An Informative Infographic c/o St. Baldrick’s

Robot Boy & The Intrusive Interloper

September is the month designated for Childhood Cancer Awareness, but for the patients and their parents, it isn’t confined to a month. It is a lifetime.

This is a very informative infographic from St. Baldrick’s Foundation concerning childhood cancer stats, money allocated by the government (very little) to the cause, and where your donations may go when you donate to a cancer foundation.

I also urge you to click the graphic to visit St. Baldrick’s website. Thank you.

St. Baldrick's Foundation – About Childhood Cancer

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We’ve Not Reached a Stalemate

“All the world’s a stage, and I’ve been given the part of Job.” – Me to one of my friends yesterday after sharing the results of a recent opthamologist’s appointment.

It all started in September or October 2009, near the end of my pregnancy. I started noticing an odd problem I’d not previously experienced, double vision. Not only was there double vision, my eyes were visibly turning inward, and I had no control over my eyes’ movement.

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1/31/13 at the opthamologist’s office, after my eyes were dilated. I couldn’t see anything I was doing. Surprised I actually got the pic.

I told my OB/GYN, and we hoped it was a temporary problem that would correct itself, like so many other strange conditions that occur during pregnancy. For the rest of my pregnancy, I tolerated the double vision. After RB was born, I experienced severe carpal tunnel syndrome and swelling in my hands and wrists, so severe that I could hardly bend my fingers. I used most of my Rx pain meds for the pain in my hands more than the pain from childbirth. The eye condition continued, and I lived with it, assuming it would go away eventually like the hand swelling and other transient effects of bearing a child.

By summer of 2010, the ailment hadn’t improved. Driving at night was becoming impossible, and I kept one eye closed or covered most of the time. With the urging of many friends and family members, I made an appointment with an opthamologist. I wanted to see the surgeon who’d performed my Lasik surgery in 2005, but he didn’t have any appointments available. I went to one of his associates. She examined my eyes and explained the condition is more commonly a pediatric malady, for which I’d have to see a pediatric opthamologist.

It was my first visit to CHNOLA, long before RB’s intrusive alien interloper took up residence in his brain. The doctor I saw explained my ailment as intermittent esotropia (AAPOS http://www.aapos.org/terms/conditions/48).

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Photo c/o The Eye Specialists Center (http://eyespecialistscenter.com/detection-treatments/strabismus-amblyopia/esotropia.html)

What the diagnosis basically means is that my eyes turn inward because of a weakness in the muscles that control my eyes. For good measure, a CT scan was conducted and showed only a small polyp in my sinus cavity. Hoping treating the polyp would help resolve the esotropia, the sinus problem was treated. And, in a week or so, the esotropia disappeared. Yay! Thank goodness that was all over. . .

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Marty Feldman, Igor, in Mel Brooks’s classic Young Frankenstein. I’ve been likened to Igor, lovingly, over the past few years.

 Unfortunately, it wasn’t all over. Only a day after my follow-up appointment with the opthamologist at CHNOLA, the esotropia returned. Well, it isn’t that bad, I thought. I can live with it. I have more important things to worry about. Besides, there were two solutions to the esotropia problem: 1) Prism glasses which cost $500+ and are not covered by my insurance or 2) Surgery.

I ignored the problem. I drove with one eye closed. I watched TV with one eye closed. I did just about everything with one eye closed. I stopped making eye contact with people. But to me, my daily routine wasn’t effected that much.

Fastforward to late 2011, RB starts getting sick all the time. Here’s a brief rundown for those of you who are just joining us. (You can read more about Robot Boy  here.)We’re at his pediatrician’s office once a week. He’s admitted for pneumonia in December. By January 2012, he stops walking and starts suffering dizzy spells that cause him to fall down. We’re still at the pediatrician weekly. March 3 2012, he isn’t breathing. We come to the ER at CHNOLA.

Esotropia becomes a non-issue. We embark on an epic journey that if written could only have been penned by Homer, or perhaps more appropriately, Dante. We spend nearly a year in-patient through RB’s treatments, tests, scans, infections, and changes in feeding, fluids, and medications. (We’re still in-patient, by the way, but we do have a pending date of discharge.)

November 29 2012, I finally take the advice my aunt gave me two years prior and visit a rheumatologist. Since childhood, I’ve experienced odd symptoms and been diagnosed with everything from IBS to juvenile arthritis to osteoporosis. My body is hurting. I can barely function, and I know the time is drawing near that I will be home with my disabled son. I know I will have to be at my best to be the best caretaker for him. I make a list of diagnoses, tests and their results, and my symptoms. The doctor goes over my papers and says, “Fibromyalgia.”

