Thank you for taking time to follow Meaghan's journey of healing as she battles Medulloblastoma, a form of brain cancer.

Meaghan, our five year old daughter, was diagnosed early November 2009 after an MRI revealed she had a 4 cm solid tumor in her cerebellum. The tumor resection, while successful, resulted in serious complications.

Cancer is a family affair and here I try to chronicle not only Meg's journey, but our whole family's as well.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Dealing with Setbacks

May is brain cancer and brain tumor awareness month. Spurred by the previous week's frustrating public interaction, I thought I'd look around for some pediatric brain cancer awareness apparel. Turns out there's nothing that combines the two. Pediatric cancer awareness is gold, brain cancer is gray, but nothing combining the two. (Not to fret, I'm working on that one.) During my internet searches I came across several foundations established in memory of children who have lost their battle against medulloblastoma. That was difficult reading.

While Ed discourages me from reading too much about these children, I feel drawn to honor their struggle by reading about them and praying for their families. For weeks, I've felt this shift in my life. A shift very similar to when you become a new mother. You feel your lifestyle and interests and preoccupations pulling you away from dear family and friends. Not many people can understand the daily toll of a life threatening illness, nor tarry long with us under the shroud that cloak's our family. Truly, it is a heavy burden to be friends with me right now: I'm a distracted, watchdog of a mother married to a medication schedule and an infusion pump. Our daily living is measured in milliliters of input and output. After months of procrastination, I've finally found familiarity by joining a medullo/PNET support group. The simple act of reaching out to others directly affected by this was a huge relief. My friends are no longer my sole outlet for my frustrations. It feels good to move towards reclaiming my friends for me and not solely as a sounding board for our medical concerns. It's a foothold back into my old life.

Our life together now is a chiaroscuro: an interplay of light and dark. Moments of singular clarity and beauty pierce the struggles: Sitting on the floor, I looked up and watched Meaghan cradle her daddy's face in her hands and sing to him "Right Here Right Now" from High School Musical 3. Or when Meg asked Maddy for a hug after they've squabbled, "because I love you, Maddy." And the other night when Meg, Ethan, me and our two dogs were all piled on Meg's bed, snuggled under blankets watching TV. I want those moments branded into my memory.

Meg and I need those memories when we're sloshing through the rain to get to our audiogram appointment. I need those memories more when the results aren't what we'd hoped. Meaghan is already showing a drop in hearing for very high frequency sounds. The chemo is already eating away at her hearing. The start of hearing loss is a minor setback on our new spectrum of normal. Though it is certainly disappointing as we have nine more months of chemo.

We, as a family, are prayerfully pacing ourselves. We are cautiously making very modest plans for the upcoming summer. Anything less seems disrespectful to all those who have gone before us.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Grateful But Grieving

The morning light is bright and diffuse, the window sheers glow a sherberty purple. It's a truly gorgeous early spring morning. The house is ours again, the morning chaos trampled out the door a few moments ago. I'm enthusiastically plying Meg with various activities: painting, play-doh, coloring, clay, games, babies, a walk. Meg is tired, too tired.

Yet, "Mom, what can I do?" is the endless refrain from a five year old, too fatigued to actually play, but too awake to idly lay around. Through gritted teeth and forced fake smile, I repeat our options. No, she wants someone to come and play - anyone. Everyone is at school, I gently remind her. She's lonely for her peers, as am I. She wants to go to the store. We can't, I remind. We have to wait until after you've pooped, then we can go to the store. Her diarrhea is unpredictable and much too difficult to manage in public.

Slowly, slowly I administer the meds into her G-tube. Twenty, thirty minutes pass. I see it in her face. Sure enough, minutes later, I'm holding the bucket and stroking her back. She collapses back onto her pillows after vomiting. She's so tired. But we're home...

Homebound. Different than "homeward bound." Different than "home." To have a 41 lb child declared homebound by an insurance company means it requires extreme effort to leave the home. Understatement. In the eyes of an insurance company few children are homebound, well, because you can just pick them up and move them. "Homebound" assumes a different nuance. It ceases to be a place of being and becomes a state of being. Caregivers wear this mantle as well. It's a shared identity. The constant endeavor to stay upbeat grinds you down.

