It is funny how you can be in a situation that not long ago you would have thought was unimaginably painful, something you couldn't possibly deal with and then, somehow when you are living that nightmare, you are actually able to reflect on how lucky you are.
Such is the case with us and our now 3 year-old daughter Eliana. Before cancer, my husband and I remember sneaking into her room every night, gazing down at her and talking about what a miracle it was to have such a perfect, healthy baby girl. She had such an amazing zest for life and exuberance. So you can imagine our shock when one minute our pediatrician is telling us her low fever and runny nose is a cold and 3 days later she is receiving emergency platelet and red blood cell transfusions in addition to intense chemotherapy for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
Over a year later, our new life revolves around Ellie's drug regimen. Trying to plan the important events in our lives around when she will be off her steroids so that she won't be violent, depressed, wailing, and with wobbly legs. Planning around spinal taps, injections in her in-dwelling chest catheter, daily 3 hour fasts in order to take her oral chemotherapy, and also trying to guess which side effects drugs will ease her discomfort; antinausea, pain medicine, stomach pain medicine, or laxative.
I reflect on the precancer days when I agonized over her not eating some vegetables or having to give her Tylenol for immunizations! What a different world!
So, why are we lucky? Well, an obvious reason is that our child has an 85% chance of beating this cancer when only a few decades ago, she would most surely not have survived. Another reason is the existence of the incredible pediatric hematology/oncology program in Santa Barbara that saves us making 3-4 hour treks to LA or Stanford in order to get Eliana topnotch treatment. (God bless you Dr. Greenfield, Nurse Pam and the rest of the dedicated staff there at Cottage Hospital!).
But there is another, less obvious reason. As hard as this struggle is for us on a daily basis, we have met so many other families along the way that have a much greater struggle; families who aren't fortunate enough to have nearby family and friends on whom to call, families who have had much longer hospital stays that have forced them to give up income in order to stay and care for their child, who don't have the means to pay for their child's treatment, or perhaps don't have a car to get to and from chemotherapy. We actually have the "luxury" to focus all our energy and attention on getting our daughter well and seeing to her needs, whereas so many other families have additional emotional and financial burdens to bear at the same time. When I see how hard things are for us, I can't even imagine how some of these other families can get up and face their day.
That is why Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation is SOOOOO important. They saw that there was a need in the community and through a combination of a huge heart and amazing drive and perseverance this organization was founded whose sole mission is to make sure that families of children with cancer can focus on getting their children well. How on earth would some of these families manage without Teddy Bear?
Even for people like us, who are fortunate enough not to need financial help, Teddy Bear provides a huge service. I remember when we were in the hospital and one of the staff told me that nobody could possibly understand what I was going through as a parent unless they, too, had been through cancer with a child. That is where our connection to Teddy Bear has been such a support. Through Teddy Bear, we meet with other families dealing with the same crisis from our area and are able to spend time with them, chat about our stress and struggles, laugh and cry about it and watch our children relating in ways that they can't relate to healthy children. We know there are people out there who totally understand and what a comfort that is when we see them!
Thank you Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation. Please keep doing what you are doing.
Mike, Danya, Eliana and Liora Nunley