How long can we be ignorant for?

Sigh…as you may have gathered, this journey has been nothing short of complicated and the uncertainty of every aspect of Abbigail’s health is wearing our family thin. One step forward has always been followed by two steps backwards and her rare presentations of complicated tumours, symptoms and even her resistant OMS have puzzled Abbigail’s medical teams all over the continent.

“How’s Abbigail doing,” you ask?

Abbigail’s OMS symptoms are once again working against her. Her legs have been aching and her pain centre doesn’t seem to signal pain intensity to her until it’s unbearable so she often overworks herself and causing further pain. Her coordination and motor planning is frustrating to her when it comes to small and simple tasks for the average 4-5 year old, at best she is at the same level as her 2 year old brother. When it comes time to communicate, she has her own system that works well with family, most days…she is learning so much from her little brother but the frustration this huge gap has created causes so many difficulties for her and our entire family dynamic. The other aspect of her OMS which causes her the most difficulty is her temperament, irritability, self control and behaviour. She screams. She cries. She hits and smashes. When her immune system is the least bit activated, either due to fatigue, infection or stress, it is obvious to all. It is alarming to us as her parents to witness, it is unfair to her siblings and it is so difficult on Abbigail to be constantly at battle with herself. We saw a huge leap in improvement of these symptoms a few weeks back, then recently we found ourselves a few steps back this last week with increased symptoms. Perhaps this is indication she is fighting something but that the stem cell transplant is still trying fight off the OMS within her body. We will continue to hold her tight and help her through the difficult days in hopes of a better tomorrow for her.

“What about those liver spots found Christmas Eve,” you secretly wonder but are afraid to mention?

Just before tearing open the gifts under the tree, we were burdened with news that her MRI showed a significant number of small nodules within several segments of her liver. This is news we were not prepared to hear. Our hearts sank AGAIN. She just finished going through one of the most gruelling treatments known to a Cancer patient; lethal doses of multiple chemotherapies over the course of only a few days, essentially putting her at a high risk for mortality due to complications. How could this be happening now? We cling to the possibility that this was a complication of her post transplant infection, that these spots would slowly disappear as she healed and her infection cleared. In early January we put her through a long ultrasound to further investigate these spots and it revealed that they were still there and perhaps even slightly more prominent than three weeks prior on MR imaging. There were discussions with surgeons, radiologists, oncologists, GI specialists, the infectious disease team and her bone marrow doctor in Toronto. The consensus was that we needed a piece of tissue to definitively know what these spots are. They have press rated themselves in such a way that they do not fit any diagnosis with even partial certainty. The tumour board then reviewed her case and decided to wait yet an other week, now a full 5 weeks after finding these on MRI, to rescan her liver to see if they had changed and if a biopsy was granted, because this procedure poses a certain risk and merits considerable discussion before proceeding.

IMG_2837

Yesterday Abbigail had a beautiful day with her good friend Molly Penny, CHEO’s therapeutic clown. They were photographed for an Art project being published by medical students. Their ever growing relationship has had a huge impact on Abbigail and this will be beautiful to see in print. These two “clowns” also played play doh and acted silly together, Molly always following Abbigail’s lead and never letter her lose sigh of the laughter. Molly kept Abbigail from remembering how hungry she was (she had to fast all day) and she didn’t allow her to worry about why she was even there yesterday. It was such a wonderful day watching them interact and laugh together, like we weren’t even in a hospital, that I too had a few moments of sheer bliss and ignorance, not thinking of the fear I had. This beautiful day was just that for Abbigail! She got through her ultrasound with Molly and her CHEO buddy Erika by her side and she was none the wiser…memories of laughter, simple play and good friends are what filled her day!

IMG_2838

She lay still, talking about the silliest of things, farting on us all and laughing without a care in the world, as I watched the technician’s screen full with bright spots as she scanned my daughter’s liver. What was a near blip it seemed two weeks ago has magnified and multiplied significantly. The radiologist walks into the room as Abbigail prepares to take her friends outta there and confirms what my untrained eye witnessed. Abbigail’s liver nodules aren’t going away, in fact they have grown and it appears as though they are multiplying once again. The blood rushed down my body as I tried to gather my thoughts to ask the proper questions, while I had the radiologist there to answer them.

