110 Days

It has been 110 days since Kate had a bone marrow transplant. 110 days since we jumped off that cliff with Kate in our arms.

It’s been 16 weeks since my 10-year-old son bravely walked to the OR to give his bone marrow to his sister.

To Hope to curb the disease that we were told she would die from.

It’s been a little over 4 months in hospital for Kate…for our entire family. Watching the bravest, most stoic and loving child endure what would reduce most of us to tears. To watch her suffer. To watch her smile. To see the recognition in her eyes that she knows she has no choice. To know that who she is, the life she has had, the choices we’ve had to make for her, the challenges she has had to face are beyond anything anyone could ever have imagined or what many can understand.

How do I express my feelings after 4 months of this. Of watching this. Of knowing what I know. Of living what we have lived. Of feeling what I have felt and continue to feel.

Of interrupting her life and of being terrified I won’t be able to get her back to it.

My greatest fear was disrupting the life she had. And she did have a life. It wasn’t easy. Despite the smiles on our faces to mask the daily pain and challenges, it wasn’t easy. It has been 8 years of not easy. But it was her life and she was living it and making the best of it and we were (so far) keeping her safe and the monsters at bay.

But now…

…now there is uncertainty again. Where there was confidence in managing her disease, there is fear of her recovering from this. Where there was excitement, there is a sense of loss for her – time at school, time with friends, time with family, time in the water, time spent outdoors at parks – on bikes – running. Where there was a sense of Kate being happy, I’m now not sure.

The day-to-day fatigue dealing with chronic illness and developmental challenges has been replaced by profound exhaustion. Endless nights on the hospital room cot, sitting by her bedside crying over her small frail body and wondering “what have we done”, moments of hope for recovery that slide back into complications and fear for her life. Grief. Loss. Sadness. Fear. The emotions mix in a melting pot of pit of the stomach sickness.

You try to hold onto Hope. Because Hope is real and it is powerful. But you are the mom and the dad and you are responsible and Hope gets overshadowed by Fear. And it’s a dance between the two. And you want Hope to win and you want to understand Fear and accept it, to not let it take over and it is an exhausting day-to-day struggle. And you feel worn out. And you feel annoyed at constant reminders to “stay strong” “be positive”. You want her back. You want another chance at the decision to do this. And you can’t. There is nothing to do but go forward.

I try to remember who this is about. This is happening to Kate. It is her life so severely and terrifyingly interrupted. But as much as it is about Kate and has always been. It is about Jack and Brian and Julie and our family. Being scared for them, for us…for myself and how we will come through this.

It has been 7  years and 9 months of facing down the SIFD monster. A monster that had no name. A monster we fought to name. A monster we had come to understand and had learned to live with, but a monster we were told time and again had surprises for Kate. Nasty – life limiting – surprises.

I know she is strong and she is incredibly resilient, and I’m jealous of the kids who go home. Who suffer less. I am jealous of the kids playing in the park and crying over scraped knees.

I am amazed that she still smiles and giggles. That she still belly laughs at silly antics and strives to make friends with anyone she meets. That she loves her nurses and trusts her doctors. Where does that LIGHT come from? How can there be that much strength and will and love and FIGHT in such a tiny little girl?

 

This has been her life and we’ve brought it to some sort of crazy junction of Hope that she will get better and live an easier life, or Regret that we have chosen poorly and we have hurt her beyond repair.

Which is it?

I think she lives the Hope and I feel the waves of Regret.

The answer isn’t clear yet and it will be many more weeks and months in hospital and delicately stepping through this new existence of the post-BMT world before we know.

We are relearning her disease and what we have transformed it into by doing THIS. The doctors don’t even know. I think deep down we knew it would be up to us again to forge the path and guide them, lead them, help them navigate Kate. I don’t think they realized that Kate would have the lead. I bristle at the work I have to do to get them to listen, to engage, to discuss and debate and understand that WE, Kate and I, know this best. That we have the lead and they need to listen, support and follow. So I step back and start to build the relationships Kate needs to be safe. It’s not easy.

It’s not Fair. It’s hard. It’s exhausting.

It is what it is.

Put one foot in front of other. Take one more step forward. Ignore the pain and heartache. Wait for the good moments. Try to pain attention to them and enjoy them. Get through the bad. Try to recognize the Good and the Bad.

Try to live our best life. Despite.

Try to help her live her best life. And Jack.

How did we get here?

 

I just want her to be well.

 

 

 

 

Day – 3

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Time here is surreal. It crawls by at some moments, (e.g. when you are with an irritable Kate). And flies at others. I can’t believe a week is almost over. Today is Day -3.

