Has it really been that long!?

It’s hard to believe that it has been over six months since my last update.  Abbigail has fought so hard, to come so far, over the last four years, but she has made most of her leaps and bounds these past few months alone. 

  
Just over six months ago Abbigail was once again facing huge life threatning battles that no child should have to. She was admitted to the hospital for a septic blood infection that was, without surprise, rare and not easily treated without strong antibacterial infusions. She spent three long weeks in hospital, mustering the strength to push out the monsters threatning her body and ultimately her life. Once the infections were under control, we were back to discussing the multiple and progressive nodules forming in her liver. Were they an anomaly or more cancer? No one could be sure because nothing with Abbigail has been text book up until that point and everything documented to date has not been able to discount further neoplasm (cancer).  After numerous challenging and cautious fine-needle biopsies, we faced the dreaded consent form for an open liver biopsy and possible resection. Slicing and dicing a liver is never simple or clear cut and isn’t without immense risk for morbidity and even mortality. An other human being, possibly a father himself, had to ask us specifically if we understood that once we left our baby girl in his care, on that cold table, that she possibly may not wake up or that if she did, she would not be the same. Is this even part of real life? Often I find myself wondering these questions. That morning, I signed my name on the dotted line, giving consent to surgeons to open our daughter’s entire thoracic area and examine it for further cancer or at the very least remove a portion for lab analysis. Then I waited. I waited and stared at her empty bed on the fourth floor of CHEO, a place we’ve considered home for far too many years and I waited for the nurse to say she was out of surgery. When the desk clerk’s phone rang that time, I knew it was about Abbigail. I dashed to the elevator, flush, nauseated and petrified. What would he say as he removes his mask and sterile cap? What happened these last few hours in that cold sterile room? Where is my girl? Before he could speak I layed my eyes on her ragged body in recovery and sighed in relief. I sat at her bedside until her intubation tube was removed and she was awake enough to know I was there. The surgeon who has cut into our daughter more times than I can count, along with the radiologist who has invested numerous days and hours analyzing her multiple liver images and studying her nodules, smiled as they both confirmed that surgery was a success. They also confirmed the lab had enough liver sample to examine and diagnose these nodules without having to fully resect an entire lobe of her liver.  After a long few days of epidural pain management, drug reactions and rehabilitation, we were finally transferred from the surgical and rehab unit back to our “home” unit on the oncology ward. Ten long days later, we received  exhilarating  news that it was not cancer but that further lab testing was required from SickKids hospital in Toronto before we could know exactly what the lesions are. Abbigail was feeling better, not eating much by mouth and still recouperating  from an extensive thoracic surgery, but we still could not be discharged. Now, almost a month in hospital, barely home a day or two from our Florida trip, realizing we are never free from this world as we face our worst fears all over again.  After much debate and review from many specialists, near and far, Abbigail was diagnosed with a rare disposition of extramedullary hematopoiesis. Abbigail received large doses of chemotherapy last year, and the theory is that her body has not been able to keep up with blood production post transplant and her bone marrow now is producing blood cells outside of her marrow (i.e. in her organs). This new diagnosis only added to her complicated medical care. Two incurable rare diseases battling inside of our five year old little girl’s body, that has yet to recover from years of cancer treatment and a life altering stem cell transplant that ultimately saved her life last fall. Her scars are gigantic – physical and emotional, but we finally went home after a long month of close calls in hospital. Despite being “out of the woods,” Abbigail now faced new hurdles and we didn’t know then just how big they truly were. 

   
 Abbigail had more than a hundred nodules confined to her liver. Continuously monitoring their activity with imaging and although they had not stopped multiplying, they had yet to spread to other organs. Also closely monitoring her liver health with regular blood work to ensure that these lesions did not affect the basic functions she desperately needed. Abbigail was tired, her entire body covered in cuts, bruises, catheters and scars. Smiling for photos with an NG tube still taped to her sensitive cheek, she didn’t let any of this stop her this summer. We spent every day possible, that we weren’t at CHEO, at our camp. Roasting marshmallows, wading in the waters, making forts and sand castles while chasing the boys. She even made a few new friends and won the hearts of every single other camper in the park. There wasn’t anyone who didn’t know who Abbigail was after her first week there. Memories were cemented in our hearts and despite the hurdles, the pain and sacrifices that don’t cease, we were blessed with an entire summer without a single night in hospital! 

