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Ringing the bell: 5-year-old Eldridge boy cancer-free after 3-year battle with leukemia

Five-year-old Hudson McKearney finished his cancer treatment at Iowa Children's Hospital after battling leukemia for the past three years.

ELDRIDGE, Iowa — Hudson McKearney laughed and did a little dance in his car seat. He's buckled up for a drive his family has made dozens, maybe hundreds of times. His mom, Jessica, has lost count.

"All the scheduled appointments, all the fever appointments, the middle of the night appointments, the blood transfusion appointments," she recalled. "I couldn't even tell you how many miles we've put on our vehicle."

But this time, they're traveling from Eldridge to Iowa City with a law enforcement escort of lights and sirens.

The line rolls down the road, passing their friends holding signs and waving with support, heading to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital.

"This is for you Hudson," Jessica said, as they pulled up to the entrance.

Hudson went there for the first time in March 2019, when he would be diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He was 23 months old. Now 5 years old, Hudson can say he beat cancer. He's here to ring the bell that ceremonially signals he's in remission.

"It was the most amazing sound," Jessica explained. "Oh, he rang that bell with pride. He wanted to make sure everyone back home heard him."

Hudson's entire medical team was there for the celebration. They wrote and performed a song inspired by all of Hudson's favorite things — superheroes, Transformers and cars. Other families on the 11th floor can hear the celebration. They're walking the same cancer journey as the McKearneys.

"They're messaging me 'We can hear! We're cheering for you!' They're still in the thick of it, but they're still there for it," Jessica said. "I remember early on walking down the hall, and we were seeing someone with the cake and the bell. And it's like, are we ever gonna get to that? You know, we're so happy for them at the same time. You just feel like we're never going to get there. Now we're that that family."

A family that's survived some pretty tough days watching their toddler fight cancer, while raising another — Hudson's sister Violet. She was just weeks old when Hudson was diagnosed. The whole family had a big party over the weekend to celebrate. They made it.

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"We celebrated huge, and he loved it. He loved every minute. He was such a kid," Jessica said.

For the first time in years, the McKearneys will have a summer that's not controlled by cancer. They're so thankful for Hudson's health, and the community that has supported them to Iowa City and back.

"If anyone has been in my corner, it's other moms. Moms are always building me up," Jessica said. "They're always behind me, just hyping me and complimenting me. Thanks for being a really supportive mom. Because you need those even without cancer. You need those supportive moms."

Hudson will take his last cancer pills next week. From there, he will have monthly checkups to make sure the cancer doesn't reappear.

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