Sarah’s Leukemia

This all happened many years ago, and I thought it might be good to preserve a few of my memories of it.

In April, 2006, when Sarah was 10 years old, we noticed that she had bloodshot eyes for a couple of days straight so Therese decided she needed to see our family doctor, and made an appointment for a Saturday morning. It also happened that my Rotary Club was holding their annual pancake breakfast fundraiser that morning and I was obligated to help. Around 10am or so, I received a call from Therese. The doctor had just told her that Sarah might have leukemia and needed to be taken to the hospital. This was a huge shock of course. I rushed home and found Brother and Sister Bills there. Conrad Bills helped me give Sarah a Priesthood blessing and then we took her straight to the hospital, leaving the other children in the care of the Bills’s.

While waiting at the hospital, Sarah asked us at one point if she was going to get better. With tears in my eyes, I tried to assure her that she would. After examining her, the doctor confirmed the diagnosis. Sarah had acute lymphocytic leukemia, one that typically peaked in children between the ages of 2 and 4. We were told that this type of cancer was treatable with a fairly good success rate, although the fact that Sarah was older (10) made her recovery less certain. We were also told that even successful treatment was a long and painful process with possibly some very serious side effects.

As we waited for the doctors and nurses to check her over and determine exactly how to proceed, I sat with Therese in a waiting area outside her room and, despite being told that the chances of Sarah’s recovery were fairly good, I began to worry about the future. What if she didn’t recover? What if she never had a chance to grow up, get married, have a family? The sadness I felt at that moment was almost overwhelming.

The chemotherapy treatments began immediately, and fortunately, she went into remission, but that was just the beginning of the ordeal. I don’t remember everything that Sarah had to go through during the 2 1/2 years of treatment, but I do remember countless trips to doctors and hospitals, the chemotherapy treatment, the spinal injections, the loss of her hair, the extreme pain in her legs, the loss of weight and strength that eventually required her to have a feeding tube, the pills that she couldn’t swallow, the liquid medicine that she hated taking, carrying her to and from the van because she was too weak to walk, and lying with her in bed with my arms around her in an attempt to give her a little bit of comfort.

Ironically, and sadly, Doctor Koufus, the physician who was caring for her, and whom she had grown to love, was also diagnosed with cancer (of the liver) and died from it before Sarah was finished with her treatments.

After chemo treatment finally ended, there were still the lingering side effects to deal with. Her hip bones didn’t grow properly resulting in one leg being longer than the other. We were told she’d eventually need a hip replacement. Several years later she had to undergo spinal surgery to repair some degenerated discs which were a direct result of the chemotherapy.

It’s an understatement to say that this experience was an extremely difficult one for Sarah which will affect her for the rest of her life.  The good news, however, is that she did recover. Twenty-two years later, she’s a healthy and strong woman. The cancer has not returned. She’s gotten married and has been able to have children. The experience has shaped who she is. It’s made her a stronger and more compassionate woman. I’m very proud to be her father.

 

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