Day 0 is the day of the transplant.

April 28th, the target date I have in my mind for going home, seems so far away.

Time is warped here.

Clocks move quickly and slowly at the same time. A moment can last forever and also pass so quickly. Kate can look good at one minute, and change the next. There is no solid footing to be had, and I have learned that the search for it is futile in this experience. I need to surrender to what is and let this happen and unfold, while being as vigilant as I can. I marvel at how we got her – how did this happen?

There is nothing more to do. One foot in front of the other, pace myself hard – but intelligently – know when I need to back off and know that I have another gear in me when it is needed most. See the race course as it’s been laid out. Push hard for that awesome outcome and be able to let go just a little of expectations when I need to

It is a Marathon.

A true physical and emotional marathon and I am grateful I have the experience as a distance runner to carry me through. This is not for the faint of heart. Everyone here is holding onto their values and courage with their nails dug in. Holding onto the things that give them strength. Foundations they have built over a lifetime. It is amazing to see how the human spirit can thrive in this type of environment – what people draw upon with this kind of suffering and stress. Raw fear and raw hope.

Kate is part of that for me. She has helped build me up to be the mom I need to be in this moment. We are a unit she and I. We make each other whole. Her laughter, her playfulness, her excitement at the simplest things, and even her tears.

I feel her strength and bravery and it helps me to fortify mine. That is an incredible gift that she has brought to my life.

 

Julie

Falling Into Fall

I love the change of seasons in Canada.

I love the chill and coziness of the winter months. Cuddling under blankets, sipping warm drinks by the fire. Nesting inside our warm home while the snow flies. (I even love running in the snow).

I love spring. Shedding sweaters and turtlenecks for another year. Getting down and dirty in the garden. Loving the freshness and newness of the season and anticipating the summer months.

And summer – lazy days – a break from it all – a complete change in routine (both good and bad) – less time at CHEO – warm sunny days – cute little sundresses – flip-flops on my feet.

But fall is my favourite. Fall feels like the new year to me. It feels like the start of things – back to routine (yes, I like routine), cozy soups, cozy sweaters, the changing colours, a crispness in the air that requires just a little bit of bundling up, the warmth of a fall sun that takes the edge of a chilly fall day, getting back to activities for Jack and Kate…

 

Fall Leaves

 

Fall is a very significant season for life with Kate. Kate was born in October (2007). She was diagnosed with hearing loss in November (2008). She received her first hearing aids in November (2008). She was diagnosed as Deaf in October (2009). She received bilateral cochlear implants in November (2010). She was admitted for her first long stay at CHEO in November (2008). She visited the Mayo Clinic in October (2009). She received her eventual diagnosis of SIFD in November (2011). Kate started school for the first time in November (2012).

There are so many anniversaries to reflect on in the fall. It is an emotional and weighty season and it is a season of promise.

I wonder what changes, events, new milestones this fall with bring for us.

 

Julie

 

 

How Did This Happen?

There has been a story out there in the news media for close to a year now about a young girl who was seized by the state children’s protective services in Massachusetts after a medical disagreement between parents, doctors, and two different hospitals. The Justina Pelletier story.

As with any story that has been filtered, and the details are not all there – citing privacy and confidentiality issues. But the details that are available tell a chilling story about abuse of power. A child with a condition that is not well-known or understood, a disease that has no standard treatment plan or cure, and a lack of consultation with her treating physicians, can be taken from her parents, taken off all of her current medications and treatments, and kept in the psychiatric unit of a hospital with little to no visitation with her family or friends, and the parents accused of medical child abuse.

Horrifying. Terrifying.

 

My visceral reaction is disgust at the doctors and staff who did this to this young girl and her family. I am astounded that there will be no repercussions to any of them for the trauma they have caused this young girl and her family. But my instinct kicks in, and despite the questions I have about what these doctors were thinking, and how could they do this, I start to think of our own situation.

Rare. Unknown. No standard treatment. Many specialists involved. Many medical institutions involved.

I wonder if this could have happened to our family when we were searching for a confirmed diagnosis for Kate.

Could this happen to other children who are rare, without a confirmed diagnosis, medically complex, medically fragile, or perhaps to parents who are not savvy about how to ‘behave’ within the system.

I am a strong advocate for Kate. I feel that I am part of her medical care team and have an equal voice at the decision-making table. I voice my opinion. I appreciate the doctors opinions, but I also take into account my own knowledge and expertise as the expert on Kate. That is patient engagement and patient and family centred care right? Am I naive about the rights that I have to make decisions as her parent?

