This is the fifteenth of thirty-one installments of Donna’s Cancer Story, which will appear daily in serial format through the month of September to recognize Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Each post will cover one month of Donna’s thirty-one months of treatment.
Life after cancer, though tenuous, was developing a rhythm. We saw our home health nurse one day a week. We went to clinic once a month for a check-up and quick push of an IV anti-pneumonia drug. Donna was feeling great and as Donna went, so did we.
We asked our doc about airplane travel to visit Grandma and Papa in Massachusetts. We got the thumbs up and booked the trip. This was a big deal. Travel had not been in the cards since diagnosis and this was fifteen months later. The last trip we had taken was to see the grandparents at Christmas 2006. That trip was wonderful aside from the nightmare I had where Donna died falling down an elevator shaft. Sigh.
I remember that dream so vividly. I watched as Donna ran ahead to the elevator bank to press the buttons, furiously, like any toddler does. Then the doors opened and Donna quickly stepped in, but the car wasn’t there — it was just the empty shaft and as Donna fell I saw the fear in her eyes. I screamed and ran to call 911 and woke up before anything else happened. I remember the panic I felt when I awoke, the helplessness, the guilt.
That was the same trip where Donna, so sweet and empathic, even at seventeen months, apologized to each of the cows at the farm we went to visit, “Sorry, bull. Sorry, bull.” She was sad she had no food to give them.
Cancer robs you of many things and one of those is the ability to plan. When your child is in the midst of treatment, you can’t plan for anything. You can’t plan a month away, a week away, sometimes plans made a day in advance are easily thwarted. That’s why this trip was so significant. It was an embrace of our lives after cancer. It was us choosing hope. It was freedom.
Ha! Freedom from cancer. Don’t tempt the fates, less they show you who’s boss. We touched down, found the grandparents, and settled into the ride to their home. We were happy; all was well. “Did you get the popsicles, Papa?,” we asked.
Donna took sodium bicarbonate supplements twice daily because of her kidney tubules not working properly. Sodium bicarbonate is basically baking soda and while they came in tablets, Donna was two and could not swallow pills yet. We had to crush the tablets into a strong, salty powder. The docs originally suggested mixing the powder with Coca Cola. I loved that one as I am addicted to the stuff. But no, Donna didn’t like it. Applesauce? No. Milk? No. Walgreen’s brand popsicles? Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner.
For completely mysterious reasons, Donna could tolerate the salty supplements mixed in a half of a red Walgreen’s popsicle. So we bought a lot of Walgreen’s popsicles. The purple and orange stuck around for a while, but eventually were tossed. Red was what Donna wanted and red was what she would have. In Chicago, this was not so much a problem, except when the damn things went on sale. Even in February we had trouble finding them when they went on sale. We learned to stock up. We called it her “slushy treat.”
So did Papa get the popsicles? Yes, he said. No, Donna said. We tried a slushy treat when we arrived and Donna knew, just by the color it was not the real deal. She spit it out. This is not good. If Donna did not get this supplement that her body relied on, she could dehydrate. Dehydration is not pretty. No, it would not do. We decided to drive to the Walgreen’s several towns over, passing three or four CVS along the way. Grrr. We got there and were crushed to learn they were sold out. No, it would not do. We asked them to call another Walgreen’s, several other towns over. Yes, they said, they had two boxes in stock. They would hold them for us.
Another thirty minutes later we pulled up somewhere in Connecticut. Yep, folks, we had traveled out of state to get Walgreen’s brand red popsicles. I anxiously approached the freezer, but didn’t see any popsicles. Panic again. Furiously look for worker, who retreats back into the freezer and returns with the holy grail: two boxes of Walgreen’s popsicles. Cue the angels singing. I hugged the kid and tried to explain their significance, but I was simply an old lady with a story he did not want to hear. “$7.38, please.”
What really sucked was when you got your box of Walgreen’s popsicles and there were six purple, four orange and two red.
The trip was a homecoming for us. I joked that Grandma got to care for us in the comfort of her own home, no need to fly half way across the country to wash our dishes and do our laundry. We’ll come to you! We had tremendous family support during Donna’s treatment and are forever grateful for what our friends and family did to keep us going. Like drive to Connecticut to find the right red popsicles.
One day there was a party to celebrate our arrival and Donna’s health. So many friends, some we had only known through their caringbridge guestbook entries, came to meet Donna and give us hugs. Mary Tyler Dad said a few words and then I did. I spoke about how we, each of us, has no idea what is in store. That it was the same for Donna — no one knew what would happen, but that right now she was good and that was what we wanted to celebrate. It was lovely.
When we got home, I went back to work. Three days a week, just a few minutes from home. It was not the place I had worked before, but I had a teriffic boss who knew me from my former position. You know it’s going to be a good interview when you walk into your prospective boss’ office and see a photo of your kid on their desk. Yeah, you got this, I told myself. And I did.
Crossing that employment threshold was hard, but we were ready. Donna’s medical needs were managed now before and after work hours and she could return to her loving sitters, an older couple who showered Miss Donna with love and hot dogs. Clinic and hospital visits were scheduled for my days at home. We were ready to make it work for me to work again.