Abbigail will be undergoing a biopsy, potentially within the week, to extract samples of the tissue that is consuming her liver…and our fears. There are a few possibilities for these nodules, none of which are favourable at this point. A liver consumed with infection is our best case scenario. A rare post transplant complication could also explain this. The alternative is unfathomable to her team and even more so to us. The idea of it makes me sick and angry and heartbroken.

“How is Abbigail?” you often wonder…she is happy today…oblivious…small and mighty force that outshines her illnesses.

Praying she has more laughter and beautiful days in her future and that the dark clouds that have loomed since that phone call on Christmas Eve, will quickly pass.

When you ask “How is she doing” (Day 53)

Being home, back from transplant and her last chance at a “normal” life, has been both a blessing and a challenge.

The last few weeks we have experienced extreme joy and gratitude as a family; being together again, under the same roof in time for the holidays, and all of the festivities that come with this time of year. Abbigail has been slowly recovering from her transplant with very few complications and she has been regaining strength in her muscles, walking, “running” and even doing the stairs again. She isn’t showing any further signs of dangerous infections and she has been responding well to her new medications. It is only a few weeks to Christmas and there are no signs that lead us to believe she will be having Christmas in the hospital this year!!! She’s slept in her own bed now for 18 nights, she’s been able to stop taking the dangerously renal toxic antivirals, her CVL has continued to work, with at home maintenance, and she no longer cries for her brother’s in sadness. Abbigail saw her Princess friends at the mall last week, she also visited with Santa and shared with him her Christmas wishes, and she even shopped for her brothers. She has done so well, come so so far and been able to do so much since being home. We are so grateful for all of these tiny miracles in her life.

IMG_1225-0.JPG

IMG_1226.JPG

IMG_1227.JPG

IMG_1222.JPG

Our bright and bubbly four year old girl is still lost within herself. There isn’t often an hour that passes in her day that she doesn’t spend screaming, crying, hurting or fighting with herself or us. Almost any activity, outing or event attempted, with her alone or as a family, is interrupted or abruptly brought to an end, in order to calm her or distract her from her own obsessions and thoughts. During her moments of play with her brothers, as we decorated our Christmas tree and have family meals, Abbigail is followed by a tall, heavy and cold IV pole; which holds her feeding pump. She still requires 24 hour NG feeds; which is fed through a tube inserted into her nose and through to her stomach. Since her conditioning chemo began, the first week of October, Abbigail has not eaten more than a couple hundred calories on a good day, so she continues to painfully have her NG tube replaced every few weeks to ensure she is nourished enough for her body to recover. When Abbigail asks for food, of any kind (only those bacteria free of course) you can be sure we do whatever means necessary to accommodate and promote her eating by mouth again, even if that means leaving the table, shortening an activity or changing our plans completely. Being able to leave the house is not easy; ensuring we have all of her central line emergency supplies, double checking we have the hand sanitizer and wipes and if we plan on being out longer than an hour we must bring her feeding supplies too, including syringes, adapters, sterile water, formula and pump. Our girl loves to shop and it brings her joy to hold a toonie and pay the “deedee” (cashier) but you will have to look through her mask to see her smile since anytime she leaves the house she is required to protect herself from germs with a mask in addition to the hand cleaning. You also won’t find Abbigail in crowds or shopping during peak times. I had to contact the princess company and have alternate arrangements made for her to meet the princesses briefly last weekend at the back entrance of the mall an hour before the crowd was to arrive to see them introduce Santa, then we raced the kids over to the other end of town to see Santa without the crowds. Abbigail still fights each and everyday for her miracle…she struggles through most hours,in one way or an other. At home we are getting through the days, trying not to think of her reality every waking moment. Come time to speak to the doctors, Abbigail is consumed by her friends company or Molly the Clown’s loving laughs and entertainment. If only I could ignore the reality. Her liver engines continue to climb, her kidney function remains fragile and at risk and her immune function is still compromised. All side effects of lethal chemotherapies and years and years of dangerous medications originally designed for either adults or other diseases.

Abbigail has made progress with her physical recovery; her marrow is producing cells again, although not yet functioning, we have no reason to believe they won’t be in time and her physical OMS symptoms have been improving and some even disappearing. Her hair started to grow back again but the bald appearance and mistakes that she is a boy still stand out as a reminder of her pain endured and struggles to come.

