On October 26th, 2010, at 9 weeks old, Phoebe Rose was diagnosed with high risk MLL + Infantile Leukemia. A not well understood, difficult to treat and cure, Leukemia. This is her story of hope and love in the face of cancer and despair. It is best read from the beginning. Thank-you for visiting.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015



Phoebe's bone marrow results are the same. The level of disease is very high, filling up most of the space in her bone marrow. Her chimerism is now just 7% donor cells, but miraculously, there are no signs of leukemia in her blood, so I guess although things are bad, they are not any worse. 

It is still just hard to believe. It is hard to believe that Phoebe is so sick and that we have tried every medicine available to treat leukemia and yet this relentless monster just won't stop. We have been running, desperate for anything that offered hope, for almost five years - and now here we are at a bit of a standstill because, right now, there is nothing left to try. 

We are taking things one day at a time and apart from the addition of one new/old drug that will hopefully help reduce the leukemia burden, we are not making any changes. We are continuing to treat the fungal infection with my weekly granulocyte infusions (Phoebe is not making her own cells) and we are doing what we can to keep the leukemia from raging out of control. So far, it appears to be isolated to Phoebe's bone marrow and we hope to never see it spill to her blood. Even if we wanted to, we are not able to give Phoebe intense chemo due to the infection and the fact that her little body needs rest. It would make her sick and so this break is a blessing in disguise as these weeks and now months without intense chemo have allowed Phoebe to heal and thrive. We will recheck the bone marrow in two weeks and although we are always hopeful - Phoebe and Mae help us believe that anything is possible - we are also terribly worried and broken. We are desperate for some good news. 

Phoebe, on the other hand, is "fine". She doesn't know that she is so sick and if you ask her, she will say that her spots are healing, that she can jump high and ride her bike, that she can do everything without any help, and that when her hair grows back (she currently has a beautiful dusting of blond fuzz) she wants a braid just like Mae. She often sings at the very top of her voice to her favourite songs even if she doesn't know the words, and she is a joy. She really has come so far. 

We try to shelter Phoebe and Mae from the stress and worry that we feel each day, but they are both incredibly smart and they often surprise us with their insight and maturity. Mae is very sensitive and kind and she knows and has seen too much. She shares our worries - having a sister with cancer is a weight that no 6 year old should ever have to bear and I wish I could somehow protect her from all of this. In many ways, it is Phoebe who protects her as she asks her to play, makes her laugh, and some of the worries melt away. Phoebe regularly "helps" the nurses with her central line care and blood work - making sure to tell them how she likes things just so. Today she noticed that her nose was bleeding and immediately said - "it looks like I'll need platelets today". Some four year olds are learning letters and numbers, Phoebe knows this and has moved on to the blood system. 

We are holding on to hope and we are grateful for the many, many good days that we have. The light that Mae and Phoebe bring to our days is a beautiful thing and it truly keeps us afloat. 


We are also grateful for the support and love that we continue to receive from Ottawa. A big and special thank-you to John Gomes and those involved in the Fifty-seven Ride - they are riding their bikes from Ottawa to Toronto, raising awareness for childhood cancers all in honour and support of Phoebe. We are amazed, thankful and blessed. 

There is a fundraising BBQ and kick off party with live music, games, and prizes  this Sunday from 10am to 2pm at Stanley Park in New Edinburgh. All proceeds go to the 57 Ride for Phoebe Rose. For more information about this and the 57Ride, please visit : www.57ride.ca 


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Results

Phoebe appears to be feeling great. Her doctors and nurses comment on how far she has come, how happy she is, how great she looks. She is gaining weight, eating more by mouth, the fungal lesions are still improving, she has more energy, and each day seems to bring progress. 

I wish so much that Phoebe's test results matched her beautiful and healthy spirit, but they don't. 

Phoebe's bone marrow results are confusing. The MRD test found just 4% leukemia cells. This is more than the .08% from three weeks ago, but still low and manageable. We heard this result first and thought - we can handle 4% - we are still okay. Results of the chimerism test came next and reported 90% Phoebe cells and just 10% donor cells. All of Phoebe's cells express the MLL gene and are cancerous, so this is not good, but it is also hard to be believe considering the other result and Phoebe. These results just don't match Phoebe and I keep expecting someone to call and tell us that they made a mistake. On Friday, when Phoebe's doctor called with the chimerism results she expressed concern that the leukemia would soon break into Phoebe's blood stream - making things harder to control. There are no signs of this, rather Phoebe's labs today show low but stable counts and even some improvement. Phoebe herself appears to be "well" and asymptomatic, but we still worry. We worry all the time and now we worry even more. 

