A Family's Leukemia Diary - Coping

Medical Author: Frederick Hecht, MD, FAAP, FACMG
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

May 13, 2002 -- On February 15 the diagnosis of APL, a type of acute leukemia, was made in our beloved 16-year-old granddaughter Tania. I told about first learning of the diagnosis and then a little of my feelings in Leukemia in the Family and promised then "to let you know how Tania is doing by providing you with updates on her progress. I will try to let you know, too, how we (and perhaps others in the family) are coping with Tania's illness."

In partial fulfillment of this promise to keep you current on the situation, I provided what might be considered a prologue to this Doctor's View, It was called Coping with a Bad Disease - Community Counts. I incorporated words written by son Rick Hecht (Tania's dad). He has had to cope, as do all parents of children with cancer, on a daily basis with it.

Now I wish to give you a further look at the situation as it is evolving. I will again quote amply from Rick. This time the words come from a "Tania Update" letter I received yesterday from him. I hope that you may find this of interest.

Rick's letter

Last week I suggested that we should try to figure out a way to celebrate the end of Tania's intravenous chemotherapy and the beginning of her recovery from the nadir (rock bottom) period of low cell counts. My suggestion of a family dinner at a restaurant was quickly dismissed. When Tania thought of what she wanted to do to celebrate, the plan was quite different. Two months ago she was told that not only would it be unlikely she could work this summer at the wilderness camp where she has been a counselor, but she might be too sick to go up to camp at all. She was heartbroken about this. Camp is one of the things she lives for. Now that she was recovering ahead of schedule, she wanted to go to the Sierras to see the camp and the mountains she loves. Tania proposed that I should drive up with her that night. The voice of reason (otherwise known as her stodgy parents) persuaded her to wait till the morning so we could pack and sleep.

But early the next morning, I was driving east, my plans to catch up with work and e-mail abandonned, Tania at my side. By mid-morning we were at the camp Tania has been going to for 6 years. It is a very special place for her. Seeing her up there was more than worth my guilt at leaving a mounting toll of unread e-mail messages abandoned to further neglect.

The day was clear. The snow line was not far off in the surrounding mountains. After spending the morning touring the camp, we headed off for a short backpack trip. The first road we tried to drive up, Sonora Pass, was blocked by snow. We then headed up another road, our fallback plan. The road further up the pass was still closed, though heavy snow removal machinery was at the side of the road. From there, we hiked up the Stanislaus River about a mile. The route took us past lush meadows with unusual terrain for the Sierras: flat. In the distance, the high Sierras, still cloaked in winter snow, rose above the open meadows. We camped overnight near the river swollen by snow melt.

This was a short backpack trip but an amazing feat for Tania, who was bed bound only weeks before and just days ago was getting intensive chemotherapy. She felt sore, as if she had hiked many miles, but she made it.

The next day we hiked out and ...found a small note on the office door announcing that the road up Sonora Pass was opening today. Our plan for the rest of the morning was set - to go to Sonora Pass, at 9,600 feet, the second highest road in California. Today it was gleaming with snow that stretched for miles north and south along the Sierra crest. We drove back Friday in time for Tania to meet her math tutor at 4:30, and in time for me to make futile attempts to take care of my email. We are both eager to return to the Sierras soon.

Closing Comments

While Rick went with Tania up into the Sierras, his wife Anne Lown stayed down in the East Bay with Rachel, Tania's kid sister. (Anne also has a PhD in Public Health and works full-time doing research on such matters as alcohol abuse.) Yesterday I sent Anne an e-mail note. It read in part:

Since it is Mother's Day weekend, this may be a fitting time to tell you that we are happy that you are doing a great job as a mother to Tania and Rachel. They are lucky to have you as their mom. When the chips are down, you learn what people are made of. And we have seen that you and Rick have come through as fine parents. Although Tania has needed a lot of attention, you haven't lost sight of Rachel or each other. We are proud of you.


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