Within a brightly colored playroom a mother stands against the wall with a plastic bin in her hand. Her son, his body connected to an IV by the port in his chest, has become so accustom to the tethering that he runs about without skipping a beat.
Periodically, he runs over to his mom, throws up in the bin, and dashes off with his friends.
Nobody blinks an eye.
This is life in the Pediatric Oncology Unit
There was one baby girl. She was just under a year. Her mom could be seen at all hours pushing her stroller. She was always pushing her stroller. I could see her in my head, bouncing slightly as she rocked back and forth. I’m not sure she ever slept. The bags under her eyes only increased the suspicion. The baby’s case was troubling. Her tumors weren’t shrinking, and they weren’t active. They had a decision to make, stay at the hospital and continue treatment, or return home (which they hadn’t seen for almost a year) and pray the tumors stay asleep. One day they weren’t at the hospital anymore.
Despite being on chemo since she was four months old, and I had never seen such a big one year old. She was given nutrition by a tube that entered her body by the same port they injected the chemo. One could say one line was keeping her alive and the other was killing her, but you turn that perspective on its side and you see both are saving her life, because the cancer would have killed her long before without the chemo.
I’m not sure why, but for whatever reason, I had imagined that kids get chemotherapy and their physical bodies go in stasis.
I was wrong.
They keep growing. They go through growth spurts, lose teeth, and go through puberty.
“This is horrible. Losing my hair was one thing, but none of my friends get it. They’re mad at me. I’m not there for them anymore and I can’t hangout. I’m in here and they’re all worrying about prom.” A sixteen year old girl confided during a group counseling session.
Diagnosed with leukemia, she was told she would most likely survive as long as she had chemotherapy everyday for two years. Her mother, a woman with 3 younger children, drove her daughter through NYC traffic everyday instead of staying at the Ronald McDonald house, so she could be home to have dinner with her other children.
I honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, I am posting about my experiences as an adult patient of a pediatric cancer