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Josh Tehan was a Caregiver for his son with Childhood Leukemia who overcame Cancer with Chemotherapy

Josh Tehan shares his story in today’s Cancer Interviews podcast with host Bruce Morton about how he was a cancer patient caregiver for his son Ethan throughout his successful battle with childhood leukemia at age 4 with chemotherapy treatments for leukemia, a form of blood cancer.


Being diagnosed with cancer is tough enough.  Such a diagnosis is even tougher when the one diagnosed is your young child.  Josh Tehan found himself in the position of caregiver when his four-year-old son, Ethan, was diagnosed with leukemia.  This is their story of his survivorship.


Josh is originally from Colorado Springs, Colorado, but around the age of 25, he moved to Boyce, Virginia.  He works in business operations for a local IT company.  When he has time for fun, Josh enjoys lifting weights and playing golf.


Josh noticed that all of a sudden, son Ethan started to seem tired all the time.  Then Ethan would complain about having lower back pains.  Ethan called them “butt pains.”  It got worse when he would double over and his body temperature would rise.  When the pain worsened, Josh took Ethan to the hospital.


Ethan underwent some blood tests after which a doctor came into the room and said an ambulance was en route, which would take Ethan to a children’s hospital.  The doctor said Ethan’s white blood cell count was very abnormal and probably indicated there was more that needed to be learned.  At the children’s hospital, Ethan underwent three or four days of random testing.  Then a doctor took Josh and Ethan into a separate room and said Ethan had leukemia.


Josh said this awful news left him “numb.”  There were so many thoughts going through his head, that he was utterly overwhelmed.  Ethan didn’t have much of a reaction as he didn’t know what cancer was.  For Josh’s part, he was wondering how a parent tells his child that the child has cancer.  In retrospect, Josh said it was better in this situation that Ethan was a four-year-old and not a teenager.


That said, Josh still felt an extreme sense of helplessness.  He said when a child is an infant or a toddler, in large part, he’s in control over what the child wears, what the child eats, and when the child goes to bed.  With cancer, Josh said now, virtually everything with his child is well beyond his control.  He said he had no choice but to put his faith in Ethan’s care team. 


In addition to the emotional challenge of realization his son had a form of blood cancer, Josh had to mentally put together his own gameplan as a caregiver, something not covered in his realm of experience.  Josh said as cliché as it might sound, the best approach was to take this task and approach it a day at a time.  The toughest days would be when Ethan was back home after getting chemotherapy, days in which he was both sick and tired.


As far as his caregiving gameplan was concerned, Josh said the first few months Ethan was in the hospital, in his room was a whiteboard, and each day the care team would list what it would do that day and when.  It also listed what family members would by way of care for Ethan.  Josh and other family members soon learned that in terms of care, they had to pace themselves and include rest in their respective schedules.  All this required constant communications with the doctors and nurses with an eye toward the best possible result in terms of care for Ethan.


Nonetheless, Ethan said it was a challenge to remain strong, and for he and family members to adhere to their care schedule.  The stress would from holding Ethan up because he couldn’t stand up on his own, helping him to the bathroom or watching his hair fall out from the chemotherapy.


Eventually, Ethan was told he in his remission.  Now a teenager, Ethan carries close to a 4.0 GPA and has his own sports podcast.  At 6’5”, he plays basketball.  Josh says it is a relief to go back to being a parent of a healthy teenager, as he says Ethan is doing really well, mentally, physically and emotionally.  Josh says he cannot ask for anything better.


Additional Resources:


The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society:



Bruce Morton: To learn you have cancer is tough enough.  To learn your child has been diagnosed is even tougher.  Our guest on this episode was hit with such devastating news, but we are going to hear his son’s story of survivorship.  Our guest is Josh Tehan of Boyce, Virginia, and this is the account of not one, but two individuals.  Here he is, and Josh, welcome to the Cancer Interviews podcast.


Josh Tehan: Thanks for having me.  I appreciate having the chance to tell my story.


BM: And we look forward to hearing it.  Josh, before we get started, we want to know a little bit about you and your life outside of cancer.  So, if you would, tell us where you are from, how you make a living, and what you do for fun.


JT: I am originally from Colorado Springs, Colorado, moved to Virginia around the age of 25 and have been here since, so for work, I am in Business Operations at a local IT company.  I have been doing that for several years actually.  For fun, if you want to call it fun, I definitely enjoy lifting weights.  I really enjoy golfing.  I am not the best golfer, but I enjoy playing and it is nice to get out. 


BM: Let’s talk about the cancer journey for both you and your four-year-old son, Ethan.  When did you first notice that Ethan’s health wasn’t quite right?


JT: He was fairly energetic for the most part, so he had a lot of energy to release, and it started for a few months when he was four years old when he was being very lethargic, and he would be constantly tired at times when you would not consider a four-year-old to be tired.  Then he would talk about these lower back pains.  He called them “butt pains.”  He would be pretty much doubled over, and his temperature would spike.  That would last for a little bit and when it got to a point where it was excruciating, that’s when we decided to take him to the hospital to have him checked out.


