey after Mica’s own diagnosis in 2022.
While lymphoma is a blood cancer, both types have required a stem cell transplant — a daunting reality for any family to face.
And yet, said Petersen, God is with his family every step of the way.
“Our faith has sustained us and is unwavering,” he said. “We have so many that are praying for us, many we know about and so many we don't. We have received cards from 'unknowns' saying that. That's pretty incredible.
“I can say I have never sent someone a card like that. We have so many standing in the gap for us that it has been so affirming when we haven't felt like praying or simply too tired to do so.”
In fact, the family welcomes those who would pray for wisdom for the doctors involved in Pike’s care, as well as for the right donor match, the health of the donor, and “continued peace as we journey along.”
And, Petersen added, even for an eternal hope for those surrounding Pike.
“While we have many believers on his treatment team, his chief doctor is Jewish,” he said. “We only hope that our journey has inspired a closer walk with Jesus for others.”