On October 26th, 2010, at 9 weeks old, Phoebe Rose was diagnosed with high risk MLL + Infantile Leukemia. On November 18th 2015 , she took her last breath. This is her story of hope and love in the face of cancer and despair. Phoebe always brought the joy and continues to inspire us to make a difference. It is best read from the beginning. Thank-you for visiting.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Amazing and Cancer Free

The long awaited MRD (minimal residual disease) results are in and they are negative! No cancer cells were found anywhere in Phoebe's body or bone marrow and I am grateful, ecstatic and just so relieved.

Our next round of tests will be done in Memphis in 3 months and Phoebe will be finishing this year of maintenance chemo, sometime in April. I think it will be the beginning of April, but we don't have an exact date yet. This will hopefully mark the end of chemotherapy and cancer treatment for Phoebe forever, but as we are often reminded, we are in uncharted territory.  There is no data to look to for answers and no one who can tell us what may happen next. We believe that Phoebe will be okay, and that is enough for us right now.

Embracing all things hopeful and believing that all will remain right in our little world, I picked up Kindergarten registration forms for Phoebe today.

In other news, the voting for CTV's Amazing People has started. Phoebe is among these incredible and inspiring and simply amazing people and you can vote for her or for her friend, Bryce Jude, whose story is also featured, by clicking this link. I think you can vote everyday. The stories are amazing and well worth watching. We are very proud and honoured that Phoebe's story is among them and looking forward to taking her to her very first "Gala". She has her party dress and fancy shoes all picked out and tries them on at least once a day. Thank-you to CTV for sharing her story.

And thank-you to all of you for continuing to travel this road with us. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Back from Memphis

We are back from a very busy trip to Memphis. This was Phoebe's second annual post transplant check up. It is hard to believe that it has been over two years since Phoebe's second transplant. Two years! In many ways, it feels like yesterday. I am often in complete awe of Phoebe and all that her little body has been through, and this visit was no exception.

On this trip, Phoebe had her regular every three month MRI to look for disease in her belly and pelvis, her bone marrow aspirate and lumbar puncture. In addition to these tests, she had an MRI of her heart and liver, an MRI to look for avascular necrosis, a CT scan to monitor bone density (a common side effect for children who have received steroids for treatment), an x-ray to determine her bone age, she had an eye exam, her hearing was checked, she saw the dentist (who despite my worries, she loved and even drew a picture for and insisted we deliver it the following day), she had her blood tested, her thyroid, kidney and heart function was monitored and lastly, she saw the hospital photographer.

This last visit really got to me. That St.Jude takes the time to photograph their patients each year, to have a real and honest portrayal of how they are doing, not just as numbers on a chart, blood levels and test results, but how they, as little growing, living, smiling children are doing, to capture their personality on that day, their spirit, it just warmed my heart. The photographs are done in a studio by one of the hospital's professional photographers. It took a second try to get Phoebe's photographs, but in them she is smiling big, saying cheese and I am just grateful to the hospital for acknowledging the importance of this moment and for recognizing Phoebe for more than just her cancer. I think it speaks volumes to the type of hospital that St.Jude is and to the fact that they often go out of their way to truly celebrate their patients.

As for our test results ... they are good. They are not all back yet, but what we have so far is good news. Phoebe's MRI shows no evidence of disease, her spinal fluid is clear, and the chimerism of her bone marrow is 100% donor 2 (still all my cells). We are just waiting for the MRD results. This is the most sensitive test and so really important. We have had a perfect chimerism with positive MRD before, so I am anxious to know the results.

In terms of all of the other tests, most are good. Phoebe's hearing and vision is perfect, her heart is functioning well, her kidneys, despite having one that has never fully recovered from the damage done by the mass, appear to be working well. She does seem to be suffering from hypothyroidism which is a common side effect for children who have received total body irradiation (which Phoebe has not), so we will be adding an endocrinologist to our list of doctors. The iron overload on Phoebe's liver is severe and requires treatment before it causes more problems, but treatment can't begin until we are finished with chemotherapy, so we will wait. This was caused by the countless blood and platelet transfusions that Phoebe required during treatment, transplant and after her relapse(s) to survive. To put in perspective, during her first transplant, Phoebe required daily and sometimes twice daily transfusions of blood and platelets to survive the first two months as her body recovered and without the blood she received after her first relapse, which was also every day or every other day for many months, she would not be here today. Her body just wasn't making any healthy cells, or anything except for the Leukemia cells, so without blood donors, she would not have survived. It's as simple as that and we are forever thankful to everyone out in the world who donates blood. Phoebe does now have a huge build up of iron on her liver and how this is typically treated is by phlebotomy -  essentially taking blood from Phoebe to draw the excess iron out of her system.