IMG_1228.JPG

IMG_1229.JPG

The next time you see us or Abbigail, know that the answer to your question “how is she” isn’t as easy to answer as you may think. Although the most important thing is she is home with us, there is so much more that can not be explained with words. This road is still winding and unfortunately we do not have an end in sight yet, so please understand that when I say it is complicated or brush it off, that I am not being short, but rather emotional and heartbroken. Almost three years ago we were told she had cancer and OMS but that she was among the “lucky” ones and should be back to normal living before the year was up. Here we are today still on constant alert, administering dozens of medications every 6 hours and still calling CHEO our home. I have a hard time considering that she was “a lucky one.” My heart is aching daily for our constant complicated struggles as a family and for our daughter’s endless pain and suffering, but I am grateful for the hugs each night, the screams for mummy and the love we share as we celebrate Christmas in our new normal way.

DAY +23 Post Transplant Highs and Lows

The last couple weeks since the discovery of this virus, which invaded our little girl’s body, have been physically and emotionally draining for Abbigail, myself and our family. There have been so many ups and downs, highs and lows and far too much uncertainty.

Abbigail began to show signs of improvement come Monday, she was feeling more energetic and less irritable. She had longer periods of “play” and was able to tolerate increased tube feeds.

IMG_7046.JPG

IMG_7047.JPG

IMG_7050.JPG

That progress was swiftly stolen as she had to undergo an other surgery to replace her central line that had caused her so much torture, pain and frustration the week prior. She went into surgery breaking my heart with her fearful and terrorized cries, and she came out with a new but equally frustrating line, more bruises than I have ever seen, a large hematoma on her neck and shoulder and a few more scars added to her battered body.

IMG_7049.JPG

IMG_7048.JPG

Progressively throughout the week I watched her wakeful moments get shorter and further apart, I anxiously tracked her lowering blood counts and I feared we may be facing a bigger monster than “they” believe. I knew this virus and the treatment to help tame the virus could potentially affect her counts however the doctors were confident that because she ENGRAFTED this week, that it wouldn’t affect her too much. That does not seem to be the case and I am sad to report that her engraftment was not hugely celebrated, as it should have been.

IMG_7058.JPG Once a transplant patient engrafts (begins to produce their own cells), they usually begin to heal, their ailments quickly improve and they are slowly weaned off the medications and sent home shortly there after. We knew this wouldn’t be the case for Abbigail since she is up against this virus, with a post-transplant immune system. Although we have successfully weaned her off of the IV nutrition and the “drip infusion” of hydromorph, she is still on an uphill battle. She has not “eaten” by mouth in weeks and has not taken even a sip of fluids by mouth either. She continues to show frightening signs of viral infection and we haven’t seen a decline in her viral load to date.

I am happy to say that it isn’t all bad; Abbigail still sits up and paints my if toe nail some mornings, she still fights the nurses on vitals and she always smiles when the clown pops in her room. She was at one point last week, laughing, playing and joking around like there was nothing wrong…this was hugely celebrated and noticed by all! She appeared so well “clinically” that her team felt she was ready to be transferred to our home hospital! There was talk that we would aim to have everything in place for a transfer this Tuesday. The thought of taking Abbigail out of this protective “bubble” and into the world outside these unit doors has me in knots. The fear of what I know is possible is sometimes paralyzing but I can not let that fear interfere with Abbigail’s healing or recovery. Going closer to home, to a hospital she has grown up in, with her friends and familiar faces would bring a type of healing we can’t find here. So I quickly set my fears aside and celebrated this milestone the way it should be celebrated! Abbigail has been talking about seeing her Daddy, Molly Penny (home hospital clown), Pam and Jen and all her warrior friends. She was so happy when I told her what would be happening soon.

Unfortunately, over the last 48-72 hours, I feel we have gone backwards again. We are back to her sleeping all the time, aches and pains, higher heart rates, creeping temperatures and highly noticeable OMS symptoms…which all lead me to fear possible secondary infections or the virus spreading further and faster.

We are still holding on to hope that we can keep her stable enough to travel to CHEO next week, but reality is that we are constantly at the mercy of illness, OMS and the world of cancer.

IMG_7059.JPG
Sweet dreams my girl. Rest your body. Mama is always here…