Our Only Struggle Was Cancer
By Roberta Harding
"Your child has leukemia."
Those were the words my husband, Brad Bradley, and I heard from an oncologist 500 miles away on July 30, 2010. My soon-to-be 12-year-old daughter, Lauren, who also has Down syndrome, was two days away from returning home from her summer visit with her dad when a raging ear infection, rash and temperature of 104 caused a trip to a pediatrician and an immediate referral to the children's hospital.
After we heard the news of her leukemia, my first visions were of the girls in my elementary school years ago who died from leukemia when it was an automatic death sentence. I felt like I was floating above our kitchen table watching myself. This could not really be happening. But it was.
We went to be by her side and offer what comfort we could. After two weeks at a small children's hospital with four oncologists, we made the nerve-racking drive back home with a child who had no immune system, was nauseated, cried in pain every time she walked or used the bathroom, and was just generally miserable.
In the Right Place
Our first visit to Children's Mercy Oncology Clinic was overwhelming. We knew we were in the right place, however, considering Children's Mercy has one of the leading pediatric cancer programs in the country, with:
- 2,000 children a year treated by 20 oncologists and scores of nurses;
- 40 inpatient beds;
- a bustling outpatient clinic;
- a special bone marrow transplant unit; and
- researchers involved in all the clinical trials available to kids.
But still … we felt a bit lost. Although glad to be home, I was scared of losing the security of Lauren being an inpatient with constant monitoring. I worried about infections and low platelets, and I monitored her constantly for fever and petechial spots. After the first few visits to the clinic, we were in the routine; the staff knew us, and Lauren was feeling a bit better.
Two years and four months later, Lauren is done with treatment and her port is gone. She loves Dr. Gamis, nurse practitioner Joy, and her very favorite nurses Darla, Kara, Kathleen and Pattie. She "inventories" her oncology buddies every day and talks about them.
It's been a long journey with lots of port pokes, shots in the thighs, nausea, countless IV chemo treatments, 23 lumbar punctures, a few inpatient stays and some scary days. But the oncology staff has been there to help us the whole way!
We Have Been Blessed
Not every family in the clinic has the same things we sometimes take for granted: reliable cars, good health insurance, financial stability, no younger children to care for, a fairly uncomplicated cancer journey and a home in the metro area. Our only struggle was cancer.
We have been blessed. And now, we give back so other families don't have to worry about medical bills and to support research for advances in treatment.