What makes the Justina Pelletier case hit home for me is that Justina has mitochondrial disease. A disease that few know about, where little research is done, where donation dollars and support don’t flow, where the medical community is still learning, and where there are few experts.

How does something like this happen?

How could the system change so it doesn’t happen again?

 

Julie

CHEO Turns 40

Before my son was born, I had never given a second thought to having a children’s hospital in our community. The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) was barely on my radar screen, and my only connection to it was through the media should it be mention on the radio, or in the news. I didn’t think much of those sick kids. It was sad, but it wasn’t my reality – it wasn’t something I thought much of other than to catch the CHEO Telethon from time to time.

After my son was born, CHEO still didn’t really register for me. My friends were young and just starting their own families and no one had any real experience with taking their child to the hospital. But as a new mom, I became more aware and more in tune with illnesses that might affect young children. I understood the need to protect him from illness and injury, and the stories I heard about ‘other peoples children’ battling diseases like Cancer and Cystic Fibrosis, or being treated for injuries caused by the typical childhood accident, were now more important to me and carried a different weight of parental concern, and now those brief glimpses of the Telethon were more important to me and I started to donate.

I am lucky to have a very healthy 10 year old boy, who has rarely needed to visit CHEO. We’ve had to wander through the doors of the Emergency Department for a suspected broken leg (age 2), pneumonia (age 2.5), and a concussion (age 9), and I’ve lamented the long wait late at night in the ED and then been grateful of the nurses and doctors who took such care and attention with him.

But I never really tuned-in to what it meant to have CHEO in our community until Kate was born.

Kate is my now 6 year old daughter who we thought was born healthy, but who has been diagnosed with an ultra-rare form of mitochondrial disease called SIFD. Her story is incredibly unique and at the same time is very similar to many CHEO stories. Endless visits to the Emergency Department, frequent admissions to CHEOs in-patient units that parents ‘in the know’ refer to as 4 East, 4 West, 4 North, 5 East, and endless tests and procedures. When our medical odyssey with Kate began, the importance of CHEO became front and centre to our lives.

What CHEO has to offer our community and our children could never be replicated in an adult setting. When you enter the doors of CHEO, particularly if you become a frequent user, you feel a sense of family and community. You recognize that these are medical professionals who understand children and unique approaches needed to ensure they are cared for the way they need to be. Child life specialists, physicians trained to work uniquely with diseases that affect children, nurses who understand that the littlest patients need and deserve more patience and understanding, a fabulous clown who can cheer your child or help them through a procedure like no other professional can – these are just some of the things that make CHEO special.

CHEO guides itself along a principal of “patient and family centred care”, which means the hospital sees patients and families as an integral part of the hospital culture. CHEO works with families to ensure that values, customs, cultures, beliefs and preferences are part of the decision-making that surround a child’s care. Families are seen as integral to the team and respected as ‘experts’ on their child and in providing essential information about their child’s health. It is a shared approach that is unique to a paediatric setting, and it makes an incredible difference in caring for a sick or injured child.

CHEO is celebrating it’s 40th year as a hospital. 40 years ago, a few moms in our community recognized the importance of having a hospital for our kids in our own community. I am grateful to them for the incredible challenge they took on and the pillar in our community that CHEO has become.

If you are reading this, and you know our family, you are likely someone who has used CHEO, or know someone who has. You already know how wonderful CHEO is and how important it is to our community. What I hope you do is share that message with others. Tell them your CHEO story.

This year, the CHEO Telethon is June 7 & 8 on CTV. I remember in years past watching parts of the Telethon as I went about my day, curious about the stories that were being told. I never thought our child would be one of those stories, but in 2012 she was. Sharing our CHEO story was our way of giving back.

This year I am honoured to be a ‘co-host’ for the CHEO Telethon and will get to share my experiences as the Co-Chair of our Family Advisory Committee and talk about the fantastic Champlain Coordination of Complex Care Program that has been an amazing support to Kate and our family.

CHEO Telethon 2014

CHEO Telethon 2014

CHEO Telethon Co-Host

CHEO Telethon Co-Host

Though it might still fly under the radar for you. If you have a child in your life, I am sure you feel an extra comfort in knowing that CHEO is there. You never know when or how CHEO will touch your life.

I hope you tune into the CHEO Telethon this year (June 7 & 8). Listen to the stories. Donate what you can. Take a moment to appreciate.

 

Julie

 

Post-Script

The CHEO Telethon raised over $7 million dollars this year! Incredible generosity and wonderful for our the CHEO patients and families.