Sunday, December 27, 2009

Blood, pie, and a Calcutta Christmas.

It sure has been busy around here. Not sure why I'm so tired since Santa is the one who did all the hard work...

Thursday was a chemo day for Eve. Natalie was off from preschool, so she joined us on our weekly clinic trip. We left the house at 7:00 a.m. for a 45-minute journey of Natalie saying over and over again, "This is a loooooooooong ride. How many minutes until we get there?"

The ride did feel a bit longer than usual, but then again, we were hauling with us Chatty Cathy, the human egg timer. When it's Christmas Eve and there are no more days left to count down, we have discovered that four-year-olds will switch to minutes. These minutes are measured in millions, thousands, hundreds, and any combination of the three. "Is Santa coming in eight thousand-million-hundred minutes?"

It was nice to have Natalie there with Eve. Having big sis around puts a little more pep in Tiny Tim's step. Entering the Children's Health Center was quite fascinating for Natalie- it certainly made it hard to understand that this was a place where you came when you were sick. It was fabulous! Bright colors, beautiful paintings, toys, toys, and more toys, computers, giant fish tanks, and magic elevators that you can see through. "Is this where you come all the time with Eve, Mommy?" Yes, this is where we come when we take Eve to the doctor. "Why do I have to go to preschool? I want to come here!"

One thing about having cancer on Christmas Eve is that Santa will have already left you some presents at the clinic. Two nurses walked in with gifts for Eve to unwrap and even had a little something for Natalie. "I want to come again next week!!!"

Nat was pretty fascinated with the whole port-access process. ("So that's what they do to your bump!") The nurses let her push in the saline flush and the heparin lock. While we waited for the chemo from the pharmacy, Eve and Nat danced around the room while the doctor talked to us about Eve's blood work.

Her ANC had gotten back up into the 700s, but her hemoglobin dropped to 7.2. Not neutropenic anymore, but in need of a transfusion. He felt comfortable enough waiting until Saturday to do it, since she had an amazing amount of energy. (Thanks, Natalie!) We had arrived early in the event that she would need to be transfused, but apparently the whole cross-matching stuff takes a few hours, plus the 2.5 or so hours to give her the blood. This kind of stuff wasn't on Dark Shadows, so it was all new to me.

Eve isn't getting any hoarser and her gait remains unaffected, so she was given the full dose of Vincristine. Natalie was disappointed she wasn't allowed to administer that, but the nurse did let her help flush and lock the port when she was done. Natalie now wants to be a nurse when she grows up...or an apartment. (What do you think an apartment is, Natalie? "I don't know. Let's ask Daddy when he gets back. That's what I want to be when I'm big.")

9 down, 3 to go.

We arrived home to find a bag of presents from a Secret Santa on our front doorstep. Each family member had a gift and I didn't recognize the handwriting on the tags. Mysterious! But, it must be someone I know, because there were some Taco Bell bucks inside! I can't wait to go emotionally eat over there.

The stress of our situation has been getting to me a little, I'll admit. But what really put me over the edge were the Christmas decorations. I put up most of our decorations knowing that Eve would be stuck in the house all season. It all started one [terribly cold] day when I locked myself out of the house. Insert lots of obscenities and exclamation points here. When I finally got back in, I noticed the middle section of our miniature pre-lit Christmas tree had burned out. I profanely wondered aloud why a 3-foot Christmas tree had three sections of lights anyway when I walked into our living room and saw the big pre-lit tree had its middle section burned out, as well. Now the bad words were just spewing out of my mouth. Within the next 24 hours, the star on top of the tree, the lighted garland on our mantle, and the top section of the mini-tree would also burn out.

Could Jack Bauer even save this Christmas??

I got out the last of the cusswords, shoved handfuls of cookies in my mouth, and got to work. Fortunately, I had a fair collection of old strands of lights from the pre-pre-lit era that I unearthed in the garage. Out of these, three whole strands worked. But kudos to me for plugging them in first before putting them on the trees! I won't make that same mistake more than four or five times, no siree.

So, Christmas was allowed to go on as planned.

I have long given up hope of the kids eating anything we eat at dinner, so for Christmas Eve, my mom and I put on our short-order cook hats and whipped up a bizarre asssortment of the kids' favorite foods--peanut butter and jelly snowman sandwiches (Daniel), deviled eggs (Natalie), and boxed macaroni and cheese (Eve). We really went all out! Don't worry, there were some fruits and vegetables thrown in there to counteract all the sugar, sodium, and cholesterol.