I’d suspected the diagnosis, as I’m familiar with the symptoms, and I fit every damn last one. He prescribes me meds, gives me encouraging words about RB, and sends me on my way. I take the initiative to be serious about my health. I start eating better and exercising again. I start doing yoga again, every day. I take my meds, and I give up caffeine and alcohol. (Update: I had a follow up appointment with the rheumatologist last week, and he is very pleased with my progress. I feel great, and I’ve lost over 10 lbs since my first appointment with him. You can read more about my first visit here.)

By now, my esotropia is becoming a royal pain in the ass. I take to wearing a patch.

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This cool rockstar/pirate look is going to be difficult to give up.

I finally decide to make an appointment with the opthamologist, something I should have done months ago since he works here at CHNOLA, where I’ve been living for nearly a year. The diagnosis is the same, and I’m again given the options of the prism glasses or surgery. I opt for surgery. First of all, my insurance will pay for surgery but not the glasses. Secondly, I need a permanent solution that won’t put me back in glasses after I’ve already had surgery to be free of them.

I’m currently waiting for a call to schedule the procedure. It’s outpatient, but moderately invasive. I will be under general anaesthesia, and the doctor advised it will be a few days before I feel fully recovered from the anaesthesia. The pain is supposedly  minimal. Two months from the surgery date, I will have a follow-up to find out just how well my esotropia has improved, or -more hopefully – has diminished entirely.

So raise a glass for me, Old Job, as I’m sure ‘Ol Mephisto is moving his bishop. We’ve not reached a stalemate, yet, and we’re not intending on it.

Chemotherapy and Stubborn Little Boys (And Moms and Dads)

I never thought I’d say the words, “Thankfully my son started chemo today.” Because no one should be happy that her child is receiving chemotherapy. Because in that case obviously something is very wrong. Something has gone awry, and bad. But I say that I am thankful because for the last month and a half we’ve been waiting to know if chemotherapy was even an option.

See there was a time when the doctors thought Doodles wouldn’t even make it this far. He was “neurologically devastated” and they weren’t sure if he was “salvageable”-because he’s a car or sunken shipwreck. We were told he “wasn’t going to get better” and that they were just planning to sustain him and “keep him stable.” We were even told they might have to “just let nature take its course”, to which we replied, “That is not an option.”

Because we knew what they didn’t know, and although they were reluctant to believe us, we refused to let Doodles go down without a fight. We saw what the doctors didn’t see. We saw that he was “salvageable”, and that he was conscious, responsive, and aware. We knew he was there.

Me and Doodles, in grayscale

I’m sure we were regarded as over-optimistic parents refusing to accept reality. I’m sure there are sadly many parents who might have taken the doctors’ words as testament and went along with whatever their plans were. But we’re stubborn and very hard-headed. And so is Doodles.

We had a long discussion, he and I.  I told him it was very important that he start showing the doctors that he was a strong man and that he was getting better. I told him it was the most important thing in the world. Whether he understood me or not, I don’t know, but he did what I asked. When the neurologist came to asses him she spent less than five minutes before she decided he was, in fact, not “neurologically devastated”, and that he was very much aware and alert.

Doodles finally got his tracheostomy and his g-tube (something that was delayed because the oncologists who originally looked over his case decided there wasn’t much they could do), and although he is still on the ventilator, he is breathing over the machine at almost twenty breaths a minute. They are now weaning him off the ventilator, something we were told just weeks ago wouldn’t happen.

The hem/onc team wasn’t sure if they could or would start chemotherapy simply for the mere fact that they assumed Doodles wouldn’t recover and that it wasn’t feasible. To them it seemed more feasible to let him expire, I suppose. But it wasn’t feasible to us, and certainly not to Doodles.

So today I say that I am thankful that my son started his chemotherapy because it sure beats the hell out of the alternative.

I want to add that not all of Doodles’s doctors were so fatalistic about his condition, and I’m very grateful to those who voiced their opinions and were his advocates in opposition of those doctors who were ready to close the book on him. I also want to acknowledge the many great nurses, physical therapists, respiratory techs, and other staff here who have taken to Doodles so much so that they check in on him and ask about his progress even when he’s not their patient for the day.