We are dealing with two very aggressive and life threatening diseases. The fungal infection and refractory infant leukemia - both have very limited, if any, effective treatment options and both take far more than are cured. Phoebe is here because she has overcome incredible odds. For the fungal infection, we are continuing with the weekly granulocytes and antifungal drugs and hoping that this is enough. Phoebe needs her own cells to recover but if she really does have only 10% donor cells, I don't know if this is possible. As for leukemia - we have tried almost everything we can try. There is one drug that Phoebe hasn't received and it is low dose and well tolerated, so we are going for it. It is used in the maintenance cycle of leukemia treatment and we are hoping that it can calm the storm and keep things under control. The transplant trial is still on hold and not an option right now, but we will never give up hope that one day, we will get there. 

We will continue to support Phoebe's healing with a good and healthy diet and all the love and hope in the world and we believe that this makes a difference, but the key to all of this is Phoebe. Phoebe is here and more than this, she appears to be thriving in the face of leukemia and this terrible infection. This is what keeps us from completely breaking down and gives us the strength we need to face this day after day. 

We are rechecking Phoebe's bone marrow in a week and a half and hopefully these results will bring clarity and good news. In the meantime, we will continue to take each day as it comes, always hopeful and grateful that the good days far outnumber the bad. 

Go Phoebe go. 









Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Progress

We are still here. Phoebe has had some very good days. Great days in fact. She has started walking, riding her bike, and playing with Mae. The way they interact reminds me of how they played before all of this happened - before the stroke and the seizures, the fungal infections and brain lesions. It is a beautiful sight. Phoebe will say; "Mae, will you play with me?" and Mae's face will light up with a big "yes!". And then they will get right to it. I think Mae needs this as much as Phoebe and it does my heart good to see them together and happy. 

Yesterday, Phoebe had a CT scan of her lungs and thankfully things look good. The fungal lesions that we have been watching since October are smaller and overall, her lungs look better. We are making progress. 

This progress is a result of a lot of time spent at the hospital and endless dedication by staff throughout St.Jude. Phoebe is a busy girl and we are so thankful for the army of people who take care of her. Sometimes it seems that every department of the hospital plays a role in helping Phoebe get well. From oncology to transplant, the blood donor centre, the blood bank, pathology, radiology, child life, infectious disease, wound care, occupational therapy, quality of life, music therapy, psychology, nutrition, neurology, nursing, and the food services staff who have gone grocery shopping so Phoebe has her favourites when we are in patient - this hospital is a beautiful place and we are so grateful for the care Phoebe receives and the people who care for her and about her while also looking after sweet Mae and our whole family. 

We are at the hospital every day, sometimes two or three times a day if the day includes labs and doctors visits in addition to the daily two hour infusion of anti-fungal medicine. This medicine can cause a drop in potassium, so each morning we arrive to check Phoebe's potassium and then return hours later for the medicine. We try to time this around meal times and quality time so that it doesn't feel like we are always at the hospital. The days that include infusions of granulocytes are especially busy and include an overnight stay at the hospital. The granulocytes need to be given 12 hours after the antifungal medicine, so on these days, Jon brings Phoebe in to the medicine room at 4 am and I arrive at the hospital at 8:30am to donate granulocytes. The donation process takes about two and a half hours and the granulocytes are started once we are admitted to the in patient unit in the early evening. It's busy. Right now we are giving granulocytes once a week on Fridays and I'm hoping that I can continue to donate these cells to Phoebe although my hemoglobin has been slowly and steadily dropping. Phoebe is still neutropenic and she needs granulocytes to fight the infection, so in case I am unable to give, the hospital is testing a few family members to see if they are an HLA match to Phoebe, so they may be able to give too. Another reason St.Jude is great.

The plan for now is to continue with the granulocytes and the anti-fungal medicines that Phoebe is receiving and hope and pray that this progress continues and brings Phoebe to a point where curative leukemia therapy is possible. Next week brings an MRI of Phoebe's brain and a bone marrow aspirate. Phoebe is still neutropenic, but she is needing fewer transfusions and has some signs of count recovery, so we are anxious to see what is going on in her bone marrow. We need good news of healthy recovering cells and no leukemia as to effectively fight this fungal infection and heal long term, Phoebe needs her own immune system to recover. 

Phoebe has already greatly surpassed expectations and overcome so many odds - so much so that her doctors have started to refer to her as a miracle. If the shoe fits ... 

Go Phoebe go ... 

