An Army for Hope

February 2, 2011

I dropped Tanner off half-hour late to school yesterday knowing that she wouldn’t make it all day. The steroids had done her in, but I thought she had a couple of hours in her. As expected, she called me about noon and we picked up a movie and she spent the rest of the day on the sofa.

I didn’t think there was any way she would make it to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Man and Woman of the Year reception that evening, which was fine. It’s not mandatory that the Girl of the Year be there, but it’s nice for candidates and potential candidates to meet the kids who are inspiring them.

Tanner insisted on going (surprise, surprise) despite the fact that she didn’t feel very good and her legs were itchy (she has been having some kind of allergic issue or something).

The four of us arrived at Cabana in the pouring rain and spent a nice evening with some of the candidates and some potential candidates. We are so grateful to these soldiers of hope for a cure, some of whom have personal connections to the cause and some who don’t. It was good we came because Jack, the Boy of the Year, couldn’t make it and I think it meant a lot to people to meet Tanner. I was asked to tell our story and shared with them the extent of Tanner’s treatment and what she has been through. They were eager to learn and I’ve already made facebook friends with a few who wanted to know more.

I was asked to keep my comments brief, so I decided to tell our story in numbers – in doses to be more accurate. I went back to Tanner’s chemo roadmap in our 3-inch Vandy binder and counted up all the chemo she had received thus far. It took my breath away to see it listed that way. I wanted to share it with you as a testament to the toughness of my girl and of all the kids who endure this brutal treatment and more:

Tanner’s Story in Numbers

25 days inpatient in the hospital
8 ER visits
47 visits to the oncology clinic
3 blood transfusions
5 platelet transfusions
3 antibody transfusions
196 doses of dexamethasone (high dose steroids)
27 doses of IV Vincristine
482 doses of oral mercaptopurine
2 doses of Peg-Asparaginase via simultaneous injections to the thighs
8 doses of IV Cytabarine
1 dose of Cytabarine injected into the central nervous system via lumbar puncture
5 doses of IV methotrexate
15 doses of methotrexate injected into the central nervous system via lumbar puncture
56 doses of oral methotrexate
1 dose of IV cyclophosphamide
3 doses of doxorubicin
13 doses of oral thioguanine

This is, of course, only part of the story… the physical part. The emotional part can’t be put into numbers… it’s too complicated for that. And, Tanner’s numbers are really the best case scenario for a kid with leukemia. Boys would have a whole year more of chemo, and those who are standard or high risk or who have a more difficult to treat type of leukemia would endure much more than this.

It was good to remind myself of what she has been through… to remind myself that she has reason to act cranky sometimes or be angry or frustrated much more than the normal child. To marvel at how often she is not these things… how often she is happy, enthusiastic, excited and joyful.

Like today, for instance. I kept her home from school today. She didn’t feel great and there was some strep in her class that we wanted to avoid. She watched some TV this morning, then decided she would make some valentines for the kids who will be inpatient over Valentine’s day… her idea. She was so excited about it and got out paint, stickers, jewels and markers to decorate them with. She, Jake and I made nearly 30, and Tanner excitedly pulled out the last of her Halloween and Christmas candy and taped pieces to the valentines. She made a special one for Alli, the little 2-year-old who was on the ventilator and is now off, but still inpatient. We’re not due at clinic again until Feb. 23, so we’ll make a special trip in to deliver them. She wanted to go today!

We were so proud of her last night. Proud of how poised she was as adult after adult she didn’t know came to shake her hand. Proud of how she stood sweetly next to me while I read off the list of chemo she had endured, and of how she poked me with her elbow when I got a little teary and reminded me to buck up! Proud of her for just making it through with fierce determination to still find the good things in life. Proud of how her teacher said she did all the work asked of her yesterday at school even though she had to put her head down several times because she didn’t feel good. Proud of her for recognizing that it was important for her to be there last night even though it isn’t really a fun event for kids.

It was a great night to hope.


