It was Sunday, January 2nd, 2011 when our lives were turned upside down. Our 6-month-old son, Pierce, had not been well for over a week. His pediatrician explained all of his blood levels were dangerously low. Without hesitation they sent us an hour and a half north to Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock (CHaD) in Lebanon NH.
It was the longest, quietest, ride of my life. His father and I drove in silence and I still remember counting down the exits on route 89 to Lebanon.
Pierce was admitted upon arrival and a blood transfusion was started immediately. Focusing on the positive is something I had become accustomed to doing, so that’s exactly what I did. Awaiting the results, I made a decision to focus on the best-case scenario which helped me get through the long, painful minutes awaiting Pierce's test results.
Unfortunately, the next day we got the diagnosis of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). This was not at all what we were praying for!
The next few days were an overwhelming whirlwind. I had to keep my head up and stay to remain as positive as possible. Having been someone who can spiral out and into a depression I had to get on top of my mental health, quickly. I had to be healthy and able to advocate for and take care of my sick child.
When tragedy strikes, life still goes on. This is easy to say but so much harder to accept when it’s your tragedy-and your life.
I had my baby facing a tough road ahead, my oldest, though with family, was without me. And somehow carrying all of that stress, I still had to remember to rest, shower and comb my hair. It was seemingly impossible at the time, and for the next two years through this ordeal.
Pierce spent the first three months at the hospital while I stayed at David’s House. David’s House provides a home-away-from-home and support for families with children receiving treatment through the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Lebanon, NH.
The staff at the Hospital and at David’s House were absolutely wonderful often encouraging me to rest and care for myself. They know the strength it takes for a parent to get through and stay strong through this and I was blessed for their support and encouragement.
Many things pulled me through and kept me from falling into a deep depression. My faith in God, the support of my friends and family, and being self-aware all prevented me from spiraling out of control.
I was also sent an angel! A woman I grew up with, but didn’t know well, worked at the hospital. She saw my post on Facebook about Pierce and she reached out to me. The following day she showed up at Pierce’s room with snacks, magazines and a friendly face. She continued to check in on us regularly and our friendship grew. Having a person to lean on and, talk to about non-cancer things was very helpful. She also helped me to get out and about. She brought me to a jewelry making class that was being put on after hours in the hospital.
Jewelry making became a priceless activity for me. I spent my days in a hospital room where my thoughts and the “what ifs” could've taken me over. Making jewelry was a healthy distraction. It also allowed me to give back. I was able to make items for the nurses and other moms who had children on the floor. Being creative then sharing what I made with who empathized encouraged me to remain positive and connect with others.
I learned the hospital had services for cancer patients and caregivers. On several occasions I took advantage of this service. I had to take time to care for myself. There were dark days for sure when I shut out the rest of the world and just cried. On those days I turned on my music, prayed, and took time for myself to mourn.
Now, I was not perfect, I didn’t only have healthy ways of dealing with what we were going through. David’s House was a great retreat for me, I could go there, chat with some other adults, watch some TV, take a shower, have dinner, and get some sleep. Yet, there were also lots of sweets available, all of the time. Food has always been a coping mechanism for me. This was no exception! All of those sweets and lack of exercise, I packed on the pounds.
When we did finally get to go home my anxiety was through the roof and my stress levels were extreme. By remaining self-aware, I recognized I was struggling. I went to see a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner who was able to help me determine the right medication for me and my situation. I had to be there for my children; just physically but my mentally and spiritually as well.
Depression isn't something that was new to me. I had dealt with it since I was a teenager, maybe even younger. Over the years I had several spirals into depression and required medication in support of my recovery.
Medication, counseling, and healthy habits are all ways I have dealt with my depression in the past. This past year with the pandemic and all that came along with it, I saw myself heading back down the path. I contacted my provider right away and decided to add medication in to support my mental health in getting through another tough time.
Though I feel better with each passing year, I still have to pay attention to my triggers to avoid a slip back into depression and anxiety.
Pierce and I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD) following the ordeal. He is now on medication for anxiety and has a counselor. He doesn’t consciously remember his treatment, but it is deeply embedded in his brain. He does know that he had cancer and will have follow up appointments for the rest of his life. But we deal with it, just like we dealt with it before. We have learned when we are faced with stress in our lives it is vital for us to be aware of what is supporting and what is hindering and seeking the help we need. We need to be self-aware asking for help and accepting it when offered.
It was a long, terrible ordeal but we made it! Pierce is turning 11 years old this June and continues to be in remission!
It is brave to get the help we need; physically and mentally. Whether it be therapy, taking medication or jewelry making, do what works best for you with bravery and courage. Utilize your support system and do all you can to be self-aware.
I learned through times of struggle we can triumph over tragedy but often we just can’t go it alone. My hope is by sharing Pierce’s story, and mine, you will be reminded how important self-care is when faced with tough situations. Seek the help you need and always treat yourself with compassion and grace. God Bless.