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." Albert Einstein 





Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The makings of a miracle ...

We are back at the Target House, returning to St.Jude daily for labs and an antifungal medicine that can only be given in the hospital. We are busy - caring for Phoebe is a full-time job, but we get to sleep in our own beds at night. It's the little things. 

Against all odds, Phoebe has been doing well. She is getting stronger, and although she has a long way to go, things are improving. She is still weak, but she surprised us by riding her bike the first day we were home, and today she walked for the first time in three weeks. The fungal lesions are very slowly healing. It is a painful and slow process but we are starting to see some improvements.

Phoebe's bone marrow results show a very low level of disease (less than 1%) and an improved chimerism. I like to think the leukemia is "stable" and we are relieved that the clinical trial was successful. There are some signs of count recovery - Phoebe is maintaining a very low ANC and needing fewer platelet and blood transfusions. She will receive another unit of my granulocytes on Friday and after that ... decisions and plans are made one day at a time. 

We are hanging on, grateful for progress and hopeful for continued miracles. 

And now from Phoebe's Daddy who can tell it like it is far better than I can ... 

"I couldn't hold back the tears today. 3 weeks ago Phoebe was diagnosed with a very serious systemic fungal infection. Fusarium fungemia. If you google it you'll find that in someone like Phoebe who has no immune system there is a 100% death rate. The first thing the doctors did was to call in the quality of life team to ask us our expectations of the hospital when Phoebe's life was to come to an end. Instead, we fought for treatment using Jenny's white cells and 4 anti fungal antibiotics to build a bridge so Phoebe could gain some time for her own immune system to have a chance to return as we get further out from the last experimental trial which she responded well to. We fought for life. Today I cried. I cried because the bridge we built is holding. Phoebe's blood work today shows her immune system is in recovery and with it we will defeat this horrendous fungus. I absolutely love how Phoebe continues to put doctors on the side of hope. I believe".





Sunday, May 10, 2015

Go Phoebe go

Phoebe is out of the ICU. It was a short stay - just twelve hours until we were back on the regular floor. In typical Phoebe style, she had a room full of very worried doctors, but she appeared to improve without any intervention as soon as we entered the ICU. In fact, as we wheeled her in her bed through the halls towards the ICU she perked up and pointed out the murals and pictures on the walls. It was and is very serious, but in that moment, it seemed that Phoebe just wanted to take a ride outside of her little room. 

We are now back on the regular ward and things are slowly improving. We are cautiously optimistic. Terrified but always hopeful. Phoebe is fighting and so we are too. 

Here is what we know ...

What we once called a rash is fungal
lesions that cover Phoebe's face, legs and arms. Most have turned black and are angry and painful. It is as awful as it sounds, but they are not as painful as they once were and there are no new lesions which is a good sign. They do have a lot of healing to do and they make Phoebe sad. When we ask her if she is feeling better, she says "no, because these spots are just not going away". 

The granulocytes are helping to temporarily boost Phoebe's immune system which together with the many medicines she receives is helping to clear the infection, but she still has very few signs of count recovery. We need count recovery and in the absence of this, Phoebe will probably continue to receive granulocytes. The plan is very much one day at a time. 

The infection/inflammation marker in Phoebe's blood is coming down and took another big jump in the right direction today. 

The CT scan of Phoebe's lungs shows the same small lesions from the previous infection and some other "gunk". The granulocytes were given right before the scan so things may look worse as they cause inflammation. 

We finally have negative blood cultures. 

Phoebe is still needing blow by oxygen, mostly just when she's sleeping and her breathing has improved. 

Today, our infectious disease doctor told Phoebe that she was their "most improved patient". Go Phoebe go. 

Today, Phoebe colored a picture and wrote her name for the first time in weeks. 

We love her so much. 

We are following Phoebe's lead and hopeful that she will be able to leave the hospital soon. We are still isolated, so when Phoebe is in patient she spends every day in a little room. It's hard and she usually shuts down and refuses to leave her bed. She is depressed and some time outside of these walls would do a world of good.

Mae is busy making friends and dates to colour with many of the nurses. She is surrounded by love, support and friendship and for that I am so grateful. Phoebe's nurses are beautiful kind souls who recognize her for the unique little person that she is and care for her with incredible patience and understanding while always making time for Mae. 

Thank-you all for continuing to think of Phoebe and our family. Your words and kindness help us through. 












