Clarkston family battling cancer for third time is trying to help others by raising awareness

Their 4-year-old son was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Last September, Emily and Matt Buchanan of Clarkston, Michigan, began noticing something strange was happening to their son Jackson.

“He started getting bruises,” said Emily Buchanan. “A lot more than normal. I mean, you expect a little bit from four-year-olds.”

They were especially concerned because Jackson was autistic and couldn’t share his feelings.

“He was pretty lethargic,” Emily said. “He would go down in the basement, fall asleep on the couch down there.”

Jackson’s pediatrician ordered blood work.

“The doctor called after hours, saying, ‘You need to get him to the hospital now and pack a bag because you’re going be there for a little bit,’” Emily said.

Matt Buchanan is a retired Marine and Purple Heart recipient. He’s now a contractor working overseas. He had just left on a two-and-a-half-month assignment.

“He had just left to be in Iraq, and so I had to Facetime him from the hospital and tell him what was going on,” Emily said.

Four-year-old Jackson was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

“It’s really hard,” Emily said. “He’s the sweetest kid. He has autism. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. Can’t tell us what’s wrong.”

Jackson began chemotherapy immediately. It’s been tough on him.

“Just helpless,” Emily said. “You just don’t want your babies to hurt. They always say a mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child, and he’s pretty unhappy.”

It’s difficult for Jackson’s big sister, 8-year-old Reagan Buchanan too.

“I feel like a little bit worried about him because, like, he can’t really do that much stuff like play, and he has to go to the hospital and stay there for a couple of days sometimes, and he has to get medicine and shots,” said Reagan.

Emily battled breast cancer at 29 years old and a second time during her third pregnancy.

“I know some of the symptoms he’s having,” Emily said. “I know how that feels. But it also breaks my heart even more that I know how that feels.”

Jackson has also needed multiple transfusions of blood and platelets.

“It’s been lifesaving,” Emily said. “We’ve watched him come back to life after a transfusion, and I think his first one was our first day in the hospital.”

Friends quickly helped organize blood drives at a nearby church and Reagan’s school.

“Once I think we realized, you know, he would not be here today if it weren’t for donors, we were like, ‘Let’s get more,’ you know, because even though that blood doesn’t necessarily go to Jackson, it’s going to people who need it,” Emily said.

At the school blood drive, recipients received thank you cards from the kids and bracelets with Jackson’s name on it.

“I felt like happy and excited, and I felt like so much emotions,” Reagan said.

Emily was eligible to give blood for the first time since beating her cancer.

“You get a little notification on your phone when it goes somewhere to help someone, and I just think that’s so cool. It’s so cool to see your blood’s going here to this hospital to save someone today,” said Emily.

Jackson still has about a month of his current chemotherapy, and after that, he will continue treatment for about a year.

Emily said they are so grateful for the support of their village and hope many more people will continue to give blood to help children like Jackson and countless other patients.

“Shortages happen, and I just can’t imagine that not being an option for him,” Emily said. “It saves lives, and it’s saved my son’s life over and over again.”

For more information or to register to donate at the Gardner-White blood drives, click here.

About the Authors:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.