Today Ana had a follow-up visit with Dr. Hochberg, the wonderful oncologist who has been with us since the first awful moments of this entire awful journey . Dr. Hochberg is a HUGE reason we fought tooth and nail to try to keep Ana at Westchester Medical Center for her transplant. We were also impressed with Dr. Wu (he’s the transplant surgeon at Westchester).
There was one memorable day when Ana was at the infusion center and Dr. Wu came straight from a transplant with the pediatric hepatologist by his side to try and convince us to fight to keep Ana at Westchester. But, as those of you who’ve been reading the blog know very well, we lost the battle to keep Ana there and that brought us into the wonderful care of the geniuses at Columbia.
It’s amazing how things happen sometimes.
The bad news – the news that kept me up many, many nights and drove us to seek four separate opinions as to whether or not her liver could be saved – was that she would lose her liver and be dependent on anti-rejection medication forever. This news was so big, so dark and so all-consuming- that I failed to see past it.
But the good news – the news I couldn’t wrap my brain around before her transplant – is that a successful transplant means she’s cancer free. And today that REALLY hit home.
Today, back in Westchester where it all started, with all four of us sitting in the pediatric oncology waiting room, I saw Dr. Hochberg’s friendly face for the first time since January. I realized that she was my anchor while Ana was stuck at the hospital those 40 long days in August and September. But I also wanted to cry the ENTIRE time we were there.
We saw a cherubic two-year-old girl with almost no hair, sitting quietly and painting a ceramic bunny. We saw another girl, about Ana’s age, curled up in a chair with her head on a pillow. She still had her hair, but it was clearly thinning on top. There was another little boy – about 5 years old – who was happy and energetic. He head no hair at all. We saw parents with tired eyes. They pushed I.V. poles, held blankets and stuffed animals, stared at the floor. And I sat there with my heart aching for all of them, and for Ana, because she’d been one of them, and for Emily because now she knows more about cancer than any 8-year-old should.
I felt inexplicably guilty and powerless. Crushed by the weight of cancer. They were still there. They were still going through it, and even when this experience was over for the children in front of me – hopefully with great outcomes – there would always be more of them.
When I drive past a children’s hospital – any children’s hospital – I know they’re in there – so many of them. If I could redo the last twenty years of my life, I would go back and I’d learn how to be an oncologist. I know how hokey that sounds, but I mean it. I really do. Pediatric oncology is its own kind of heroism.
So Ana looked good. Dr. Hochberg said her stomach felt completely normal – meaning, no fluid. She will need another follow-up visit in a month and she’ll need MRI’s every three months to watch for any recurrence of the tumor. Her first follow-up MRI will likely be in May.
We got home around 2:30 after stopping at the Pallisades Mall (a quick detour on the way home). It ended up being a really good day with the girls. I think that all of us – Emily included – realized just how lucky we were to be out of that pediatric oncology clinic. We stayed together – watching t.v., doing nails, cleaning. The girls played particularly well. Gratitude. Love. Health. Thankfulness. These blessings are what this day ended up becoming for me.