Upon our return from Maine last year, some pretty big things were on the horizon. First up, Atia was due her monthly chemo injection. Yes, our timing was impeccable, and no, it was no coincidence. We had gone to great lengths planning the trip around her treatment schedule. It was the only way we were able to swing it.
By that time, Atia'd been taking chemo for almost a year and a half (1 year, 4 months to be exact, but who's counting?), and we had it down to a science. We knew which week was her best each month.
Vacation, though glorious as it was, and it truly was, didn't provide a respite from Atia's daily, oral chemotherapy pills and ancillary medications, or their painful side effects. On the second to last day in Maine, she was struck with raging poopy cramps that took her down.
She spent most of the day resting on the couch – flush, uncomfortable and restless. The culprit? Constipation.
The constipation resulted in stabbing abdominal pains so fierce she screeched in pain. During these attacks, her preferred position was down on all fours. She rocked back and forth feverishly and panted loudly. The movement seemed to help. It was her way of self-soothing. As I've said before, I liken these episodes to that of natural childbirth. It was awful to watch - even more agonizing to experience, I'm sure - and it ripped our hearts out every time she went through it.
Constipation and poopy cramps were Atia’s arch nemesis and ours too. It is truly one of the most evil side effects of cancer treatment. When she became inflicted, there was no comforting her. The best we could do was lovingly rub her back, as she commanded, and keep her company. I sang a lot during those times. Soothing, rhythmic songs. It only stopped once she passed the rock hard stool, and most of the time there was blood involved with that.
I loathe poopy cramps.
Back in Chicago at the hospital, Atia took her port injection like a champ, no tears. She strategically selected her toy from the Treasure Chest, sucked down a blue popsicle and bid adieu to Dr. Rubin and the nurses.
We never knew how the 5 days following a major chemo dose would pan out. Steroids, a mood altering drug taken twice a day for five days, had a tendency to disrupt the delicate balance. So we held our breath and crossed our fingers hoping its side effects would lie dormant. Our superstitious behavior seemed to work because it turned out to be a fairly even-keeled week.
Because we’re crazy and had gotten used to living our lives oscillating somewhere between red, orange and yellow threat levels, we decided to shake things up with some potty training. Atia was nearly 3 years old, she’d given us clues that she was ready and we (more me than Steve) felt self-conscious about that fact that she was still in diapers when all of her friends seemed to be in undies.
I know. I know. If ever there was a reason not to care about potty training, having a child battling cancer was it, but Atia falling behind in her milestones was a tough pill to swallow. We'd waited long enough. It was time.
And that weekend we had an ace in the hole - Thomas the Train was pulling into town and Atia loved Thomas! So, we did what any good parents would do - we bribed her! She was told that if she worked really hard, kept trying and didn't give up then we'd take her to see Thomas. She’s a smart cookie and knew we meant business. She did everything she could to ensure her visit to see the “very useful” big blue tank engine.
She took to big girl panties and did very well on the big girl potty. She had almost no accidents. We were thrilled for two reasons (1) she was well on her way to being fully potty trained and (2) we had played our cards right! Mommy and Daddy 1 pt, Baby Diapers zero! Felt good. Felt really good!
From the moment she laid eyes on him, she was overjoyed. She enthusiastically waved and shouted “Hi, Thomas!” She about fell over when we told her we’d actually be riding in him. I’ll never get over how incredible it is to feel your child's happiness. Her joy was our joy. I mean, let’s face it, neither Steve nor I is really into trains, but you couldn’t prove it that day. It was as if we lived for them!
As with anything, too much of a good thing resulted in major exhaustion and a supersonic meltdown, so after a few hours we’d had our fill and left, but not without a super cool train whistle.