Flying down the mountain at breakneck speed, gripping the edge of his seat while whipping around corners, Alex Eissenstat has the biggest smile on his face and is laughing hysterically. Behind him, his mom has an equally big smile on her face. As they get to the bottom of the mountain and the cart comes to a stop, Alex turns around and says, “Can we go again?”
This was the highlight for Alex during his family’s respite to the Believe In Tomorrow House on Wisp Mountain in Western Maryland. The family was blindsided when Alex was diagnosed with leukemia on Valentine’s Day in 2013, the moment when their year turned upside down.
The whole family had come down with strep throat, but after two rounds of antibiotics, Alex’s lymph nodes were still swollen. “That’s typical with strep, don’t worry about it,” was what his mother kept hearing. But he had no other symptoms, and she wanted a better explanation. It took multiple doctor visits before anything showed up in his blood. Everything had looked very normal until February 14th, when he was diagnosed with leukemia.
“We really had the rug pulled out from under us,” said Alex’s mom, Janet. “It was the last thing in the world we thought would happen.” Alex’s brother, Jake, has autism and Downs Syndrome, which puts him at a higher risk for developing leukemia. With the challenges accompanying these diagnoses, Alex’s parents never thought he’d be the one to have cancer.
The four members of the Eissenstat family were treated to a week of relaxation and fun during their Believe In Tomorrow respite. Alex’s favorite part was the mountain coaster, which he rode at least five times. Alex and Jake also tried out the ropes course, with Jake exceeding expectations and putting a smile on everyone’s faces. The resort staff went out of their way to make sure both the boys had a great time. They also enjoyed tandem bike rides together, swimming in the heated indoor pool, seeing horses at Western Trails, and riding the train at the Western Scenic Railroad.
“It will forever define what a vacation is,” said Janet. “To have that time and let everybody process what we’ve been through…we had never even considered taking a vacation, and in such a stress-free way, it was just amazing! It was the bright spot when looking over an otherwise pretty crappy year.”
Alex missed the second half of kindergarten last year and so far has had to miss about five weeks of the first grade, which is very disruptive and upsetting for him and the whole family. He will be on treatment until spring May 2016, barring any unexpected hospitalizations or setbacks.
“Right now it’s like a marathon,” said Janet. “You just have to march through this every single day. Sometimes you think how are we going to make it three years? But being able to have something to look forward to, just as a possibility, just the idea of knowing we could break it up, makes all the difference. Even the name ‘believe in tomorrow’ helps keep us in a good spot.”