Dear Empire State Building,
Unfortunately, my family was introduced to the ugly world of childhood cancer this year. Our lives were turned completely upside down on March 7th, 2014 when our four year old daughter Olivia was diagnosed with Leukemia. Then the following day, when cancer already knocked us to the ground, it kicked us again when we found out the type of Leukemia Olivia had, we were told it was AML. A rare cancer in children that would keep her in the hospital for her entire treatment. Why did she have to be kept in the hospital you would ask? Because the type and amount of chemotherapy she would need to have to fight this horrible disease is extremely dangerous and she needed to be monitored while she received her chemotherapy and as her whole immune system would completely bottom out and come back again.
After finding out Olivia’s diagnosis we had to wait for further tests to see if she would need a bone marrow transplant or not. Fortunately, after her first round of chemotherapy (5 weeks in-patient) she went into remission and this among other good test results she received meant she did not need a bone marrow transplant. We got to go home for 9 days, then packed up and had to move right back into the hospital for her second round of chemotherapy. This time we were in-patient for 4 weeks. Then we got to go home for 5 days just to pack up and move right back into the hospital for her third round of chemotherapy. We were in-patient for 4 weeks again, got to go home for 7 days and then back in for her fourth, final and scariest round which was 6 weeks in-patient. We had always been told once she went into remission that it wouldn’t be the disease that would kill her, it would be the infections that she could potentially get from the chemotherapy wiping out her immune system. Once she would receive her chemo about a week later, her body would have no way of fighting off even the tiniest infection that you or I could with no problem. We watched an infection almost take our baby girl from us in her fourth round. She slowly got worse and worse every day from a cellulitis infection which landed her in the ICU for over a week. She received white blood cell transfusions to help her body fight off the infection which were extremely hard on her body making her get really high fevers that Tylenol (the only form of medication a Leukemia patient can take for a fever) couldn’t knock out. These weren’t tiny fevers either, these were fevers in the 105 range, her highest being 105.9 at one time. After 5 days of these transfusions she then got pneumonia in one of her lungs that almost forced them to sedate and put her on a breathing machine for. We were devastated when her oncologist who usually is the most upbeat and positive person came in to see her and had a very sad look on his face. I completely lost it, begging him to tell me my little girl would be okay. I was crushed when he said, “I’m sorry I can’t do that, we are not good at predicting the future.” His face and tone of voice said it all, he said he was scared and we knew that just by looking at him. But our strong and amazing Olivia fooled us all when she started to get better literally the very next day. We got out of the hospital 3 weeks ago and now we are still waiting for her little body to recover and are waiting on her last bone marrow aspiration results to make sure she is in fact still in remission.
We have had to watch our daughter be put under anesthesia 7 times so far. We have had to watch nurses come into her room wearing hazmat gear while they hooked up the chemo, why hazmat gear? Because they can’t be exposed to the pure poison we allowed them to send through our child’s tubes and into her veins. Once a week (some weeks more than once) she has had to go through “dressing changes” where they have to painfully take the bandage off of her Broviac (the tubes literally hanging out of her chest) to put a new one on. Countless platelet and red blood transfusions. A cellulitis infection on her private area which forced us to make Olivia pull down her pants to show every doctor and nurse who came in her room to check on her. As you can imagine this was extremely hard on her as she has been told and told before diagnosis that we don’t show our private parts to anyone. This same infection required surgery where they had to insert a drainage tube that had to stay in for 2 weeks. I have had to hold her down while she kicked and screamed through dressing changes, x-rays and an NG tube being inserted through her nose, down her throat and into her stomach because she couldn’t keep the disgusting contrast down for one of her many CT scans she had to have. NO child should EVER have to see, feel or know what my four year old has. NO parent should ever have to watch their child be put through any of this. It’s pure hell, nothing anyone can imagine unless you’ve been through it yourself. And trust me, you aren’t exempt, this can happen to anyone.
I was just like anyone else that has never seen a child suffer through cancer – I think Maya puts it perfectly – “blissfully ignorant”. I assumed that all funds received for cancer went to all types of cancers including childhood cancer. I actually assumed that children got more than adults! I remember the first time another oncology mom I met in the beginning of this horrible journey of mine told me that childhood cancer is disgustingly underfunded. I didn’t believe her! I thought, “There is no way we would treat our children this way! Whatever happened to “children are our future”??? That is when I decided to Google childhood cancer and how much money goes to research. I was crazy angry and saddened to learn that because less children get cancer than adults, researching childhood cancer isn’t profitable to the pharmaceutical companies. So basically my child just like the 46 children who will be diagnosed with cancer today aren’t important enough to do more research for.
Olivia will have to get blood work done for the rest of her life to make sure she doesn’t relapse. There is a 35-40% chance she will. 35-40%! I know that doesn’t sound like a big chance but it’s not good enough! For everything she went through to go into remission she should have a 0% chance. That 35% will haunt me for the rest of my life. That 35% is putting me on anti-anxiety medication so that I can at the very least barely get by every time I have to wait for the results from her blood tests.
My family will never be the same. I, now as an oncology mommy will never be the same. Every fever, every bruise, and every illness will send me over the edge. I also have a two year old son whose world was rocked as well. He had to live without mommy and daddy for five and a half months while we spent every agonizing day in the hospital with Olivia.
Have you not experienced this? Have you not had a family member experience this? Have you not had a friend experience this? Be thankful…but then realize that you’ve been made very aware and now you can make a difference! The children with cancer and their families shouldn’t be the only ones who know about this. The entire world needs to know about childhood cancer and then they need to be aware that the American Cancer Society doesn’t do anything for our children. We are on our own, which is why you have so many parents of children with cancer in an uproar. We are their only hope. I will forever fight for awareness. Everyone needs to know what GOLD stands for!
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