The big people feasted on filets before we all squeezed into the minivan to look at Christmas lights. (Perhaps I should have eaten after the squeezing since I was in between Nat and Dan's booster seats.) There were the people who spent a lot of hours hanging lights from their houses. Then there were the people who threw a strand of lights into their Charlie Brown trees and called it a day. It didn't matter to the kids- they loved it all. And that's the best part about kids.

When we returned, we found the elves had left us new Christmas pajamas on our hearth. That's an exciting time of day in my book, because it signals bath time and bed! Daniel set out the cookies for Santa via the "one for him, one for me" method, while Natalie mixed up some chocolate milk to go with it. The reindeer food was sprinkled on the front lawn, and finally, time for bed.

Well, at least for them, it was. By the looks of it, Santa must have stayed up late wrapping all those gifts and eating all those cookies.

It was a fun Christmas morning for all of us as we went downstairs to see what the big guy had left us. Eve was excited to open her gifts just as much as the other kids. Natalie was convinced that Daniel got more presents than she did, only because she opened them up at record speed. By 8:00 a.m., Eve was dressed as Snow White, Natalie was Princess Tiana, and Daniel was flying around the house as Buzz Lightyear. He would remain in this costume most of the day.

Eve was more tired than usual and not interested in eating much of anything besides candy canes. She came downstairs after a nap and watched Christmas Vacation with us for a bit before she went back to bed. The transfusion was starting to look like a great idea.

After Thanksgiving, Matt and I decided we did not want a traditional Christmas dinner. Thankfully my parents are not picky and eat whatever I put in front of them, so I whipped up what looked like an Indian buffet. I'm not sure if anyone in India actually eats what I prepared, but no one questioned the names I made up as I directed them down the line of food. It was as far from a ham dinner as you can get.

An uneventfully eventful day.

We awoke yesterday morning no worse for the wear from the itis. Back to Duke. This time to the Day-Ho. Instead of a big comfy chair, we got to pick out our very own hospital room. Yesterday was the first day that Eve was a bit fussy for the nurse. She replaced the word "yes" with "no" for everything.

Nurse: Hi, Eve!
Eve: No.
Nurse: Did you have a good Christmas?
Eve: No.
Nurse: Did Santa bring you lots of presents?
Eve: No.
Nurse: Can I see your port?
Eve: NO.
Nurse: Please, can I lift up your shirt and see your port?
Eve: NOOO!

Once I got her shirt up, Eve was fine. But her initial general uncooperativeness made it obvious that she wasn't feeling well. I was more than ready for her to get this transfusion in hopes that she would get a little more energy and start to feel better. The child got a lot of cool things from Santa that she will need to protect from the clutches of her siblings, and there was no way she was going to do that in her state.

So, getting a transfusion was pretty easy. The nurse accessed her port and then hooked her up to a bag of blood. It dripped over a couple of hours while we sat on the bed watching tv. It was, at first, a bit gross to me to have a tube of someone else's blood draped across my legs as it filtered into Eve. But that didn't stop me from eating my chicken salad sandwich. Hey, it was lunch time!

Back home for nap time. I put Eve down and then got Nat up for her Christmas present from us- tickets to The Nutcracker. Nat decided she wanted to go out for pepperoni pizza, so we drove to the Mellow Mushroom in downtown Raleigh. "That mushroom is so funny, Mommy! Mushrooms make people act silly." It was nice to go out with just Natalie and not have to divide my attention. Just me and Natalie...and a small army of Littlest Pet Shop figurines.

I was pleasantly surprised to make it through the entire ballet. No bathroom emergencies. No whining about the show being too long. And for once, I wasn't the mom that everyone was turning around to stare at disapprovingly when their kid was acting up. A Christmas miracle!

After the ballet was over, I let Natalie pick what she wanted to get for dessert. "Pie!" So, off we went in search of pie.

Finding pie the day after Christmas is not as easy as one might expect. A surprising number of restaurants were still closed for the holiday. I started at the IHOP on Hillsborough Street. We were seated and brought menus and asked for our drink order. I cut to the chase and said we were only there for dessert. "Well, let me go check to make sure we have ice cream," the young waiter said. Actually, she wants pie. "Oh, we don't have pie." I'm sorry, I guess we'll try somewhere else. "Oh, let me get my manager and ask her if she knows where you can get some!"

