September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. At PCFLV, we are committed to spreading the GOLD all year long. However, in September, we truly make it our mission. 30 Days, 30 Stories celebrates the children we know and love and the brave battles they fight and have fought, with their families by their sides. In celebrating these beautiful children and their stories, we hope to inspire you to join us in our mission to SPREAD THE GOLD in September and all year long!
Five years ago, our lives were forever changed and I became part of a group I wish didn't exist - being a cancer parent. Chelsea was 6 years old we she began complaining of leg pain, but it was the middle of July and she had just begun summer camp for the first time. So we brushed it off as a combination of fatigue and growing pains. After all, Chelsea was my first child, so it was natural for me to always worry about everything over the years while others assured us she was fine. Only, this time, she wasn't going to be fine.
One afternoon, after complaining about her legs, I told her to rest. She began seizing, so she was rushed to the emergency room right away. Once I got to the emergency room, they were talking about MedEvac'ing her out. They didn't know what was wrong with her. Her labs revealed her WBC was 2.3. My assumptions of this possibly being an asthma attack were quickly disappearing. Chelsea was MedEvac'd to a larger hospital where she spent several days in PICU and then a normal inpatient room while the doctors tried to determine what was wrong. At one point, a doctor told me it appeared she had leukemia but it was ok because that was the best cancer to get out of any of themâ€¦I've never heard of a good cancer, especially when it's your child. But this was coming straight from the physician's mouth. After many tests and a spinal tap, I was told it wasn't cancer and they would follow up with us after more extensive tests were processed.
Unfortunately after the extensive testing came back it showed Chelsea did in fact have leukemia (AML). I learned that the type of cancer Chelsea had only had a 50% survival rate and the current treatment plan used the same drugs that were used 20 years ago. I couldn't imagine how, with all of today's technology and medical advancement, my child would be undergoing a treatment plan that didn't have any advancements in the past 20 years. Because of the type of cancer Chelsea had she wasn't able to get treatment and go home. She had to go through 4 intense treatments where chemotherapy was given to her for a constant 5-7 days, and she had to remain inpatient for 5-6 weeks at a time until she was no longer neutropenic. Imagine trying to keep a 6 year-old in a hospital room for that length of time. Or trying to limit the amount of contact she had with her then 1 & 3 year-old brothers because the germs they likely carried could be fatal to her.
After a long year of treatment Chelsea reached remission. Our lives started to slowly get into a normal cycle again. We were going to clinic every other month for blood counts and checkups. Chelsea's remission only lasted 4 months before routine blood work revealed something was wrong. The Leukemia had returned and we needed to start a new treatment plan, except this time it would be much different. We had to travel to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for a cord blood transplant, where Chelsea would remain for 2 months until she was well enough to leave. She wasn't allowed to see her brothers for the entire time she was inpatient. The risk of them getting her sick was too great. Even leaving her room to walk the halls was extremely limited. There were weeks that went by that she was unable to eat and sometimes even speak, because of the sores in her mouth caused by the treatment and transplant.
Those are days I don't like to look back on, I'm not sure how either of us made it through but there was no other choice but to keep pushing. If it wasn't for her transplant, Chelsea wouldn't be here today. This September, Chelsea will be celebrating 4 years cancer-free. It's the most wonderful feeling but there is always the fear of a possible relapse, or worry about the unknown effects that the chemo & radiation had on her body at such a young age. Even though Chelsea beat cancer, she still struggles with her studies in school, she will need growth hormone therapy, and she will most likely never have children naturally.
Chelsea is a strong little girl that has gone through more than any child should ever have to. Yet she still sees the world with such positivity and optimism that it gives me strength. Children that have gone through cancer are truly the most amazing children.
-written by Chelsea's mom, Cassi