ANN BAILEY: Celebrating the gift of good healthFor almost a third of my daughter, Ellen’s, first seven years of life, leukemia played a major role in it. Between chemotherapy treatment, blood draws and other cancer-related medical procedures, hers and our family’s lives pretty much revolved around cancer. Even when Ellen was feeling good and showed no signs of the disease, her bald head was a constant reminder that she was being treated for cancer.
For almost a third of my daughter, Ellen’s, first seven years of life, leukemia played a major role in it.
Between chemotherapy treatment, blood draws and other cancer-related medical procedures, hers and our family’s lives pretty much revolved around cancer. Even when Ellen was feeling good and showed no signs of the disease, her bald head was a constant reminder that she was being treated for cancer.
At the time she was diagnosed, a treatment protocol of 26 months seemed interminable. The only possible way we could get through it was to take it a little at a time. For the first few months when Ellen was receiving intense chemo treatment and frequently ended up in the emergency room or hospital with infections, approaching her illness a day at a time was too over whelming. Instead, we concentrated on getting through the next hour.
As Ellen responded to treatment and her cancer went into remission, we started living a day at a time, but leukemia still ruled our lives. The chemotherapy treatments were hard on her immune system and she frequently had to stay home from school or miss school activities because she was sick or had classmates who were sick.
Meanwhile, Ellen’s eating schedule revolved around taking oral chemo medications and sleepovers at friends’ houses were hard for her to do because of her medication schedule. Throughout her treatment, my husband, Brian, and I gently told Ellen that, yes, undergoing chemo treatments and taking medications were tough, but they definitely were worth it if they were curing her cancer. We also reminded her — and ourselves — that they wouldn’t go on forever, even if it sometimes seemed like it.
The end of her treatments, happily, did arrive, and in August 2010, about 780 days after Ellen was diagnosed with leukemia, she finished her chemotherapy.
Reason to celebrate
We celebrated her cessation of treatments with a couple of parties and then got on with the business of life. I would say we got back to living a normal life, but that wouldn’t be accurate. Ellen’s life and our family’s life forever changed the day she was diagnosed. Though I never would have believed it when she was diagnosed, in many ways, our lives are better.
Through her experience with cancer, Ellen developed empathy for anyone who is sick, incredible faith in God and a strong relationship with him and extensive knowledge of medical procedures, doctors and hospitals. She, and the rest of our family, also learned to more fully appreciate one another, and experienced the blessings of kind relatives and friends and the simple joys of each and every day.
The harder part to deal with is the possibility that Ellen’s cancer could return. We know, though, that in her case, that is not likely for a couple of reasons. One is that Ellen responded well to treatment and went into remission within a month of diagnosis.
The other is that she has been cancer-free for a year after her chemo treatments were finished. Leukemia is most likely to return in the first year after treatment, so the fact that she remained cancer free during that period bodes well for her future.
Her remission was confirmed this past week when she had her annual check-up at Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo. The results of her blood panel were excellent and her check-up by her doctors showed that she was in good health.
Of course, Brian and her brothers and I were pretty sure of that already because Ellen looks like the picture of health. She’s strong from biking and running, tanned (even though she uses sunscreen) from many days spent at the pool, and one of the best things of all, from her perspective, has an amazing head of long, thick, curly hair.
Because Ellen has done so well this past year, she won’t have to have her blood checked for six months. Since last August, it has been every three.
Ellen and our family are grateful and feel exceedingly blessed that her cancer story looks like it will have a happy ending. At the same time, our hearts break for children and adults whose outcomes have been different and keep them in our prayers. Ellen knows children who have died from cancer and each time it happens asks why them and not her. I tell her that every person’s cancer is different and sometimes treatment doesn’t work. I don’t expect her to really understand because I don’t, either.
I do know, and Ellen does, too, that her own good health is a gift. At age 8, Ellen already feels a responsibility to God to use that gift and others he has given her to make the world a better place. That’s a part of her cancer experience that I hope remains with her throughout her life.