   
   
Once camp season came to a close and the leaves began to fall, Abbigail started school! Something I never allowed myself to think of again after last year because we were so focused on her treatment and survival. She has been surprising us and everyone else with her abilities and potential. She is speaking so many more words. She can now even understand French a bit. She has learned routine, made friends and been able to detach herself from me. Her learning is greatly affected due to the extensive damage to her brain from the OMS as well as the four years of dozens of repeated chemotherapies, but that does not stop her from always trying.  She is part of a regular classroom with all of the support she requires to thrive. We are so proud! 

   
  
 Our spitfire never lets life settle down though, just as she adapted to the new routine, stopped crying when I dropped her off and began to have less OMS episodes at school we were facing difficult decisions regarding her overall health. Abbigail had started losing weight very quickly and without reason other than her appetite and eating habits. Post liver surgery, they inserted an NG tube for her nutrition because when a child has such a huge abdominal surgery, they are not able eat for days due to their “guts” being stunned and paralyzed, meaning unable to digest. So after a week of not eating, having huge stomach pain inside and out, her appetite that was finally returning post transplant had now taken a nose dive. Since June, she continued to lose weight and struggle with her appetite. In September, she had lost a few pounds and it was evident now in her face and it wasn’t long before doctors and specialists were considering a more permanent feeding solution. Abbigail was 50lbs in the summer and although it was an unhealthy weight for her height, we knew it was temporary and that it was caused by steroids. Presently Abbigail is holding at 35 pounds. 

  
That 15 pound lose in a short period of 3 months had us remove the NG tube (in her nose) and have a surgically implanted g-tube directly into her stomach. After almost 5 months without a night in hospital, Abbigail and I were cuddling under nurse and doctor supervision, in the very familiar and oddly enough, comforting walls of her second home once again. December 7th she received her new “tubie” and again our trusted surgeon was successful in cutting through the layers of scar tissue in her abdomen to have the new device inserted. Only a few days to recover from yet again an other stunned tummy surgery and we were home to begin the holiday season with new hope for recovery from yet an other hurdle in the journey. 

   
 This Christmas should have been different though. For so many reasons. We never imagined still being in such a fight for our daughter and we never imagined experiencing the loss that we have. Being a part of a world where kids have cancer and it is normal, becomes scarier the longer you are in it. You form friendships, extend your family and fall in love with the strongest, bravest and most beautiful young souls that walk the earth. When things are good, in cancer world relative terms of course, we laugh, have private little room parties and make today count because we know how fragile it is. We often fall prey to thoughts of tomorrow and we allow ourselves to believe that it will all be ok one day…that is, until it’s not. 

  

   

 November 18th was not ok. Abbigail’s closest friend earned her angel wings far too early. Phoebe left this earth, forever 5 years old. She left her pain, suffering and sadness behind with her grieving mama, daddy, big sister and many family and friends. For Phoebe’s family, tomorrow is now too hard to face because today is already so painful without her here. My heart has been aching since that day. Abbigail  understands Phoebe is gone, that we can no longer visit or play with her and that we can only see her in our photos and videos but she often asks “but mama where Phoebe?” It breaks my heart on so many levels. Losing Phoebe was harder than I could have ever imagined it would be. Christmas this year was bittersweet. We weren’t in intense treatment, there were no life-threatening emergencies or hospital sleep overs and for that we were blessed and grateful. But we also felt a huge sense of lose and guilt. Every twinkling light had new meaning, each gift unwrapped was a reminder that not everyone was so lucky. The kids were spoiled and had “the best Christmas ever” visiting family and making memories but I couldn’t help but carry the guilt with me. My friends also got to spend the holidays out of hospital for the time in five years too but for very different reasons. Phoebe’s passing hurt. It was painful. Unfair. Phoebe lives on though and will forever be our Christmas angel, reminding us to never lose faith and hope, just as she never did! As the years pass, treatments continue and Abbigail grows up, she will forever have Phoebe in her heart, watching over her…that I believe.   
Today, Abbigail continues to receive immunosuppressive therapies both in hospital and at home. She goes to CHEO for infusion treatments every two weeks and continues with her daily oral treatments at home. Her medication list, for treatment and for symptoms caused by the treatments, is still very long and disheartening but in a world where there is very little known about her disease we do not have many options left. We are currently trying to slowly taper her off of the very aggressive steroid treatments she’s been on for four years in hopes that we don’t create the perfect storm in her body for an OMS relapse. If she regresses once the steroids exit her system completely we will have hit a wall in treatment options. 

