PC: Jennifer Harris
In honor of September being Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we are excited to be featuring a few stories from family's that have been affected by childhood cancer. This one is from my very special and very dear friend, Brittany Downs. Her daughter, Kaelyn, was diagnosed earlier this year and it's been a wild ride for them ever since. But Kaelyn is one of the strongest girls I know and she is always smiling anyway! After reading her story, be sure to follow Kaelyn's journey from her Facebook group Prayers for Kaelyn.
On the morning of Friday, Jan 8, 2016, my daughter, Kaelyn, age 4.5 yrs, stumbled out of her room in a sleepy stupor. I looked at my sweet daughter's face and my heart sunk. She was very pale, had dark circles under her eyes, and she looked thinner than normal. The night before, she had a bloody nose that lasted 2 hours. I was getting ready to take her to the ER when we finally got it stopped. It was 10pm, my husband was at work, and the boys (ages 2 yrs and 3 months) were asleep, so I didn't want to wake them. I watched her like a hawk that night to make sure she hadn't started bleeding again. Earlier in that week (every day leading up to diagnosis), she would complain that she was tired and her legs hurt while she was at karate. She would put herself to bed at 7pm (something unheard of in our family) and I just thought she was going through a growth spurt. But on the morning of the 8th, I KNEW. It was the same gut feeling I had when my oldest son was wasting away from a medical condition at 6 months old. Something was really wrong.I immediately called the pediatrician and they got us in quickly. Our normal ped was out of town, so we saw another doctor. He did an exam and agreed she was very pale. She also had a weird bruise on her arm. He felt her liver was enlarged so he sent us to the local community hospital to have labs drawn. He put his personal cell phone number on the lab orders and told me to make sure they knew to call him with the results. I started crying, and he told me to not worry yet, that there was a number of things it could be. I told him that the last time I felt like this, my son almost died. I KNEW.
My husband, Kevin, and I waited for what seemed like the longest 3 hours of our lives. Then the phone rang. I was told to head up to Primary Children's hospital in SLC, that it was most likely leukemia, and my instincts were right. I hung up the phone and Kevin and I just held each other and sobbed. Kaelyn looked at us and said, "guys, why are you crying?! I'm fine!" She's a tough kid. We got an overnight bag ready and put all the kids in the car. I had already called my mom, who was in Indiana at the time visiting my nephew for his bday, and we notified the rest of our families on the drive up to the hospital. While we drove, I got the call from Doug Fair, who would be Kaelyn's pediatric oncology fellow. He gave us directions on where to go when we got to the hospital: 4th floor, inpatient oncology wing. I'll never forget how surreal it was to walk through those doors to the oncology wing. Was this really my life? How did I have a child with cancer?? That day is still such a blur. We ran into an old friend from Indiana, and I didn't even recognize her. I was THAT out of it. It was like my mind was trying to protect itself from the trauma.
That was the day our lives changed forever. I love this picture of Kaelyn... She's so happy and positive even in the worst circumstances. She looks so young to me. She's matured so much in the last 8 months... Almost to the point where I feel she was robbed of her childhood. She has experienced the effects of 8 different chemo meds, steroids, antibiotics, anti-emetics, and so much more. She used to scream and fight every time we accesses her port for labs and chemo... She doesn't fight it anymore. I thought I would be happy when the time came that she didn't fight, but it's actually pretty sad to know she's had to be poked SO many times that it no longer phases her.