Wednesday, May 6, 2015

ICU

Today Phoebe was transferred to the ICU. She received granulocytes last night and early this morning and although things seemed to go smoothly, by this afternoon, she was breathing very fast. She was struggling to breathe, needing more oxygen and just working too hard. Our room was full of people - nurses, a nurse practitioner, a respiratory therapist, fellows, the attending physician for the leukemia floor, and the ICU attending. Thankfully, Mae was being entertained and kept busy with some wonderful nurses and volunteers. Phoebe had an X-ray and more blood tests to check blood gases both of which looked okay, but within minutes of the ICU attending laying eyes on her, we were on our way to the ICU. 

As I write this, Phoebe is settled in the ICU. She is still on blow by oxygen - mostly because she refused the nasal cannula - and the amount of oxygen is greater. She is still breathing quickly and we are worried. So very worried. 

We are not sure what is causing her breathing difficulties but we are hoping it is "just" the granulocytes going to work on this horrible infection and things will calm down soon. 

Please keep our sweet and feisty Phoebe in your thoughts and prayers. 


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Hospital life ...

It has been a long and busy two days. Some mistakes were made with Phoebe's care and we are exhausted. 

Yesterday morning I went to the blood donor room to give my granulocytes. Phoebe's labs were drawn at 4am and her platelets and hemoglobin were low - her platelets were critically low. Before I left her room just before 9, they had been ordered and all was well.

Jon stayed with Phoebe and Mae and when I got back after noon the blood was just about to start - a blood transfusion in someone Phoebe's size can take up to three hours, but platelets are much faster. The platelets should have been given first. By the time the blood started, Phoebe's nose was bleeding, her poop was dark and tested positive for blood, and she had a huge bruise on her eye lid. Her blood wasn't clotting and so she was bleeding. By 5pm there were still no platelets and even Phoebe started asking where they were. I write asking, but she was actually shouting "I need platelets!! Where are my platelets!!", as she wiped blood from her face. Even at four years old, she knows better. 

The platelets were finally started at 5:30 pm - over 12 hours after they were found to be critically low. Phoebe spiked a fever soon after they were started which was  probably because she wasn't getting the Tylenol that was scheduled every four hours to keep ahead of the fevers (we had three different nurses in one shift yesterday and it was pure chaos). Because of the timing of the fever, it was documented as a transfusion reaction and the platelets had to be stopped. Despite the fact that Phoebe desperately needed them, they were stopped, sent back to the lab, and another unit was sent for. All of this and Phoebe still needed the granulocytes - and they expire. 

The first unit of granulocytes was started in the late evening and finished in the very early morning with no problems. The next unit was supposed to be given shortly after, so we finally went to sleep - Jon with Phoebe, and Mae and I in the parent room connected to Phoebe's room. 

After very little sleep (beeping pumps, pull up changes, watching and worrying about Phoebe) Jon woke up early this morning and noticed the granulocytes were missing from Phoebe's pump. He quickly went to get the nurse to tell her that they would expire and to ask where they were. Despite his efforts, they didn't arrive in time. I woke up to Jon telling me that I needed to come into Phoebe's room because the second unit of granulocytes had expired. The granulocytes that I spent 3 hours donating for Phoebe - the cells that I am only allowed to give six times in six months. These precious cells that Phoebe isn't making on her own but desperately needs to fight this fungal infection were wasted. 

I can't put into words the sadness and just pure frustration I felt this morning. Everyone was frustrated but no one seemed to know how the mistake was made. After the day we had yesterday - a day filled with too many careless mistakes and chaos, I am not surprised that this bigger mistake was made and that was the consensus at the end of the day - the chaos of yesterday led to mistakes today. 

Phoebe's situation is so fragile and precarious, she just can't afford any mistakes. 

Today, however, is a new day and we are moving forward. As the doctor said this weekend - the good thing is that Phoebe is stable. She is, and she did receive some granulocytes so all is not lost. The inflammation marker in her blood is slightly lower, she is not requiring any oxygen and there were some signs of count recovery, but the latest blood cultures were still positive for fungus so there are also a lot of reasons to worry. The doctors have made some small changes to Phoebe's antifungal medicines and the plan is to continue the granulocytes next week. 

I very rarely "vent" or write about mistakes and frustrations that happen in our day to day hospital life, and I think it's because we are usually just so grateful for the many amazing people who care for Phoebe - they are incredible and we are grateful - we always are - but today after all that has happened I just needed to vent a little. 

We are holding on to hope and grateful for any progress. Last night despite the chaos and stress that Jon and I felt, Phoebe was up and asking to play and watch movies. She even had some snacks. She is still having high fevers and she has a very long way to go, but we are taking things one day at a time and always hopeful.