  

    

For those new to Abbigails journey or for anyone who is still confused about OMS, it is a rare (1 in 10 million) disease that presently is without a cure. Children who are doing well with OMS today are said to be in “neurological remission” however are prey to relapse or regression at any time and it is believed by the few specialists in the world, that these children will suffer several of these relapses in a lifetime. A regression could present itself as slight shakiness and imbalance, darting eyes, uncontrollable and aggravated behaviour, insomnia, muscle jerks and trunk or full body ataxia. These small symptoms can be triggered by any immune response; which are fatigue, stress (physical and mental), certain medications and sedatives or the more obvious, infections. Once the immune system is triggered, Abbigail’s brain is caught in a crossfire. Simply put, OMS is an immune disease characterized by her immune system being programmed to attack particular cells which were present in her cancerous tumours but that are also present in her brain. This means that part of her brain, the part that controls movement, stability, speech, some learning and development as well as behaviour and sleep, have the identical cells that her cancer has. When Abbigail’s immune system is activated, it begins to fight and destroy the cells in her brain, causing multiple cells to misfire and often creating the perfect environment for brain damage and that is when we begin to see the symptoms described above. If the damage caused is extensive enough, the regression in Abbigail’s abilities and functions could quickly become a relapse in the disease, requiring more than patience and antiviral or antibiotic treatment. During a relapse, OMS must be stopped as quickly as possible to minimize the permanent brain damage that is occurring. At diagnoses, the peak of her illness, and when she has relapsed in the past, She has completely lost the ability to speak, slurring her sounds, has also lost control of her trunk, losing the ability to even sit up on her own, she’s even lost her ability to walk and crawl during relapses and self feeding was impossible. This is when we would begin more chemotherapy, new experimental drugs and stronger immunosuppressive treatments to stop her immune system from functioning, putting her back in that vulnerable and dangerous state she knows all too well. 

So this is where Abbigail finds herself in treatment today. Hopeful we can wean her off of the treatments that are affecting her growth and long term bone health but also fearful to remove the drugs that have kept her brain safe from relapses over the last two years. She has done each and every treatment protocol and trial available to children in Canada and the US to date and is still unable to wean from the destructive drugs keeping her immune system at bae. 

I can’t thank you all enough for your support and prayers throughout this journey and for checking in over the last few months during my online absense. Abbigail and our family is continuously blessed by you all! Thank you!

The journey continues…

Dealing with life’s daily interruptions are grueling when you have a sick child. Especially when “daily interruptions” can mean trips to the ER. Anyone who has been through the journey of caring for a child with cancer can attest to the fact that a family experiences many levels of loss along the way. The process of loss does not begin with the death of a child. In fact, personal losses for parents and siblings begin to pile up early, from the beginning of therapy to the final outcome of treatment. From the first day of treatment, daily life is irrevocably changed by the demands of caring for the sick child, and everyone in the house feels the pain. Siblings experience a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety, based primarily on the absence of their sick sibling and one, or possibly both parents, due to long hospital stays, or late night departures to the emergency room when chemo’s side-effects kick in, demanding treatment. Parents lose individual time with the healthy siblings, family dinners get skipped, school and special occasions get missed. It’s all part and parcel of the great amount of time that has to be devoted to the sick child, and the sacrifices that come with this reality. Siblings are acutely aware of the absence of their parents. What we wanted most to avoid was becoming isolated from our healthy children. Making sure they were involved in the care of their sister was an important way to stem the feeling of loss and isolation, and keep everyone together. How much that helped Abbigail’s two brothers I can’t be sure, but at least we are trying to keep our family normal, in an otherwise abnormal situation. While it’s important to focus on the healthy kids and how they are feeling, keeping a close eye on your spouse and their feelings is of equal or possibly greater importance. Given the difficulties and time constraints caring for a sick child can put on a relationship, it’s easy to grow apart. Most of the time, mom is one place, dad is another. I know this is a reality in our experience, the loss of personal time together in just about every aspect. The challenge is to try and restore some of the intimacy and private moments, while still dealing with the constant pressure of caring for your family. Ultimately, depending on the progression of the disease, there will be lesser, or greater losses the family will experience. Communicating with Matthew and the boys on how everyone is feeling, trying to keep us close, both emotionally and physically, is the goal, hopefully mitigating some of the loss that caring for a Abbigail has brought to our family over the last three and a half years. 

