Blog for a Cause – Childhood Cancer
What is “Blog for a Cause”? Well, it’s a blogging concept created by Nirvana Mama where a group of bloggers will be writing monthly about chosen causes. The hope is to bring awareness of these causes to a wider audience.
This month I’m writing about “The National Children’s Cancer Society”.
Is there anyone who’s life hasn’t been touched by cancer? I know mine has. One of my best friends is a breast cancer survivor – over 5 years cancer free now Thank God!
I also have a younger cousin, Serenity, who developed Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in her throat when she was only 15 years old.
The National Children’s Cancer Society helps families of children diagnosed with cancer. They provide financial assistance to ensure children with cancer get the medical care they need. They know that childhood cancer affects the entire family and are there to listen, offer support, and suggest helpful resources. They’re also there to help survivors of childhood cancer and their parents prepare for life after childhood cancer – preparing for the months and years ahead including the follow up care that will be needed. Whether a child has just been diagnosed, is currently in treatment, or completed treatment years ago, The National Children’s Cancer Society is here to help. Abroad, the NCSS provides lifesaving pharmaceutical drugs, medical supplies and equipment to facilities that treat children with cancer.
Since its inception, the N.C.C.S. has provided more than $49 million in program distributions to assist the families of more than 26,000 children, and supplemental assistance through educational programs and materials to thousands more. This nonprofit, 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization has quickly risen to become one of the largest financial aid organizations for children with cancer in the United States.
There are many ways to show your support to the NCCS either through donations, volunteering or even holding a special event.
I’d like to share Serenity’s story with you now – written in her own words. At the time that she began facing her cancer nightmare, I was starting my life as Pop’s wife. Life is funny that way – the best time in someone’s life can also be the worst in another’s. If you love your family, like I do, then you can begin to understand how much I would’ve done anything to be there for my cousin and would’ve taken this cancer away from her if I could. She is an incredible woman and an amazing mother now, and I’m so grateful that I know this story has a happy ending. I’m also grateful she had the strength to share her story here.
At 15 years old, I started having problems swallowing and, when I touched the outside of my neck on the right side I could feel a lump there. This also caused me to lose weight (not a bad thing), but it also made me sound like Darth Vadar (not so awesome).
I was taken to a specialist who determined that I needed to have my adenoids and tonsils out. I had them removed and while he was in there, the Doctor noticed that there was a lump behind them. He took a piece of this lump to have it biopsied. Because he did not preserve the piece well enough, I had to go in to surgery again to have more removed so it could be sent to UMass for testing. When the results were in, the Doctor called my house and said that I had cancer but not to worry I would only need radiation.
Of course, at that time in my life, as a 16 year old girl, I was only concerned about losing my hair. I know that sounds silly with death knocking on my door, but I was concerned with vanity. The Doctor said that I would not lose my hair since it was just radiation and that they would call again later to discuss the treatment plans. Well, the next day my mom got a call from a different Doctor who stated that he was sorry for what the other Doctor had said, because after reviewing my results, I was going to need chemo and that I needed to come in Monday morning for surgery.
This was such a sudden change that, at this point, I cried because then I knew I was going to lose my hair.
I remember my dad cried too and, I had not ever seen this before. When I spoke with the Doctor he went over so many possibilities and side effects. One was definitely the hair loss. Another was damage that could be done to my organs from the medication and another was I might not be able to have children later. He did say that the type of cancer that I had (which was Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma) was one of the most curable and, he did not believe that it would come back later in life.
So, that Monday morning, I went to UMass for surgery. The surgery was to have a port a cath put into my chest so that the chemo could go right into my veins. This was so I wouldn’t need to have needles poked into my arm all the time – it created a direct link. Next, I had to have a spinal tap – I think because the fluid in your spin is different than in the rest of your body. They needed to drain some of the fluid and insert chemo into my spinal cord. Spinal taps hurt a lot, and I would need to have 8 total.
At first, the chemo did not make me sick nor did my hair fall out initially. It took about two weeks for the sickness to set in. I vomited a lot and lost a lot of weight. After about three weeks, my hair started falling out. I was aware of it and every morning would check my pillow for the hair that was left behind. I remember being so sick that I didn’t even care about my hair falling out any more. It didn’t hurt, but if you touched my head you would find a handful of hair left in your hand when you pulled it away. I remember laying on my mom’s couch and feeling so sick. My mom came by to brush my hair and I saw the look in her eyes. She knew my hair was coming out. She tried to hide it from me, but I looked at her and said “mom it’s okay I already know”. She left the room and I could hear her crying.
After long months of treatments, I finally got a clean bill of health. I started school again during my Senior year. It was weird showing up with no hair. I was given a wig by a program affiliated with cancer survivors, but truthfully I didn’t wear it. I chose to wear a bandanna instead because the wig was uncomfortable and hot and everyone knew I was bald, so why hide it.
(Lita: This is one of the saddest parts to me)
I’m not sure why, but some of our closest friends - mine as well as my parents – stopped coming around. It was as if they thought they were going to catch my disease. At first, I felt bad as it was because of me that people weren’t coming around, but then again, screw them, who needs them! I remember this one family, who we saw every weekend, just stopped coming around and treated us like we had the plague. Years later, when I was working as a police officer their son got into some heavy drugs. He later died of on overdose – was it karma? Sorry, to put this in, but I thought it was relevant to voice my frustration with this family, and other friends, who ditched us in a time of need. I suppose people act funny and do weird things sometimes, but you then realize who your true friends are.
Now, I have been healthy for 15 years and I have three beautiful children:
There is always hope out there. I never looked at my cancer as a debilitating disease or ever let it stop me from doing what I wanted to do. I actually believe that “that which does not kill us does make us stronger”. It was an experience for sure, but I would not change anything.
I just hope one day there is a cure for all cancers. ~ Serenity
I love you Renny! Thank you so much for sharing. I hope this story gives hope to others going through cancer treatment.