Indoor Fun

February 14, 2010

Tanner and Jake playing wii

How many ways can you have fun while stuck in your house and no visitors allowed? We’ve tried ‘em all… trust me… but have had lots of help from friends.

Thursday afternoon, our dear friend Anna Lynn, who is forever thinking of us, and is forever creative, brought Jake’s valentines from his class to us. He had missed his valentine’s party (and his Christmas party and his Thanksgiving party). His class made valentines for Tanner, too, so we had a lot of fun opening them. She also brought beautiful yellow tulips (that’s so Anna Lynn), valentines from our church staff and sugar cookies with a cookie decorating kit (from another dear friend). We were opening those valentines when I got a text from Tanner’s home teacher, Mrs. O’Hara saying there was a package on the doorstep. It was an early housewarming gift – pots with gardening gloves, tools, seeds and even dirt. How cute!

Friday, Corinne brought home Tanner’s valentines from her class… she LOVED them! There was one unsigned valentine and she’s still trying to figure out who her secret admirer is (I love this!). I opened the door to find another package from Mrs. Wood’s 4th grade class – they have been so super to Tanner – they sent valentines and birthday cards for Jake. So sweet.

We also had valentine packages from some of John’s co-workers and from all the grandparents. It has really helped alleviate the boredom. These days have been hard on all of us, but Tanner is especially frustrated. She had a small taste of freedom and then it was taken away so quickly. She is definitely feeling it.

We had a breath of fresh air Thursday and Friday from Aunt Beth. Beth is one of my two best friends and has been so unbelievably generous with her time. She is my savior when I need to balance the impossible – a child who can’t leave the house and a necessary task that requires me to leave home. Thursday afternoon, she came so John and I could meet with Tanner’s school. Then, she stayed overnight so I could take Jake first thing Friday morning to his annual kidney ultrasound. Jake was born with one kidney and has to be monitored. His one kidney is stellar! Tanner got to stay with Aunt Beth while Jake and I left for several hours and I think Beth must have been totally pretended out by the time she left!

The meeting with the school went great. They were so awesome and are doing anything and everything they can to make sure Tanner will be as safe as possible when she returns to school. She will have her own bathroom and her own computer to cut down on sharing germs. Together, the group of us that met developed a 504 plan. It is a legal document that spells out Tanner’s limitations, outlines what the school will do to accommodate them, and excuses her from normal absence rules, etc. She’s done so well here at home keeping up with her schoolwork, thanks to Mrs. O’Hara. She continually scores at or above grade level.

Thank God we have this new house to go “visit” when we are bored out of our minds and tired of looking at these same four walls. We go jump in the bouncy house and ride the little train and run around in the empty space to get out our ya yas! John went over there for several hours today to put together Jake’s new Batman battery powered ATV. We’ll give it to him tomorrow on his birthday… he will, to say the least, be beside himself. He loves anything to do with cars and motorcycles and asked to have a motorcycle birthday party. Beth and I painted a mural on the wall of his new bedroom with a road coming through a green hill and clouds in the sky. We’ll use the road as a headboard for his race-car bed and put his airplane shelves in the sky looking like a red plane flying out of the clouds (Thanks, Johnny). It has been a rough road for him, too, and he deserves an awesome room.

We all made valentines for each other today and had fun giving them to each other after dinner. The kids and I decorated the sugar cookies for John, but couldn’t eat them after all the valentines candy.

So, we’re stir crazy, but trying to make lemonade, if you know what I mean. Tomorrow is Jake’s birthday. I am sad that there is no one but us to celebrate his day. Usually, we invite family and maybe a few close friends for cake after dinner. He’s too little to really understand the big party is coming. We’re hoping Tanner’s counts will be high enough on Thursday to come to his party, but if not, will have it anyway. He needs to have his birthday… even Tanner said so.

Three years ago today, I was going to bed right about now, bags packed, knowing that I was getting up to head to the hospital to deliver a baby that threatened to be too big if we waited. Jake beat the doctors to the punch and came on his own that day, without induction. So like him to be accommodating. Eight pounds, 15 ounces of beautiful, long, sweet baby boy. John and I knew Valentine’s Day would be forever spent preparing for his birthday and could care less. He is the best Valentine’s gift we could ever ask for.