Today Abbigail and I are cuddling beneath a bright pink Barbie blanket, enjoying each other’s company, but it isn’t in the comfort of home and it isn’t surrounded by our loving family. We are in hospital. The boys are back home with Daddy trying to carry on with the daily chores and coping with the daily losses implicated when Abbigail is in hospital, and Mama by her side. 

Our family has been blessed this past month with the gift of time. We were given use of a home in Orlando, which offered our family the opportunity to drive down to Florida and have unplanned, uncharted time together, without treatment interruptions, or medical appointments. Abbigail was well the time we were away, with the exception of a few days of cough and cold, and she was able to have her NG tube removed, as she now eats well enough and is able to take her medications orally. She turned five years old during our trip and had the time of her life; splashing her toes in the water, enjoying breakfast with Sophia the First (child princess from Disney) and spending each day with her brothers and both parents without exceptions. There were no hospital visits and no additional medications or blood to be drawn. After countless beautiful sunny days with Mickey and his pals and so much pool side fun, we hit the highways for two days to get back home. We chose to detour 12 hrs though, which gave  us the chance to visit with close friends in Memphis. They have been relocated there for almost a year now, seeking life saving treatment for their daughter, Abbigail’s best friend, Phoebe. This entire trip, as busy as it was, truly was a huge break for our family, an opportunity to be together without planned interruption, a blessing beyond comparison.  There continued to be small daily losses as Abbigail still suffered from the sometimes debilitating OMS symptoms, which made the day to day struggling at best, but in the end it was magical.  Once all of the roads were behind us and we finally saw our fields, local farms and neighbours, we were relieved to be home and back to our comfort zone. As amazing as the ignorance has been this past month, we knew that this serene feeling of freedom from the diseases that have festered our lives for years, was likely over. 

Abbigail was due for her follow-up MRI on her liver lesions only two days after returning home. Wednesday, May 27th, she underwent sedation for the umpteenth time and had images taken of her abdomen and pelvis, with the focus being on her liver. After two days of waiting for results, we arrived to hospital again Friday the 29th of May to hear that her tumours have now doubled to an astronomical number of 60+ spots confined to her liver. This is not only puzzling to her team, but also very concerning and worrisome. Abbigail is continuing to pave her own way and write her own story about Neuroblastoma, relapsed disease and living with OMS from infancy through childhood and we will keep following and supporting her with all of the hope and faith that we can muster. 

That Friday also turned out to be one of those unimaginable moments in a parent’s life, when they hold their child tightly, fearing the worst, but knowing that life is a gift…that this child is a gift that can be taken from us at any given moment. That moment of surreal fear brought nauseating feelings to our clinic room Friday morning as Abbigail threw herself to the floor in agonizing pain only mere minutes after showing off her talented dance moves. 

Abbigail appeared to be in septic shock as her body temperature rose well above 40 degrees Celsius and her heart rate jump to 175, forcing her bloodpressure to plummet down hard and fast. This brought on severe headaches, uncontrollable shakes and shivers and confusion. Abbigail was suffering from sepsis, what was once called blood poisoning. It was quickly determined that Abbigail’s entire system had been “showered” in bacteria when her lines were flushed post blood draw. It turns out Abbigail likely had her central venous lines too close to the pool in Florida, where bacteria came into contact with foreign and vulnerable object in her body. She was immediately started on antibiotics, cultures were sent off to the labs for analysis and we were transferred from the day unit care to inpatient, where we would be for the coming weeks. 

So again, here we are cuddling, well actually she’s snoring now, and although it has only been a few days, it feels like a lifetime.  We have so much uncertainty to face and far too many unanswered questions for both infectious disease and our oncology team, that taking it day by day even sounds and feels insurmountable. 