BM: And what was the chain of events that led to his diagnosis?


JT: When we did check him into the hospital, they did bloodwork on him.  Then the doctor came into the room and said an ambulance is on its way to pick us up and take us to a children’s hospital.  He brought out a whiteboard and explained what he saw.  Ethan’s white blood cell count was very abnormal and said that probably indicated that there was more to find out.  At the children’s hospital, he underwent about three or four days of random testing.  Then they pulled us into a very cold and bland room and told us that our son has leukemia.


BM: We’re confident you’ll be able to learn some tips and tools to help you through your cancer journey, but first we’d like to invite you to please give a ‘like,’ leave a comment or review below and share this story with your friends.  Kindly click on the Subscribe button below and click on the ‘bell’ icon, so you’ll be notified the next time we release our next cancer interview.  And if you or a loved one are facing a cancer diagnosis, please click on the link in the description and Show Notes below to check out our free guide, “The Top Ten Things I Wish I Knew When I First Got Cancer.”


Speaking of which, Josh, I have a two-part question, very unpleasant in nature.  We know the news was not good, but what went through your mind when you learned of Ethan’s diagnosis.


JT: Numb.  Very numb.  My immediate reaction, I didn’t have one.  I was numb.  I don’t know any other way to describe it.  It was the complete opposite of his mom’s reaction.  There was just so much to digest.  The doctor wants to move on immediately, get us to sign papers, but you really need that moment to let all this sink in.  I cannot believe I am hearing those words.  I can’t believe this is happening.  What about the future?  You really start thinking just tons and tons of thoughts, and I was overwhelmed with those.  I think it masked the opportunity to have any immediate emotion.  So, very, very numb.


BM: The second part of this question is Ethan.  He was four years old.  How did he handle this news?


JT: He really didn’t know anything.  He is sitting in a room and has doctors and stuff around, and close family members are there.  He cannot comprehend what cancer is.  He can’t comprehend anything.  He just knows he’s there.  That is one thing that, I don’t want to say was challenging, but as a parent to a four-year-old, how do you tell him or her that they have cancer?  We just came up with the idea that we were going to go into the room, tell him he was sick and that we were going to be here for a little while until you get better.  He just said okay.  He was oblivious to it all.  I think there is kind of a blessing in that you don’t have to experience your child’s emotion to it.  If he were a teenager, he probably would be all over the place, understanding that it’s a big deal and it’s scary.  So, him being oblivious to it made that part easy, but it was still being a parent and understanding that was still extremely tough.


BM: Josh, from your perspective as a parent, you like to think that you are in control, but with cancer added to the mix, for you, was there some sense of helplessness?


JT: Oh, big time, because everything you have learned as a parent, as a new parent especially within those four years, you’re in complete control over what your child does, what he’s going to wear, what he’s going to be, you’re in control of those things.  With cancer, you’re dealing with something that is completely out of your control.  There is nothing you can do, except be there and keep being a parent, keep caregiving, but that’s about it.  You really have to hand over everything to nurses and doctors and hopefully the right program that they can set your child up on, hope it’s a successful program and hope to God that it works.  That was new territory. 


BM: I am sure that the answer to my next question is going to be one that involves difficulty, but how hard was it to emotionally absorb the news your child had cancer and at the same time, mentally put together a gameplan for yourself as a caregiver?


JT: Each day was its own challenge.  I know it is a cliché, but you had to take it day by day.  Each day would present something different.  These are uncharted waters, so you really don’t know.  One day could be really high, another could be really low, depending upon what you had to do with him and how that program that he is on is set up.  Some days he would get absolutely blasted with chemotherapy and it would just be very hard, or they would have to go through procedures on that day when he would be very lethargic, and he really didn’t do much that day.  So, it was a lot of balancing, it was doing a lot of day and night shifts.  You just took it day to day.  That was the best way to do it.  I would say don’t look too far ahead, I think that was a big help.


BM: You have already talked about your care team, but exclusive of the doctors and nurses, was there anyone you could talk to, to help navigate the parent part of this equation?


JT: There’s the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and what they had resources.  They had people that could guide you through this process, people you could talk to that could help answer questions that you have as a parent.  The resources were there, so that was a big part of it, so we also relied on each other to talk it through as a family; but I didn’t know anybody from a parent’s standpoint that was going through the same thing.  You do bump into parents at the facility, at the hospital, but you don’t talk too much about it, at least I didn’t. 


BM: We trotted out the word ‘gameplan,’ in terms of what the doctors and nurses did, obviously that’s very important in terms of Ethan’s cancer, but in terms of a caregiving gameplan, did you formulate one, and if so, how did it go?


JT: As far as caring for Ethan, there was a whiteboard that we had in the room for the first couple months he was in the hospital so we were able to understand what was going to happen that day, what nurses and doctors were going to do, but we had also created sort of a schedule, sort of a gameplan for what we family members would do, who would cover what hours, things like that.  This was important because we had to allow ourselves to get some rest because if we don’t get rest, then we won’t be healthy enough to assist in Ethan’s care.  There was some scheduling, which was a huge help, constantly being in communication with the doctors and stuff, that was a big help because we understood what was coming up, what our expectation was.  I think keeping a tightknit schedule and being in constant communication with all of the circle that’s involved, that was key.


