ANN BAILEY: A sigh of relief, a prayer of thanks, and a renewed appreciation for the gift of good healthTwelve days shy of three years ago, my then 5-year-old daughter, Ellen, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. On that day, our family’s lives forever changed. The next two and a quarter years, our days revolved around chemotherapy treatments, hospital stays and giving Ellen medications.
By: Ann Bailey, Grand Forks Herald
Twelve days shy of three years ago, my then 5-year-old daughter, Ellen, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
On that day, our family’s lives forever changed. The next two and a quarter years, our days revolved around chemotherapy treatments, hospital stays and giving Ellen medications.
Then, in early August 2010, Ellen finished her treatments, the medications were ceased and she was given a clean bill of health. As parents, my husband, Brian, and I were happy that Ellen could be a “normal” kid again.
But while we were overjoyed that Ellen was healthy and cancer-free, we also were uneasy because we knew that we would no longer operate with the safety net of chemotherapy and monthly, if not weekly, doctor visits to monitor her health. Instead, Ellen would only have blood draws every three months to check her counts.
The new normal
We dealt with the new routine by relying on faith in God, just as we had during the previous two years. We knew we couldn’t control what would happen so we took each day at a time and prayed that Ellen would stay healthy.
In November 2010 and in February 2011, Ellen had her first two quarterly blood draws and her blood work was normal. We were relieved each time and said prayers of thanks.
Two weeks ago, Ellen had her third quarterly blood draw. The results weren’t normal. The lab worked showed that her hemoglobin level was too high and her platelets were too low. The doctor thought it was the result of Ellen getting over a virus and said that we should have the results re-checked in a week. If the results still weren’t normal, he said Ellen should have a bone marrow biopsy to see if the leukemia had returned.
A worrisome week
The next week was extremely long for Brian and me. We decided not to tell Ellen or her two brothers about the platelet and hemoglobin numbers because we didn’t know what they meant and didn’t want them to worry.
During the week while we were waiting, I worked hard not to let my mind race and think of every worst-case scenario possible. However, I found myself at times feeling frantic as I wondered what we would do if Ellen’s cancer had come back. I also scrutinized her each day when I got home from work to see if she exhibited any signs of leukemia such as bruises, sore joints and loss of energy.
She didn’t, but that still didn’t stop me from worrying and wondering. However, I allowed myself only so much time doing that before I said a prayer and told myself it was out of my control and in God’s hands and that whatever happened, he would help me through it.
This past Wednesday Ellen had another blood draw and her counts were normal. When we learned the results, Brian and I breathed a sigh of relief and said fervent prayers of thanks.
Adversity builds character
As with all of the challenging times I’ve had in my life, this one had good things come out of it. One of them was renewing my empathy for people who have lost children to cancer and other childhood diseases. Dealing with the death of a child is unimaginable unless it’s happened to you, but the week I spent thinking about what I would do if Ellen’s cancer returned and couldn’t be cured gave me a little window into the feeling of terror and helplessness parents who have lost a child feel.
Although I repeatedly told myself that Ellen really belongs to God, and not to Brian and me, and that she is on loan, my heart still felt broken every time I started thinking “What if…?” The experience made me realize that my faith would be severely tested if anything happened to Ellen and that acceptance is much easier in theory than in practice.
During the week I also learned patience. When I initially heard about Ellen’s blood counts, my inclination was to go pick her up from school and stay home with her for the next week. I wanted her to be with me so somehow I could keep her safe.
But I knew that having Ellen stay home wouldn’t help her and that it wouldn’t change whatever the reality of her blood counts were. Instead, she went to school and I went to work. She was oblivious to her questionable counts as she went about her last days of her second-grade year.
The week of uncertainty made me realize anew what a gift good health is and how much it shouldn’t be taken for granted. It also was a reminder that while Ellen’s cancer journey has ended, her post-cancer journey has just begun and it won’t always be a smooth one. But whatever lies ahead for certain, Brian, I and Ellen’s brothers will be with her every step of the way.