Getting through more tough days…

Since that dreadful call on Christmas Eve, I have been consummed with fears and questions, both of which have yet to be relieved or answered.

Abbigail has had an MRI and ultrasound of her liver since returning from transplant and they both reveal the same differential diagnosis and affirmation of my fears. These nodules found to be growing and multiplying within her liver, aside from her never disappearing liver tumour treated with 8 cycles of chemotherapies last year, are suspect of further metastasis, PTLD (post transplant complication involving further cancer) or infection. We have consulted with liver specialists and infectious disease and they have all suggested a biopsy to evaluate a tissue sample from the “spots” to see what they are because blind treatment could result in further damage. So could time…I am pushing as hard as I can to get these procedures and tests completed as soon as possible because in my heart and my gut, I don’t feel this is “nothing to worry about” and time has only hurt our baby girl in the past.

So as Abbigail struggles most days to keep her temper under wraps, tame her irritability and muster the energy to be a kid, we are worrying and trying to get everything organized to face anything thrown our way. We thought for sure we would be enjoying a new life by now, but despite the odds we are continuously being thrown, we won’t stop fighting!

This fight is nearing three years and this past year we have received more support and generosity than ever before…than we could have ever dreamed of or prayed for. We have so many people, families and organizations to thank. We will post a formal thank you to everyone shortly and hope that everyone knows just how much each and everyone of you means to us and how much we appreciate your support; whether it be monetary, emotional or through prayers and kind words. We thank you ALL!

One of the recent fundraisers, in support of Abbigail, is the CNL Black Bears Charity Hockey Tournament being held this week. Colleagues of mine at CNL (Canadian Nuclear Laboratories – formerly AECL) have for ten years raised money, for local charities, through their annual hockey tournament.

2015/01/img_2331-0.png

Last year they raised a huge amount of funds which were in support of both the Pembroke MRI fund as well as a colleague family with a child in medical fragility. Much the same this year they have again chosen the MRI fund in addition to Kisses For Abbigail. We couldn’t be more blessed and humbled by this. We would love for our family and friends to go out and support this huge team of generous and kind heart hockey enthusiasts who chose Abbigail to pray for and raise funds for this year.

2015/01/img_2332-0.png

2015/01/img_2333-0.png

We hope that everyone has a week of fun filled ice time while we continue to look further into Abbigail’s liver tumours and we look forward to hearing about all of the fun the kids had during the festivities. Please send me photos of the event, Abbigail will one day look back on her supporters throughout her battles.

DAY +18 – The road less travelled

Would you believe me if I told you my neutropenic but afebrile girl was sick? If her vitals were only slightly elevated would you think I was paranoid? Do you think you know enough about OMS because you read an article and a few pages of her chart? What if I insisted something was wrong, would you believe me then?

Abbigail is 1 in 10 million! She defies all odds and sneaks within every minority she possibly can; always the star of the unlikely and rare! It is near impossible to apply any expectations to her recovery post transplant and if she can, she will take the road less travelled! She’s a true warrior, paving her own way and leaving her mark. She doesn’t need to scare us as much but we are proud of her always, blessed and honoured to be her parents.

A week ago I was running on little sleep, no calorie intake and likely only enough water to flush out the caffein that was keeping me going. Abbigail was a mess. I had shared with you the devastation and fears I was facing as I watched her battle what I described as her worst relapse of OMS, something similar to the first days post diagnosis. My heart was in disbelief, but my gut and instinct told me she was ill. Any time Abbigail is nearing any infection, whether a cold, flu or urinary tract infection, I always “know” before any medical signs, symptoms or tests. I always speak as though I too am going through treatment, not to take away from the trauma our girl has experienced, but I feel connected to her in such a way that I feel her pain and truly know her on a level I can’t explain. I knew that despite her fevers, lab tests or vitals, that my daughter was not well. I was reassured over and over, as I rang the nurses bell or paged the doctors to return and exam her, that Abbigail is doing relatively well and that she shows no signs of infection. I was never reassured. I continued to monitor her vitals on my own, take lots of notes and continue to show concern to anyone who walked in our room. There were many long days and nights I feared for Abbigail, that her unique presentation would hinder her transplant recovery and possibly cause her irreparable consequences.