Had any of these issues occurred in my healthy child before Cancer struck, I would be scared, worried, heart broken. I would probably have cried and wondered what I did to cause this. Today, I am relieved. It is not cancer. My motto these days is anything but cancer, but as these issues start to add up and as we learn more about the devastating effects of these harsh treatments, I worry that this will change. There are many side effects of childhood cancer treatment that are as scary and life threatening, if not more so, than the big C. Right now, however, if these issues are treated they will not threaten Phoebe's life and so we are lucky and grateful and will continue to put one foot in front of the other, thankful to be moving forward and away from cancer.

Please keep Landon's family in your thoughts and prayers as they grieve the loss of their beautiful boy. Landon passed away early Sunday morning after fighting Leukemia for most of his life. We spent some time with Landon while Phoebe was in patient at CHEO and he literally lit up the ward with his energy and beautiful spirit. The joy he brought to everyone around him was contagious. Back then, there was a bright, red shiny tricycle on the ward, which has since gone, but I remember watching Landon race around the ward on this bike. He truly made our days there brighter. Rest in Peace, Landon.

We need a cure.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Phoebe, the Teacher

We are making our way through another 5 day course of steroids and Phoebe is not herself. She is clingy, she wants to eat everything and nothing all at the same time, she is moody and sleepy and we are all counting down the days until she is back to herself. It is especially hard on Mae and there are often a lot of tears during steroid week. This particular round seems to be worse than most and this morning Phoebe had a melt down that was unlike anything I have ever experienced. It was an all out, on the floor, kicking and screaming, refusing to put on clothes, and even throwing away her beloved soother, melt down. Later today, I overheard Mae telling her cousin that it would be "just a few more days before Phoebe is back to normal". Sigh .... 

Phoebe's blood work taken at CHEO last week looked great and we are coming up to our next trip to Memphis. We leave on the 21st for a few days and a lot of tests. We will see Phoebe's transplant doctor, the ophthalmologist, the dentist and Phoebe's heart, lungs, bones, hearing, teeth, eyes, blood, kidneys and liver will be checked in addition to the tests of her bone marrow, blood, spinal fluid and MRI of her belly and pelvis to check for disease. So many tests. Phoebe's days will start at 7am and finish at 5pm. Despite these long days and Phoebe's busy schedule, we have decided that we will all go to Memphis this time. The long days and hospital life is hard on Phoebe so we are trying to make the most of it. We have plans to squeeze in a ride on the Memphis trolley, a visit with the famous Peabody Ducks, and Phoebe has requested barbeque for dinner.  

It is also an important visit, both because it is our second annual post transplant visit where everything is tested and also because we will hopefully hear some news of when this chemotherapy plan that we are currently on will stop. We are coming up to a year post radiation and depending on which doctor we ask, this may also be when we will be ending this year of chemotherapy and steroids. So long to steroids and chemo may be just around the corner. 

So, why all of these tests at St.Jude? It is very common for children who have been treated for cancer to develop complications related to treatment. I read a study published by St.Jude recently that stated that 98% of survivors will develop some form of chronic long term side effects. 98%!  This statistic makes me want to scream. 68% of these side effects will be life threatening or disabling and some, fatal. It appears then that is not a quesiton of if, it is what. What chronic or possibly life threatening side effect will Phoebe be dealt? She has had a lot of aggressive therapy, so the likelihood of something happening is great. The journey, it seems, never ends for these kids. Not surprising though, given that the drugs used to treat childhood cancer are mostly 40 years old and meant for adults. Not at all meant for the developing bodies and minds of children. 

I dream of a day when pharmaceutical companies develop drugs for children just because it is the right thing to do. Drugs that will cure and allow children to grow up happy and healthy. Drugs that won't rob children of childhood due to short term side effects like the rages and mood swings of steroids, drugs that don't cause 98% of survivors a long term health concern. We are making progress, but still have a long way to go. 

We are thankful to be followed by St.Jude and also incredibly grateful for how well Phoebe is doing. I will take the steroids and the melt downs if they mean that she is here. She is growing into quite the hilarious and feisty little lady and she just amazes me. She is brave and fearless. Last week I took her swimming and she insisted on trying without her "puddle jumper" to help her stay afloat. She told me she wanted to "swim by herself" and marched towards the pool, down the steps, little arms and legs pumping and paddling she may have got in one stroke towards me before she dipped under and I caught her. I expected her to want to put her puddle jumper on right away but she shook it off and insisted on trying again and again, and did just that six times before choosing to float with help. When she was all dressed after her swim she proudly exclaimed that she would teach Mae to swim and "not to be scared". Love her. 

Go Phoebe go.