We go for walks as the weather allows. The fresh air exhausts her faster than a therapy session. It's good, though. She's quiet when we walk. Taking it all in. Content for a short time. Outings to stores are more difficult, but they are a welcome diversion. This past Sunday we ventured out to Toys R Us. We suited up: wheelchair, mask, feeds, travel pump, back pack filled with pull-ups, wipes, extra clothes - just in case, and the ever-trusty puke pitcher.

It's a typical pre-Easter Sunday at the R Us. A little nutty, plenty of families out and about with their children. What surprised me, however, was the prevalent ignorance. Meg and I left feeling disgusted and dirty. Mothers (more than one) actually pulled their kids away by their shoulders as we wheeled down an aisle. Parents shushed their curious children. It's not the children's curiosity that is inappropriate, it's the adults' fears and lack of social etiquette. Hell, we just wanted to go to a toy store and feel normal! I realize people feel unsure how to handle these situations. A simple smile is all it takes folks! Last Sunday was the end to a really rotten week. Too rotten to itemize. The long and short of it is Meg and I are really struggling.

I'm angry. Crazy, 5 O'Clock News angry! The world has moved on without Meg. I knew this would be the natural course of events, but now she realizes it. And she's hurting. And I'm angry that she's hurting. I'm angry that I'm alone every morning holding the bucket while Meg pukes. I'm angry that I'm alone wiping her sore bottom.

Meg is angry that she cannot walk or toilet or color or write or use scissors or ride her bike like before. Meg is angry that she vomits nearly daily. "How many times am I going to do this, Mom?" She knows normalcy is on the other end of finishing chemo and using the potty. Both of which she has no control.

Gratitude requires an awareness of something lost. We are so grateful to have Meg with us, to have her home. But we are grieving, too. We hear people chatter with excitement about Spring. It's hard for Meg and our family to get excited about Spring. This is our first spring, our first Easter since the diagnosis. Our family is so different. Meg is so different. And watching her grieve her own losses is agonizing.

Meaghan's sixth birthday is fast approaching. Her wishes are simple. Mine are not. I am praying that the Lord will snuff my anger. I look forward to returning to rejoicing in the simple joys of family. In the midst of my anger I am grateful for my husband and my mother, who listen with patience and love as I rage against this most unfair world.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How Dad Feels/For Meaghan

Dads are supposed to be strong. We are not boys, we are grown men. We must be strong, brave, willing to fight, and somehow remain cool among everything.
I am not close with my Dad. Not since I was a boy. There are reasons, but most are out of either of our control. But these are times, where I wish we could be, just to talk. But for now, I’m on my own.

Things don’t happen for a reason.
They happen for many, many reasons that I cannot even pretend to understand.
What I do know is that a 5 year old girl has sacrificed nearly everything in her life to make ‘The Moleski 5’ complete again.The big kids have changed so much in the past 4½ months. A lot of it was their doing, but honestly, we are making them grow up faster than they should. I am amazed at the level of patience that they have shown for their sister.
For me, I certainly don’t care about the things that I used to think were important. I’ve seen the best in people that I never knew existed. Most of all, I’ve learned that there are things/people in life bigger than myself. I know my wife well enough that she feels the same.
If Meaghan calls for me every 5 minutes for a hug, we won’t hesitate. (At least for the first 15 times). Regrettably, I use those instances to get the strength I need to continue. That’s not exactly the most admirable thing to do, I know. It’s a lot to put on a 5 year old. And it’s ironic that most of the time I could not survive any of this without the strength of my little girl.

So let’s be honest. It’s not about being cool anymore. And I’m not the brave one here. None of us are. In fact, we are all cowards, fearful of how this will end and how it will affect us and those around us.
Meaghan is the one who is providing the strength, courage, and power to all of us.

Bear with me
Meaghan, I’ll be strong.
I’ll stand by your side. Always.

Remember how we danced, after everyone left?
You stood on my feet until we were too tired
Even to sleep.

Ask me for anything.
I’ll give everything I have.
Take my hand and I will follow
Wherever you lead. I will never let go.