So now, I'm in the middle of a busy IHOP, made to wait in front of a large group of people while the management discusses pie with Natalie. I seriously hate being looked at by people. (Imagine our wedding day. Stop staring at me, people! You're going to make me throw up!) Suddenly IHOP turns into Macy's from Miracle on 34th Street and they are sending me to Gimbles to get the pie that they don't have in stock.

We get back into the van and Nat starts singing a song about pie, which sounds very much like Bob Dylan singing Christmas carols. I missed the exit that I needed to take because someone maybe had not enough Christmas spirit (or maybe too much spirits?) and was forced to take the scenic route to Bob Evans. "Mommy, how many more minutes until I get my pie? Why can't I get strawberry pie? Why doesn't anyone grow strawberries in the winter? Why can't you get to the pie faster?"

All was well when we finally got the slice of pie. I ignored the looks from people who were staring at that woman bringing the four-year-old in for a sugar rush at 9:55 p.m. Hey, at least I'm not that parent bringing their toddler into the Walmart for an 11:30 beer run...yet. Don't push me, people. It's been a long couple of days.


  1. I kept laughing to myself while reading this and my husband asked, "what is so funny?" To which I replied, "she just had a very Wilm's christmas that's all." to which he chuckled and said "been there done that, glad she's still laughing."

    And I owe you another great email, I wrote a really cool one on my blackberry under a blanket in Josh's room while he was going to bed and somehow I saved it instead of sending it. Then I deleted it because I was mad.

    Oh, and our tree (which I didn't want to get or decorate), fell over, fully decorated and watered. I mean seriously, pediatric cancer should give you a golden christmas ticket, no mishaps and glowing wonder and bright. Josh was awesome for christams eve, but pretty much yelled at everyone all day christmas. Cancer sucks.

    We have a week of chemo next, happy friggin New Year.

  2. Your evening with Natalie sounds fun! I want to hear more about the Nutcracker... I might take Avana next year. What a busy few days you have had!! Has Eve been feeling better after the transfusion?

  3. Looking forward to your awesome email, Melissa. Sorry to hear about your tree but, you know, misery loves company, so glad to know I'm not the only one who was having issues!

    Robin- Carolina Ballet is doing Cinderella in February and Sleeping Beauty in May. I might see about going to one of those with Nat! Eve's got a little more energy right now. They wanted to make sure to pump her full of blood before this next round of chemo knocks her back down again.

  4. Glad to hear she has a little more energy now. The nutcracker sounds great! I had wanted to try and go with Gabi but it didn't work out. I'll have to look into maybe Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty......are tickets pricey?

  5. Thank you for the update. Power of suggestion, had to get up and have a deviled egg while reading this. Yes, next year Cinderella. Lively and great costumes.

  6. Fanella- not sure about ticket prices...our seats for Nutcracker were in the $45-50 range, I think. That was Nat's big Xmas present.

    Vicki- do you think Cinderella would be better than Sleeping Beauty? SB is close to Nat's bday so I thought it would be a good bday present.

  7. I think I laughed out loud 3 or 4 times while reading this, your spirit and spunk through all of this continues to amaze me! Glad to hear that your family had a good Christmas and that Eve is feeling a bit better after her transfusion. Also glad that scheduling her chemo over the holidays seems to have worked out, hopefully it wasn't too stressful to get it all figured out!

  8. All I could think while reading this (in between bouts of laughter) was that I really had no clue when I complained about how exhaused I was after the holiday weekend. You have and continue to amaze me every day. You are proof that while a positive attitude doesn't fix everything... it sure makes it a lot more bearable. Our thoughts were with you during the holiday and I am so glad to hear that you had a great time and that the kids enjoyed themselves. I am also glad that Nat loved the play so much and that you were able to fill her up with the dinner and pie she wanted.

    I am also glad to hear that Eve's treatment went ok and that she has a little bit more energy since the transfusion. She is a trooper and she is just as amazing as her Mommy.

    Love you guys!

  9. I'm not sure how you do it!!! you are an amazing mom with such a way with words. Next project...a book! We are glad Eve is feeling a bit better. I'm sure Nat and Daniel keep her quite busy. Take care. We love you guys! The know me-I don't know how to work this so I posted us under anonymous!