ANN BAILEY: Balance in face of fearThe journey of life is full of bumps in the road and, like it or not, we’re bound to hit one now and then. Fortunately, the latest one was not as big as some I’ve encountered, but it did shake me up.
The journey of life is full of bumps in the road and, like it or not, we’re bound to hit one now and then. Fortunately, the latest one was not as big as some I’ve encountered, but it did shake me up.
About a week after I wrote about Ellen’s cancer diagnosis and her victory over the disease she started not to feel well. Her symptoms, coughing, feeling fatigued and generally not feeling well, were similar to ones she had before we learned she had leukemia. I made a doctor appointment for her and after examining her, the physician said her lymph nodes were slightly swollen.
He said he didn’t believe that Ellen was fighting anything more than a cold, but that we could have a blood panel done if it would make Brian, my husband, and I feel better. I said, it would so Ellen had her blood drawn. During the next four hours before the results came in, I was panicked, my mind racing as I thought of all the possibilities.
Worry and wait
Meanwhile, Ellen, who knows more than a 10-year-old should have to about medical matters, asked me if the doctor ordered blood tests because she had once had cancer. I told her “yes,” that he just wanted to make sure that nothing was wrong. Ellen also told me she wanted me to see the dark bruise on her leg. I knew that she as concerned because bruises were one of the symptoms she had when she was diagnosed for leukemia,
I didn’t want to make light of Ellen’s concern nor did I want to alarm her, so I examined her bruise and then told her that a lot of people, myself included, got bruises.
Ellen looked at me and said “Mom, it’s different for me.”
I told her yes, it was different for her and assured her that her dad and I always would do everything we could to stay on top of her health issues.
Ellen’s blood work came back normal and she felt better for a few days, so we put thoughts of cancer out of our minds. Then, about 10 days after she went to the doctor, she started feeling sick again; cough, fatigued, generally feeling lousy.
Though the blood tests had been normal, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong so we took her back to the doctor, who again said she was OK.
Two days later, Ellen felt worse and I took the advice of a friend who suggested I call and talk to Dr. Eric Lunn, an Altru Health System pediatrician who has a lot of experience working with children who have cancer. After I told him my concerns, he said that he, like the other doctor, didn’t believe it was likely that Ellen had anything more than a virus, but that he would be glad to examine her.
I made and appointment with him for the next day and told Ellen that she would be seeing Lunn. Ellen said she was glad she would see him because “he knows my history.” Then she asked me if the last time she had cancer she had seen doctors a few times before she was diagnosed. I told her that, “Yes, we had,” but that Lunn didn’t believe there was anything seriously wrong with her.
The next day, after examining Ellen, Lunn told us that she likely had a series of viruses over the past few weeks and that was what was causing her symptoms. He assured us that if she wasn’t better in a couple of weeks he would examine her again and explore other possibilities, such as mononucleosis.
The past few weeks’ experience is something that I, the mother of a cancer survivor, and Ellen, the survivor, will have to deal with for the rest of our lives. Our challenge continues to be achieving a balance between being vigilant and proactive about Ellen’s health and over-reacting when she gets sick.
Most of the time, we are able to do that pretty well. Occasionally, like this last time, our worries get the better of me. Still, I think it’s better to err on the side of caution and I appreciate Lunn’s understanding of mine and Ellen’s concerns that her symptoms could mean her cancer is recurring.
In some ways, life after Ellen’s treatment is more difficult than it was when she was in treatment. Then, we had a safety net of frequent appointments with health professionals who always were on-call. Now, we have to use our own judgment about when we should be concerned.
I vowed when Ellen’s treatment ended and she was pronounced healthy and cancer-free that I wouldn’t live my life in fear, waiting for other shoe to drop. I try to take life a day at a time and be grateful for each and every one that Ellen and the rest of our family is healthy.
I wish I could say that because I have that philosophy, I won’t ever again let myself worry like I have these past few weeks. However, I likely will because the way that I look at Ellen’s health changed the day that she was diagnosed with cancer. I will continue to do the best I can, knowing that, ultimately, her life, like mine, is in God’s hands and that he will be with us. No matter what the future holds.