Much love,

Not this Week

February 8, 2010

We’ve been waiting for so many good things to happen. Living right on the edge of happiness. Today, we went to clinic for counts, hoping to hear they were high enough for Tanner to return to school this week. We were flabbergasted to find that her neutraphils were only 130 – the lowest they have ever been since diagnosis. Nurse Carie was so surprised, she ran Tanner’s counts twice to be sure.

Apparently, the doctor said that maybe the virus that caused Tanner’s ear infection caused the low counts and that now they should be able to recover. In the meantime, we were handed a mask along with Tanner’s count sheet and are in seclusion. Jake will again not be able to go to school and we will postpone his birthday party this weekend until next weekend.

Last week, Tanner made a valentine box. A cardboard shoebox wrapped in red paper and decorated with glittery stickers and magic marker hearts. She worked hard on it and, without my even knowing, pulled out a class list and wrote a valentine for each child. Littlest Pet Shop for the girls and Transformers for the boys. She was so excited. This weekend, I bought candy so she could tape it to the cards. She talked about putting all the cards in the boxes for each child and being able to go to the party.

I’ll bring the box with me to a meeting at the school tomorrow and give it to her teacher so she can pass out the valentines for Tanner. Jake will miss his Valentine’s party, too. Just like he missed his Thanksgiving party and his Christmas party. We just can’t afford to have him bring germs home to her when she, essentially, has no immune system.

Needless to say, we are extremely disappointed. Still waiting.


On the Mend

February 4, 2010

Tanner finally is feeling better today. After having spent the last two days pretty much in bed, she got up today and played. The antibiotic that she is on for the ear infection has been pretty rough on her stomach and she still isn’t sleeping well (steroids cause sleeplessness), so we’re all a little tired, but she isn’t coughing as much and had more energy today to play.

We bought valentines today for her class and decorated a valentine box in anticipation of being in school that week (I hope, I hope, I hope). We’ve laid low this week and hope that on Monday we find her counts are up enough to go back to school next week.

Speaking of school, those wonderful kids at Moore Elementary raised more than twice their goal in the Pennies for Patients campaign. They raised $2,042 to help fight leukemia and lymphoma. Amazing! On Monday night, the school board is presenting an award to the school and to another in the district that also did a campaign for a child with cancer there. The principal has asked Tanner to come to the meeting with her to help receive the award. I hope her counts allow it.

She was on the news last week; a story about the campaign. They want to do a follow-up when Tanner returns to school and a local newspaper wants to do the same. Very cool. Tanner will just hate that attention (wink, wink).

We’re in a bit of a rut. I think we’re all waiting for something to happen. I find us watching too much television and playing too much wii these days. I really hope she can go to school next week – she really needs a change of scenery, interaction with other kids and a challenge for that quick brain of hers. And, Jake and I could do some things that he has missed over the past 9 months – the library, his gym class, playgroup, etc. He needs to have more friends his age – boys, preferably. So, I’m looking forward to being able to focus on him a little. He’s turning 3 this month and we’ve planned a fun birthday party at our new house and bought him a much bigger present than we usually buy for the kids. He deserves to be in the spotlight for a day.

We’re hoping to be able to go visit our potential new dog this weekend… in prison! He is part of a prison dog-training program that pairs dogs destined for euthanization and prisoners in a intense three-month training program that teaches prisoners job skills and responsibility and gives the dogs a second chance at life. We hope to end up with a nice, trained dog to complete our family. A dog to take Millie’s place at the end of Tanner’s bed and calm the fears that a six-year-old shouldn’t have. A dog to motivate me to get up and walk in the morning to have some me-time and get some much needed exercise. A dog for Jake to lay on and throw a ball for. A dog to keep John company when he falls asleep on the couch. We can’t wait.

Waiting for lots of good things to happen. Impatient for them to get here.