August 6, 2011. That is the day that Tanner will take her last dose of chemo. How crazy is that? Crazy that the doctors can pick a date out of the air 2 years from now and say the leukemia will be gone for good then. Crazy that we will be living this new strange life for two more years. Crazy that anybody, much less such a little body, can take that much abuse and survive.
I don’t know if I’ll dance in celebration that day or spend it crying with relief. I’m hoping that the little 8-year-old girl I see that day is happy and thriving and left with as few physical and emotional scars as possible.
I’ve grappled this week, for the first time since the day Tanner was diagnosed, with the possibility that Tanner might not make it through this ordeal. As I mentioned before, I learned about two children recently who died during long-term maintenance after getting infections. These were kids whose parents, I am sure, were certain their kids were strong enough to beat the beast, who were bolstered by the doctors’ assurance that their children had a highly favorable prognosis, who thought their kids had survived the worst of it.
The truth is, it was not the leukemia that killed these kids, it was the chemo. The chemo keeps their white counts so low that they are susceptible to these infections, and it ravages their little bodies so that their vital organs are not strong enough to weather the storm. It is my understanding that it ends quickly for these kids; the infection does it’s work swiftly.
So, as much as I have tried to stop thinking about this, I have had to admit to myself this week, that this could happen to Tanner. That, as strong as she is, as well as she is doing, as low as her risk category is, there is still the possibility that none of this will matter and that the unthinkable could happen overnight.
I think Tanner has been thinking about it, too. She has, for the second week in a row, made cemeteries in the sand box at the play therapists’ office. When asked by the therapist to “Make your world” in the sandbox, she buried little figures and topped them with tombstones. Earlier this week, she asked me to tell her what I liked so she would know where to bury me, and asked if I wanted to know what she liked so I would know where to bury her. And, we wonder why she’s acting out…
We have to find a treatment for cancer that is not as dangerous as the disease itself. Or, better yet, a cure that eliminates the need for treatment altogether. It is my most fervent hope that, as my friend Robin put it, we will look back in 20 years and think how barbaric it was that we treated cancer patients with these debilitating drugs. Heck, why not shoot for 10 years from now?
Whether it is a child or an adult with cancer, no one should have to endure this. No family should have to go through this. No six-year-old should have to worry about where they’re going to be buried if they die.
There has to be a better way.