BM: You had mentioned earlier that when Ethan was diagnosed, he was four years old and couldn’t wrap his mind around his diagnosis and that in a sense was a blessing, but in terms of being a caregiver for Ethan, because of his being four years old, did that make it tougher or easier?


JT: It made it easier because at the age of four, one doesn’t know what cancer is.  I think from a mental standpoint, I think that was a lot easier.  You tell a middle schooler or a high schooler, they know what it is.  As a result, there is more fear than there is for someone who is four years old.  They are absolutely fearless.  I mean, he’d get sick because of chemo, I mean, really, really sick, but he took it with a grain of salt.  It was amazing.  It was hard as a parent, but it was amazing to watch him deal with it.


BM: He was four years old and in a sense that made things easier, but it still wasn’t easy.  Looking back over your experience as a caregiver, what was the toughest part?


JT: Staying strong.  Staying mentally in the game and not deviating from doing the parent things, not deviating from schedules;  the amount of love you have for your own child is already there, but when they are sick like this, it goes up exponentially.  Each day ad its own challenges and some were really, really tough.  When you watch your child’s hair fall out, when you are holding them in the middle of the night to stand up because they are too tired but they have to go pee and you have got to assist them, watching them when they are very weak, it’s just a lot to digest mentally and emotionally, and you just try to manage and try not to show a lot of that emotion, keeping it at bay.


BM: Most of the subject has been unpleasant, but I want to turn the ship around and point it in a positive direction.  There must have a point in which you saw that Ethan was getting and better and heading toward survivorship.  If you would, describe what that was like.


JT: When his hair was coming back, when his energy was coming back.  They would do constant bloodwork to make sure his blood levels were where they needed to be.  When you started seeing those changes, those were the top three that tipped me off; nonetheless you don’t want to take your foot up off the gas yet, you kind of have that constant worry; but when you see things becoming consistent, that numbers were looking good. I think at that point, things were looking good, but it was not an overnight thing.  It came after months and months when I did see the change.


BM: But you did see it, things changed for the better.  How exciting was that?


JT: Oh.  Absolutely thrilling.  The day, and I remember this as much as I remember being told he had cancer, the day that they said he’s in remission, he‘s good.  Those two days had the same heightened emotion, but in very different ways.  Then I could exhale, and really, really appreciate watching my child grow up and being able to have that opportunity, because some did not make it.  All this put a lot of things in perspective.


BM: Ethan is now a teenager, and this is more positive subject matter, and stuff we want to amplify for viewers and listeners.  How is Ethan doing now?


JT: This is my favorite part.  I love talking about how he is doing now, and he is doing absolutely phenomenal.  He carries close to a 4.0 GPA and he has own sports podcast and he has had it for a few years now.  He is into sports.  He is playing basketball and he is tall, he is 6’5”, he has got a lot of great things going for him.  He is a volunteer for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  He is doing really, really well, mentally, physically and emotionally.  You just can’t ask for anything better.


BM: This next question is not meant in any way to beat you up, but I think it’s answer could be of benefit in a big way to parents with child who have been diagnosed with cancer.  You have been through the caregiving experience.  Knowing what you now know, given that knowledge, if you were just starting to care for Ethan, would you do anything differently?


JT: I think this is a great question.  Knowing the outcome, I don’t think there is anything different I would do.  We handled it the best way we could at the time, given everything that we knew.  You would learn every day.  We had to take on the role of being a nurse because there was some in-home stuff we had to do for him.  You just learned every day, and I truly go back to this day-today thing because it just changes and I think we handled it very, very well. 


BM: Josh, we are going to wrap up, but before we do, tell us about the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and what it can do for others.


JT: LLS has been around for a substantial amount of years.  They have done great work.  They provide great support for friends and family diagnosed with these types of blood cancer.  Their mission is to cure all types of blood cancers.  Their fundraising abilities are through the roof.  They’ve been able to advocate for the FDA to approve new drugs to help with those that have blood cancers.  They take excellent care of those dealing with all phases of a cancer journey.  Across the board, they are very supportive.  Being able to volunteer for them, kinda giving back, has been a blessing to be able to do that.  Great organization, and you can reach their website at


BM: Josh, we want to thank you for sharing your story and Ethan’s story.  It is fabulous to hear that Ethan is doing well, and we hope this serves as a source of information and inspiration for those who find themselves in the position you were in, so, Josh Tehan, Boyce, Virginia, thanks very much for being with us on Cancer Interviews.


JT: Thanks very much, Bruce.  I appreciate the opportunity.


BM: And we want to wrap up the way we always do by reminding you that if you or a loved one are on a cancer journey, you are not alone.  There are people like Josh, organizations like the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, whose presence can make your journey a bit easier.  So until next time, we’ll see you on down the road.


Additional Resources:


Support Group:


Leukemia & Lymphoma Society:




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