Tuesday morning after rounds, my instincts were confirmed; Abbigail’s virology lab work found she was fighting a dangerous viral infection that could threaten her life. My heart sank…the words mortality are too often spoken about on the transplant unit and when it is in context of your own child it is paralyzing. The “signs” and “symptoms” I was seeing over the past week were confirmed to be a result of her body trying to fight a virus that she didn’t have the ability to fight, hence the severe OMS. I have to explain that the medical professionals did not have grounds for worry because Abbigail did not have any scientific or medical evidence of infection…all she had was Mama’s instincts and knowledge; a three year honorary degree granted through a three year long, 24/7 placement in the field. Although doctors are aware of the rare possibility that because Abbigail has taken high doses of oral steroids twice daily for three years, that she may potentially not produce a “fever” to signal infection, they did not realize that this is what was happening over the last 10 days. Abbigail generally has a cool body temp and so when she hits 36.5-37F I know as her expert that she is likely fighting something. Anyways, she was indeed fighting something, and that something has her at it’s mercy.

Abbigail is at day 18 post transplant. Although every child is different, especially Abbigail, we expected her to have recovered by now, or at the very least begun engrafting to signal that her marrow has accepted the transplanted stem cells and is making it’s own cells. That hasn’t happened yet. So she still does not have the ability to fight any type of infection and remains in BMT isolation.

This virus is now taking over in her stern but frail body, and this week we found out it has infiltrated her organs and is passing through her stool and urine, indicating that it has progressed significantly this week.

She has begun treatment, however this treatment is also a huge risk and danger to her. The drug she is receiving, to help her body manage the virus, is a cytotoxic carcinogenic, which quite simply means it is toxic to her organs and is known to cause cancer. This drug causes kidney damage, resulting in dialysis or transplant and can be the cause of secondary cancers to her. You can probably safely assume that it was not easy hearing that the only treatment to potentially help our daughter fight and live against this virus was also likely to cause further damage and life altering morbidities. We started the treatment, along with the other precautionary medications, and although Abbigail is responding physically, the viral load is still increasing. This treatment will not kill the virus, the hope is that it will tame it enough to allow Abbigail to produce her own fighting cells to kill it off. This could potentially take weeks and months. The virus is killing her cells and the medication to tame the virus is also attacking her cells, making her weaker. Unfortunately, the only natural killer cells that kill this virus are the cells that we purposely eliminated from Abbigail’s immune system last year because they were the main cause of her OMS. Here Abbigail goes again paving her own path! The cells we killed to help her OMS are the cells we now need to save her life.

I have far too much medical information and knowledge about this and could write you a novel, but all you really need to know is that Abbigail needs your prayers. She is fighting hard! Between her resting and raging, crying and the doctors and nurses monitoring her, she still has moments of joy and that I am grateful for. She still shares her smile and screams for her favourite nurses to come sit by her side. She still shines and shares her spunk when she can.

IMG_6836.JPG

IMG_6835.JPG

Halloween was a good day! Although she couldn’t leave her isolation room and participate in the hospital trick or treating events, she managed to lure the candy, treats and tricks to her bedside! She had a blast and when she finally settled and fell asleep she had a well rested night and smiled this morning as she woke!

The road may have gotten longer, darker and curvier, but Abbigail is a force that no one has ever witnessed before. She can beat this!

Thanks again everyone who has been messaging me, commenting on my quick posts and prayer requests. Thanks to so many people, organizations and groups who have been fundraising and donating (www.YouCaring.com/KissesForAbbigail), the burdens are easier to face with some extra help! Thank you to those who brought me snacks and “drinks” and also thanks to everyone who has been cheering Abbigail up daily with the mail they have been sending. Every morning she looks forward to checking her mailbox. Thank you!!!

