It was one night in April 2013 when our life did a U-turn; the kind of thing that you only read in papers sometimes.
Elin came next to us in the middle of the night and complained a severe pain in her rib, on the right side. The pain and fever intensified during the next day and by the afternoon it was clear that we had to take her to the emergency room of the Children’s Hospital. Something odd was happening.
Two days and a couple of examinations later, “unit 10” was mentioned for the first time – the most scared unit in the whole hospital. We hoped that we did not hear it right. Again, a couple of days passed and Elin went through more tests. Now, it was said directly: “Cancer”. It was likely that Elin’s right kidney had been invaded by the cancer cells. Wilms’ tumor, or neuroblastoma, in medical terms. After the biopsy, there was no return back and Elin was taken straight to the pediatric oncology unit.
It felt ironic somehow; the unit was familiar for mom because of her work. Now, we were on the other side – at the patient’s room, discussing with the doctor about the future treatment and what Elin would go through. Cytostatics, removal of her kidney, maybe radiation. Loss of hair, nausea, infections, loss of weight and potential long-term damage caused by the cytostatics. On the top of that, there was the life in isolation and diet restrictions. Due to the treatments, Elin’s ability to resist viruses, bacteria and fungal infections would be minimal. This life in isolation was about to affect us all, the whole family. Even the smallest cold or cough would be a huge risk for Elin. We collected ourselves and started the battle.
We closed ourselves into a bubble, including Elin’s big brother whose social life was restricted solely to the school for a year. If, despite all the special preparations, someone of us in the family got a cold, we divided the family into two and lived away from each other for weeks. This isolation and dietary restrictions made it basically impossible to receive the help that our relatives and friends offered. We were battling alone and we literally lived an hour and a treatment at a time.
The beginning was the hardest; the bad news just kept coming. Elin’s tumor was specified as high-risk, and therefore Elin’s treatment plan was revised to be much rougher and longer than was the plan in the beginning. Radiation was added to the plan together with endless amount of cytostatics and blood products. We thought that we would never get through the treatments, and the isolated life and fears were wearing us down.
But the day came and 394 days later, at the appointment that ended the treatment, we received the most awesome news of the world: Elin had endured well through the treatments and there were no traces of disease left. Elin, her doctors and modern medicine had hit the cancer monster on its muzzle. Soon, we could return to the normal everyday and social life.
On fall 2014, Elin was allowed to properly start school and she began the second grade. She studied first grade at home. Every day after that day has felt like a win. That one can be healthy and live normal everyday life. Children go to school and parents go to work. There are very few things that feel like problems anymore. Elin’s battle against the cancer is over but the parents’ struggle continues on the mental level. The fear lives somewhere there in the deep and sometimes we are forced to make quick decisions that do not necessarily translate to others. Every third month is the control check-up. We are not allowed to leave this behind but this is part of our life until Elin is an adult, and even after that. We have to learn to live with the fear of relapse and that everything normal could be taken away from us again. In a second. There also remains the worst of all fears: that she is taken away from us. However, at the moment, we see the future as bright. Elin feels well, her hair is growing and the controls we have gone through thus far have been clean. But we do live a day at a time, and plan for the future only a few months ahead – until the next control check-up…
- Fighter Elin, now 8 years, with her troops big brother (10 years), mom and dad (+Children’s Hospital’s professional staff)