Chloe developed chills and a fever (without any other symptoms) on Sunday, January 11, 2015. The following week she was home from school with continued fever, very swollen lymph nodes, and some other odd symptoms. I took her to the doctor on the forth day, because she had a bizarre lesion on her tongue, which had alerted me. Her pediatrician said it was most likely a nondescript virus, and we would have to wait it out. No problem, I thought. But my formerly very healthy 7 year-old did not improve.
A handful of days passed, and she was still with fever. She had started complaining of stomach pain and nausea, with decreasing appetite and energy. On Monday, January 19th (Martin Luther King Day), I took her to City Market for our weekly grocery shopping, and she could barely stand up. She just wanted to lie down. During the checkout process she claimed that she wanted to throw up, so I started walking her to the bathroom. She staggered behind me, saying that she couldn’t see. I looked back at her, recognized what was going on (as she was staring blankly into space), and instinctively ran toward her to support her as she fainted. She had been a ghostly white that morning; even her lips were void of color.
Her fainting spell prompted another trip to the pediatrician late that afternoon. He started ruling out some differential diagnoses. He took a throat culture, and ordered a blood test for mono, and also a CBC, just to make sure her blood levels were where they should be. Given the fainting, I thought that was a great idea. I asked him point blank: On a scale of 1 to 10, how concerned are you that this could be something serious? Since he didn’t really have an answer, I interpreted that to indicate that whatever this was, it wasn’t serious.
Her blood was drawn at the adjacent lab downstairs just after 6pm. We went home and I posted her photo on Facebook, specifically stating that it “wasn’t anything serious”, but that she could use some positive thoughts and prayers. I fell into bed emotionally exhausted and looking forward to some restful sleep. Craig, who was still awake, burst into the bedroom a minute later, and to my surprise he was talking on the landline. I heard him say, “Okay, so we need to go to the Mercy ER….” into the phone. Then he tells the person, “I’ve got to give you to my wife,” and he drops the phone onto the bed. I pick it up, and discover that it’s the pediatrician on call. Her voice is urgent and she’s saying that the blood test results came back with a direct reflection of leukemia. I listen with shock and horror as she explains this, telling me that Chloe needs to be rushed to the ER right away, and possibly care-flighted to Children’s Hospital Colorado in Denver overnight. The family was instructed to make the 350-mile drive to the hospital first thing in the morning.
Craig rushed Chloe to the ER at 10pm. At 2am they returned home, as she was stable enough to make the drive to Denver with us the following day. Not able to sleep, I packed during the night. I cried myself to sleep, trying not to collapse into a panic under the weight of my fear. I managed to get maybe a couple of hours rest. At 6am, we were up, making plans for care for our pets. The car needed an oil change, so after an 8am stop at the local Grease Monkey, we pointed the car towards Denver.
After a relatively smooth drive, we arrived at Children’s around 3pm. We were instructed to go up to the 7th floor, the oncology floor. And there her healing journey began. As a family who values natural health and the body’s innate healing capacity, we were entering a totally different paradigm for healing. But we quickly came to the understanding and appreciation for the extent and precision with which modern medicine is able to heal people whose bodies will NOT, in fact, heal themselves.
Since then I have been chronicling our journey through and beyond our daughter’s cancer treatment. During her treatment I posted updates on Caring Bridge, and have now moved all of those journal entries over to this site. If you are reading this with worry, please know that Chloe is completely healed, and thriving more than ever. The same can be said for my whole family, even as we continue to put our lives back together. Blessings come in mysterious ways.
We took an empowered approach to her healing, with a knowing that we would all make it through this. We experienced grace, humility, and an immeasurable amount of love. We simultaneously struggled with varying increments of frustration, fear, and grief. Writing throughout the ups and downs of this journey has been incredibly therapeutic for me. As our family continues to recover and integrate back into “normal” life, writing continues to fill me with purpose and contentment, of which the latter doesn’t come easily right now.
Through these experiences, I have come to know that healing is a journey, a state of mind, and not a destination. Healing is ongoing. It’s a choice that we have in each moment, to continue to heal. Chloe shined her light brightly and unwaveringly through this whole process, through almost five months in hospital, four rounds of intense chemotherapy, and despite the effects thereof. She kept her vibrant and cheerful spirit, and she kept us going, even in our darkest and lowest moments. When I felt despair, I could turn towards and rely on my love for her, and she returned that love a thousand times over. Love is what sustained us.
Thank you for reading our story.
Stephanie, Craig, Chloe, and Jordan Harris