That moment…

I packed two lunches this morning, zipped up two school bags and excitedly but emotionally photographed you and your big brother under the tree, as I did with him each year. I saw you proudly standing at the end of the driveway with your big brother; waiting for the bus, with a pink lunchbox in hand and a smile so radiant it lit the early morning dew. I anxiously stood outside your classroom, proud you were sitting quietly, attentively and participating as every other child was, all the while still partly saddened you didn’t call out for me. I drove away in tears as I noticed it had been hours I was stationed at your classroom door, and I thought of the years that past too quickly and how far you have come, and how hard you have fought to get to this day…this very moment. The day was long. I stood waiting for the bus to bring my babies home for an hour outside in the rain and wind…but I didn’t feel cold and I wasn’t wet. Finally the bus pulled up to our driveway, after what I felt was at the slowest of speeds possible, and I saw your pride and your excitement as you ran up the driveway; ponytails flailing in the wind and boots splashing in each puddle. You were happy. You were a typical 4 year old who was excited to be a part of something and accepted. Once the excitement settled slightly and you both sat down for dinner, it seemed as though your father and I couldn’t keep up to the stories both you and your brother had to share about your first day of school. You competed for airtime, both rambling about your classmates, rhyming off names and games played at recess. At that moment, we were so happy, so proud and nothing could have brought us down.

Then I woke up. On the couch, 11 at night and the TV playing some infomercial about a new anti-aging remedy. Then I realized we weren’t going to feel those joys, see those smiles or hear those stories. I wasn’t going to be that mom in my dreams.

Instead, I remembered I had to retake your temperature because you were warm and started to show signs of a fever at 9pm when I administered your nightly injection as you slept. Then there I was, trying so desperately to cling on, capture and remember each facial expression, feeling and joy that I had in that dream as I drove to the ER in the middle of the cold, damp night. That dream has been put down, left to the side and may begin to fade now as it comes to a screeching halt, crashing into our reality again. The reality that a fever tonight means that you will be examined and poked several times and for several hours before laying your head to rest as a patient on the oncology ward, because you are neutropenic; you have 0.0 fighter cells left in your immune system, opening the gates wide for bacteria, viruses and fungus to settle in your blood and take every dream you, me or your dad ever could have imagined for you. The fight didn’t end yet.

It is now almost 24 hrs after I awoke from that dream. I am sitting at your bedside, in an isolation room at the end of a brightly decorated but oh so dark hallway in the hospital, watching you lay lethargically, bruised from the overnight battle between neutropenic veins and the need for urgent antibiotics to avoid septic shock, and I see a glimpse of that girl, all dressed in pink with her princess school gear. A glimpse is all it is though, because now you are awake, unable to sit up because you are too week from the poisonous chemos given to save your life, unbalanced, uncoordinated, ataxic rendering you unable to walk, just as the first day we found ourselves in this room. You scream for “dew” which I know means juice and I am reminded that you won’t be sharing school yard stories tonight at the table because you lost your speech 2.5 years ago, before getting a chance to even learn your ABCs and we are in the hospital, far from family and even further from that dream than we were before I fell asleep.

Abbigail will be spending the next few days in the hospital, hooked up and trapped in to protect her fragile body from the many dangers that are outside these walls. Our flight is still booked for Monday, with the faith that our miracle is still within our reach. So now I lay holding my firecracker, praying that her body will begin to produce her own fighter cells and that she may become strong enough to board that plane to Toronto and begin the journey towards healing.

IMG_3743.JPG

IMG_3741-3.JPG

May her mountains be beautiful!

…and so the journey continues; climbing mountains, falling off cliffs, reaching for the stars.

Abbigail’s bone scan last week returned positive. The bony structure within the right ala of her pelvis lit up like a Christmas tree, correlating precisely with what was seen on her MRI images of July 15th (see recent posts since MRI). What does it mean? It means just that. Nothing more, nothing less. It barely moves us forward at all. But it’s official, I am now pronouncing it so. Abbigail is an enigma. The truth, of course, is that neuroblastoma is such a complex, multi-dimensional disease that there are children like Abbigail for whom modern medicine just doesn’t have any answers at present. Relatively speaking there is so much that is still unknown about what neuroblastoma really is, and how/why it behaves like it does.

With these results though, the ‘plan’ has an additional, hitherto unmentioned, element; a core biopsy. She’s had pretty much every scan and diagnostic test going, and has gone through multiple biopsies and aspirations in the past, I’m sure she’ll hardly noticed if we slip one more into the schedule.

