Today Sarah is officially a ten year, bone marrow transplant survivor!
Woo-hoo and hallelujah!
I told Steve this morning that I didn’t have a real clear plan of what I wanted to say on the blog today; I mean the picture above communicates just about everything.
But I’m not a wordy, photo-loving blogger for nothing so please humor me if I feel compelled to add a few more stories and pictures from her journey as we celebrate this great day!
If you’ve ever wondered exactly what a bone marrow transplant looks like, or wondered if it was some complicated, invasive, painful procedure, here’s a photo of Sarah, smack dab in the middle of transplant. It basically consists of an infusion of her (previously) collected stem cells. That’s it! It’s the days before and the days after that are tough.
(Since most kids get a bad taste in their mouths from the infusion of stem cells, they are given a lollipop during the procedure.)
Before Sarah’s actual transplant day, she had three days of massive chemo infusions which in her doctor’s words, would have killed an adult. (It seems as though kids’ bodies are able to stand more than adults’.)
And speaking of chemo, I will never forget watching the nurses come into the room to hang the bags of chemo. They would don all sorts of gear to protect themselves from coming into contact with the liquid in any way and I would think, “Excuse me? That stuff that you’re afraid to touch is the same stuff you’re going to pump into my 7-year old daughter’s body? What’s wrong with this picture?”
Yes, chemo is poison.
But it’s precious poison.
Earlier in Sarah’s treatment, it killed her cancer. And then leading up to transplant, it did its assigned duty of killing off her immune system so that way her body would be a ready receptacle for the stem cells that were about to set up housekeeping.
And if chemo is a precious poison, stem cells are a precious medicine. Once they are collected (in Sarah’s case, she was her own donor), the medical facility is incredibly careful with them, keeping them in a highly secure place and freezing them at exact temperatures until the day they are needed.
If something had happened to ruin Sarah’s stem cells on the day of transplant, she would have died. She had absolutely no immune system remaining and without her stem cells to jump-start her immune system, she would have been a goner.
So that was a valuable bag that was hung on her medicine pole that day.
Here is she is about the enter the transplant floor. (It was January 2, 2003, our 21st wedding anniversary.)
I think what makes me the saddest about this photo is the eager, courageous look on her face as she got ready to walk through the doors. She trusted her parents and she trusted her doctors to do the best thing or her.
But as she walked jauntily down the hallway, I felt like crying because I had given my signed permission for her to be subjected to the worst four weeks of her life.
And it was bad.
At one point, her temperature got over 106 degrees as they tried trying desperately to cool her off. That was a scary day.
I spent many hours in this chair by the window, standing guard over my small warrior. But even warrior’s mommies need to sleep every now and then, so I’d catch a nap whenever I could.
Thankfully though, it wasn’t all gloom and doom on the transplant floor. Our doctor friend, Tracy Manuck, visited often to hang out with Sarah and take her for rides in the red wagon.
Our pastor’s wife and dear friend, Carolyn Stephenson, drove four hours round trip several different times to take Sarah for walks and read her endless strings of June B. Jones books.
And best of all, Sarah’s dearest childhood friend, Victoria,came to visit a couple times.
Here she is shortly after transplant, posing proudly with her official certificate.
The day finally came (after a month of being inpatient) when Sarah was well enough to be discharged.
The transplant floor has a tradition of giving each child who leaves a confetti shower and everyone who is able, lines the walls and cheers and claps.
A joyful procession.
Since Sarah was required to stay near the hospital for daily follow-up visits and any necessary emergency care, she and I moved into a nearby apartment. Steve and Nathan headed back home so that Nathan could get back to school.
That was a challenging time for me. I was exhausted and stressed and my husband and son were living 2 1/2 hours away. And then to make things even more interesting, on our very first day in the apartment we were visited by a home nurse who spent two hours explaining to my befuddled brain all of these medical items. What you see below is just one day’s worth of the stuff Sarah needed. And I had to learn how to use it all!
Thankfully, God sent an angel to me in the form of my sister, Debbie, who flew in from Wisconsin to be with Sarah and me for about a week. Debbie grocery shopped, and cooked, and stayed with Sarah so I could get out for a few minutes every day. (Debbie also flew in to help me after my mastectomy in 2010; she is obviously gifted in the efficient, compassionate, funny, loving sister department.)
After a few more weeks passed, Sarah and I were finally able to move back home with Steve and Nathan and Snowy. What a joyful day that was. We still had plenty of medical stress and drama to follow but at least we had made it through the worst of it.
This final picture of Sarah sums up the journey quite well. No matter how hard things got for her, she always looked up. And she taught us to do the same.
Happy anniversary, sweet baby girl; you are a treasure to our hearts. Keep looking up!