As the days gently unfolded into May, there was a semblance of normalcy. We'd become comfortable with our routine and believed that everything was good; as you can imagine, we yearned for the ordinary.
But cancer and its treatment is anything but ordinary. Just as we were decompressing and enjoying our calm existence, we were ruthlessly jolted back into reality with a spinal tap.
The month of May began with Atia undergoing sedation. Again, as a result of Dr. Rubin's skilled hands, the procedure went remarkably well and Atia received all standard chemo injections into her spine and port.
It had been three months since her last spinal tap and we were a bit rusty. Each time we have to prepare ourselves for the possibility of a difficult week wrought with intense side effects. I don't know if this is true for other children battling cancer, but in Atia's case we never quite know how she'll tolerate the one week of increased medication each month. Add in a spinal tap and there's no tellin'...
It didn't take long before we realized it wasn't going to be an easy week. Watching Atia's body react to the poisons was like watching a skyscraper's lights turn off floor by floor from the top down, at night. The building that was once glorious and full of life no longer glows with magnificence; it simply blends into the dark abyss.
Atia became one with the couch. She demanded that I cuddle next to her at all times. She was in severe pain and her mood swung like a monkey moving from tree to tree. She was incredibly high-maintenance.
Trying to balance Atia's needs and Asher's six month old baby needs was nearly impossible. When I'd leave Atia's side to tend to Asher, she became infuriated and threw fits; I couldn't win.
No matter how hard I tried, I felt like I was neglecting one child or the other. I was saved only by Steve or Christina's presence. Those days I was spread so thin, but that paled in comparison to what Atia was enduring...
Vincristine, one of Atia's chemos, caused her severe constipation. She suffered excruciating "poopy cramps." The sounds she made - screaming, crying, panting - while trying to expel the stools was equivalent to that of child birth, as was the pain. She'd get down on all fours and rock back and forth. The stool was often laced with blood, due to tears in the lining caused during excretion.
This has been an ongoing issue throughout her entire treatment. We have tried everything to combat this horrid side effect - over-the-counter laxatives, prescription stool softeners and natural remedies (prunes, flax seed, etc.). Sometimes it works, some times it results in horrible diarrhea and sometimes it doesn't help at all.
Because "poopy cramps" occurred night and day, Atia and I slept together so that I could rub her back and sing to her when it got really bad. She was comforted only by my embrace. One night we were up every hour.
When Atia started complaining that her legs hurt, we panicked. That symptom was what prompted our first ER visit over a year earlier and we started thinking worst case scenario. We contacted the medical staff and they reassured us that it was simply the chemo causing typical muscle and join aches; nothing more sinister.
By the time that week from hell ended, we were all exhausted. But, as kids do, Atia bounced right back as if nothing had happened. Her resilience never ceases to amaze me; it is quite impressive.
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