So, I sit here alone, on a cold couch, in the dark waiting. Waiting for something to wake me, to end this scary road and show me the light again to a place where our daughter no longer feels pains from needles, chemos and cancers, where she can ride a bike and fall off, skinning her knees for band aids instead. Waiting for my heart to mend after it’s been broken too many times over. Waiting for the fear to stop invading my every thought and decision. Waiting to hear someone say she’s free. I’m waiting to hold my daughter as she wakes from her sedation today. She went in for her biopsy a couple hours ago, with a smile on her face as she fell asleep in my arms. She will wake hopefully and the interventional radiologist will come out confident he retrieved enough bone and marrow to provide answers and that our baby girl was unscathed through the procedure. The wait won’t be over though, not for us as her parents, family and team of doctors. Then we wait for results from the lab. Agonizing at best. Gut wrenching most hours, soothed by her laughter and the love she has for life but nonetheless painful and frightening. We pray it will come back negetive, proving once again that Abbigail doesn’t follow the norm or any precedents…we pray for the day when there is a small amount of certainty again in where we are headed with her treatments.  Please keep Abbigail in your thoughts and I know how much love is here for her! Let’s show her that love and share her beautiful smile with the world.

One final thing that is definitely worth mentioning, and that to my discredit I could easily have omitted. The medical teams who have worked closely with Abbigail over the last two and a half years at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario have been incredibly supportive of what we are trying to do in terms of getting the absolute best treatment for Abbigail. At various points over the last few weeks and months the simplest option by far would’ve been to turn around and ‘encourage’ us to take Abbigail elsewhere. Instead, her oncology team, and in main part her oncologist, has remained very active, talking to doctors in other cities, provinces and countries, facilitating the various additional procedures needed for her OMS away from home, working day and night to find the answers that aren’t always there. My feeling is very much that at the end of this period we will know as much as we ever could about what is going on inside Abbigail. The unfortunate thing is despite everything we have done, and are doing, there’s still not actually very much we can say for sure, and the future remains as uncertain as ever. Of course there have been times when I haven’t been completely happy with her care; I was recently very frustrated over the hospital’s “slow down” policy and the resulting difficulties arranging her scans and biopsies for this possible “relapse” and I’ve challenged the doctors, offered opinions, made suggestions, and asked some difficult questions (plus a fair few stupid ones as well). And at no time have I heard discouraging noises, or felt like I was being talked down to, or told what to do. It’s a very welcome contrast to some of the stories that I’ve heard from other parents going through this rare journey with OMS and neuroblastoma. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, maybe sometimes I see through rose-tinted spectacles, or maybe the times they are a-changin’. I believe in my heart that Abbigail’s team loves her, from her oncologist and case manager, to the team in radiology who have seen her and cared for her more than 100 times all the way to the nurses in MDU and the administration who are first to greet her everyday. They all have a special place for her in their heart and that is irreplaceable and priceless.

Abbigail you will never climb alone and once we get you to the top you will hold the stars in your hands and shine among the brightest. I believe!

Battles, struggles, pain & fears larger than her but not her life!

The battles she is fighting, the struggles she is facing, the pain she feels and the fears she is overcoming never get in the way of her sharing at least one of her infectious smiles!

Yesterday Abbigail flashed a huge, bright and heart-melting smile to Mama as we left CHEO — Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Her day was quite long, with several clinic appointments and procedures she rather not have to endure time and time again but despite her irritability, exhaustion, rage attacks and overwhelming fears she made it through an other day along her unique journey.

20140301-090408.jpg

Childhood cancer isn’t just chemo, hair loss and medications. The obvious fight is only half the battle. Our children are forced to learn early to accept their reality which includes more than most adults ever experience in an entire lifetime. Lately I’ve been reflecting on more than ever before, maybe because we have more time to sit and be rather than run from procedure to treatment every couple days. My heart breaks a little more for these kids as I think of everything Abbigail has faced already in her short life, all that she continues to battle and all that she still has to go up against.

We are looking forward to a weekend of family visiting. Please keep Abbigail in your thoughts this weekend as she battles herself yet again, with her OMS flaring (the-activating) due to a lingering bladder infection. The days are long and nights longer as she tries to resist her own urges, rages and uncontrollable actions. Also, I ask that you please don’t forget these kids, don’t let Abbigail or any of these precious babies fighting or fallen go without notice. They all deserve every little bit of support that we can muster.

Their battles, struggles, pains and fears are bigger than they are but they never ever give up or give in to defeat – neither should we!