ANN BAILEY: A journey with cancerFive years ago today, my then-5-year-old daughter, Ellen, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and my life was forever changed.
Five years ago today, my then-5-year-old daughter, Ellen, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and my life was forever changed.
After examining her the day before and seeing the results of the blood tests, doctors in Grand Forks sent us to Merit Care Children’s Hospital in Fargo on June 3, 2008. There, a pediatric oncologist confirmed what the doctors in Grand Forks had suspected, that Ellen had cancer, and outlined the 26-month treatment plan she would undergo.
As I listened to her oncologist talk, I was so frightened at the thought of all the procedures — including chemotherapy treatments, spinal taps and oral medications — that she would have to endure it was hard for me to fathom how I was going to get through the next few hours, let alone the next two years.
I knew though, that I had to put my fears aside for Ellen. She needed me and her dad and brothers to be strong and to help her overcome the challenges she would face. To do that we would have to take the future, not just a day at a time, but an hour at a time.
That philosophy and the combination of faith, family and friends, got us through the next two years and two months and Ellen emerged victorious from her battle with cancer. In the three years since then, Ellen has grown from a little girl to a confident nearly “tween.”
A couple of months ago, her teacher asked her students to write a personal narrative. Ellen wrote about having cancer, condensing her 26-month treatment into several paragraphs. I’d like to share with you the narrative, called “My Cancer Journey.”
“At the beginning of my cancer journey I was running fevers and very tired. My Mom and Dad took me to the Family Medicine Residency. They took a blood test. Some of my blood counts were too high and some were too low. The doctor referred me to a doctor at Altru. The doctor at Altru whose name was Dr. Lunn told us that I had leukemia and referred me to either Merit Care, University of Minnesota or Mayo. We chose Merit Care because it was the closest. When we got to Merit Care doctors ordered more tests for me. Then they put in a port to draw blood and give me chemotherapy through.
“After my port was in I had to stay at the hospital for awhile. I had to take lots of medicine. We would crush up my pills and pour chocolate syrup on them. That way they were easier to swallow and better tasting. When I got home from the hospital, I usually didn’t go to school. I lost all of my hair and I was very crabby. There was a medicine that made me very hungry. I craved salty foods like rice hotdish, broccoli with ketchup, pizza rolls and chips. When I was at the hospital one time, people came in from the Make-A-Wish. They were there to make my wish come true. I chose going to the set of the Air Buddies movies to see the movie being filmed. They weren’t sure if they could do it, so they asked me what my second choice was and I said ‘Disney World.’ So I got to go to the Air Buddies set and watch the movie being filmed and I also met two of my best friends while I was there. After the Make-A-Wish trip we returned home. About a week after we returned I received Rosebud (her dog) from Santa Buddies. She was the best medicine of all. She helped me through my cancer journey.
At the end of my journey, I went to Fargo to get my port taken out. After getting it taken out I got to have an end of chemo party at Merit Care with my family and some people who worked at Merit Care. We got to have food from Applebees and we had an ice-cream cake too. I was in remission after the long journey. About two months after my port was taken out my family and I hosted an end of chemo party at our farm. We invited family, friends, teachers and people at my Mom and Dad’s work. We went on the zipline, went on hayrides, visited and just had fun and celebrated. My friend, Anna McRoberts, who I met at my Make-A-Wish trip also came to my end of chemo party. It was very special that she came. My parents had not told me about her visit because they didn’t want me to be disappointed if she couldn’t come. Now I am a normal, nine-year-old girl who is full of energy. That is the end of my cancer journey.”
Ellen who just turned 10, in many ways is, as she said, “a normal” girl. She likes listening to Taylor Swift, going to sleepovers at friends’ houses and inline skating. She enjoys playing wiffle ball with her brothers, romping around the yard with Rosebud and horseback riding.
But Ellen is also different than other girls in some ways. She volunteers to speak at fundraisers for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Relay for Life, the Children’s Miracle Network and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. She knows that they helped her when she had cancer and she wants to give something back to them so they can help other children who are ill.
On June 3, 2008, I thought the change in my life would only be for the worse.
Now, I know it was for the better, too.
Ellen’s journey helped her become strong, more courageous and faith-filled, and our family to be closer, more appreciative of little things and very much aware of the generosity and kindness of friends, neighbors and people we have never met.
Five years after Ellen’s leukemia diagnosis, I can say we are, indeed, blessed.
Reach Bailey at firstname.lastname@example.org or (218) 779-8093.