Our family has a date that changed our lives forever….not once, but twice. On April 6, 2004, our youngest daughter, Olivia, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Five years later on April 6, 2009 our daughter, Elena, was diagnosed with leukemia.
Spring Break 2004, we were at the beach. Olivia, then two, had been tilting her head to the side and stumbling while walking. We quickly grew more concerned when she began waking up in the middle of the night, holding the back of her head and vomiting. We found ourselves headed to the nearest emergency room. They performed a cat scan and we were told that our baby girl had a brain tumor. That is not an easy thing to hear. The walls seemed to close in on us. All we kept asking ourselves was what do we do now. Olivia was flown from Florida to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta where she underwent a successful surgery to remove her tumor. It was then that we learned her tumor was a Juvenile Pilocytic Astrocytoma. We were soon back home thanking God for all of the wonderful people He had put in our path and for getting us through this ordeal.
It was amazing how quickly Olivia recovered from major brain surgery with little side effects. Life as we knew it resumed. Surgery was the only treatment necessary for Olivia and we were ready to move on. Which we did. Over the next three years, Olivia had eight follow up MRIs that all showed no signs of a recurrent tumor. In July 2007, that changed. We were told that what was first thought to be scar tissue, was actually a recurrent tumor. Here, three years later, the news wasn't any easier to hear. Olivia's neurosurgeon carefully watched the tumor and on June 6, 2008, he performed a second surgery on Olivia. All went well and today, four years and six post-surgery MRI's later, Olivia remains tumor free.
Spring Break 2009, we weren't at the beach. Elena had been having severe back and leg pain. With our pediatrician's guidance, we were trying to figure things out. While waiting at Scottish Rite for a scheduled MRI, the pediatrician called and said, “It is leukemia.” Once again, simply stated words had drastically changed our lives. It felt like the world had stopped turning. We couldn’t process it. Three difficult months followed Elena’s release from the hospital. It was all so very different from our experience with Olivia. We couldn’t believe that after going to the Aflac Cancer Center with Olivia for five years, we would now be taking our other daughter there as well! Slowly, life slowly began to settle. Elena has completed numerous chemo visits, lumbar punctures, blood and platelet transfusions, emergency room visits, infections, and a life threatening hospital stay. On August 3, 2011, Elena completed her treatment for ALL. Unfortunately, her first battle was not a complete victory. Elena relapsed on February 24, 2012. Instead of enjoying the carefree days of summer, Elena spent this summer undergoing nine intense days of chemo and radiation to prepare her body for a life-saving bone marrow transplant. She has already been through so much in her young life. She is still fighting and we are still praying that her bone marrow transplant will give her complete healing from cancer. We will keep fighting until this battle is won!
While our girls’ treatment journeys were vastly different, the anxiety and pain were the same. Today, both girls are beautiful examples of what it means to be a survivor. They both handle their late term effects from treatment with perseverance and grace. Elena, now 13, and Olivia, now 10, are absolutely amazing! Although the past eight years have been challenging, we have been richly blessed with amazing support from our friends, family, church, and even strangers. Our lives have been forever changed, but God has been in the details and He continues to bless us every day.
The battle for a cure continues. Every day children are fighting this horrible disease. The impact of cancer hurts everyone. It robs families of so many things: their joy, peace, time, health, finances, relationships, and even their own children. We can’t stop fighting until there is a cure. Please consider being a part of this fight!