Most of you probably know that Tanner was in the hospital two months ago for a life threatening reaction to Bactrim and, possibly, ehrlichiosis which is a tick-borne illness. She had to be lifeflighted on a Monday night and was gravely ill for several days before being released on Friday afternoon with a course of antibiotics to finish as our only reminder of our time there. Tanner was sad and depressed in the hospital (it doesn’t suit her bubbly nature) and didn’t even want to get out of bed until I made her. But, as soon as we left the hospital, she came alive and never looked back. The next morning, she was playing Wii with friends, refusing to take a nap, and demonstrating jump rope moves for her brother. By Monday, she was back at school with no indication that anything had ever been wrong. Not bad for someone who was on a helicopter with a 50/50 chance just a week earlier.
That is my kind of illness… quick and dirty, with immediate results. I’m not really cut out for stuff that lingers. I like the kind of job where you work harder than everyone else and you see the best results immediately. I could never be a farmer… heck, I can’t even keep the plants the kids give me for mother’s day alive for more than a couple of weeks. All that watering, day in and day out… you get the picture.
So, when Tanner left the hospital after her leukemia diagnosis, I guess in the back of my mind, I thought things would get better… that she would bounce back the way she did before. Not that I was so stupid as to believe she was going to lick leukemia in a few weeks, but I guess I expected there to be some kind of forward motion to her recovery.
There is no forward motion. Only back and forth, up and down, side to side. Anything but consistent forward progress. Cancer has to be one of the only diseases for which the treatment is as bad or worse than the disease itself. The cure that almost kills you, as I like to say.
So, here’s how a typical day goes: Tanner wakes up crying this morning (as she does every morning since taking the steroids), after pain medicine, she feels a little better, eats voluminously and watches TV. She knows that eating too much will hurt her stomach, but its like the pull of the steroids outweighs common sense and she overeats, resulting in an ugly tummy ache. I give her something to help her tummy and then she plays on her computer for a while and helps Jake play on mine. Then, we go upstairs where she lays on the floor and talks to Jake while he plays. When we decide to go downstairs again, she begs for my help getting up off the floor. Even though I want to help, I know she needs to use those muscles and encourage her to do it on her own. This causes a giant temper tantrum (steroids, lack of sleep) that causes me to have to send her to her room where she promptly falls asleep for 2 1/2 hours. After she wakes, we eat more, of course, and go across the street to her friend Corinne’s house. I haven’t told Tanner about this because I know she won’t want to go… it makes her so anxious. As I expect, she balks at going and we arrive with her crying. Poor Corinne looks alarmed, but sweetly asks what’s wrong and invites Tanner to sit on a little couch in the playroom. Within minutes, they are looking at my new iphone and comparing games. They spend the next hour happily drawing and talking together on the sofa. I have to pry her off to go home. The trip home seems like miles. Her legs buckle on the stairs out of the house and she falls onto her bottom. It goes downhill from there. The heat beats her and she is exhausted when we get home. We regroup and have a much-anticipated visit from Lily, an 8-year-old little girl from Franklin who also has pre-b cell ALL and is about 7 months into treatment. It is their first meeting and we were excited to see her. But, the horrible stomach ache returns and Tanner can’t really enjoy the visit the way she wants to. Her stomach gets worse and worse and she can’t eat the McDonalds she wanted so badly all day long. We finally manage to get the right medicine to ease her pain just in time for bedtime.
So, it’s not just one day up and one day down, it’s 15 minutes up and 15 minutes down. You never know when a symptom will creep up and rob her of her personality temporarily. And, even though I know the tests show she’s kicking leukemia’s ass mightily, I don’t see it. I just see a little girl who can be giggling and cutting up one minute and groaning in pain the next.
So, I’m learning to take baby steps. To not expect it to get progressively better each day, but to have faith that it will get better… eventually. I guess I’m going to have to learn how to water a plant every day no matter how slowly it seems to be growing.