Friday, May 13, 2011

The Worst Day Of Our Lives So Far

My mind is in a whirlwind. Consequently, my body is feeling strangely detached. I am going through the motions, almost like I've been on some kind of heavy painkiller for the day. I'm tired of crying, and my head hurts from it.

Today, at 6:00 a.m., I received a phone call from my sister. Everyone who has a telephone knows that phone calls at odd hours can never be good. Unless you're expecting good news, like, "The baby is finally here!" You hear that phone ring, and your stomach lurches up into your esophagus. Your heart starts to pound at three times its normal rate. And I received the worst news via telephone that I've ever had in my life.

My four-year-old niece, M, is in Sick Kids Hospital. She has a mass in her brain.

Oh. God.

I had been talking to my sister N the previous day, and she was telling me about these strange symptoms that M has, that they've recently noticed. Her face was drooping on one side, and she had been talking out of one side of her mouth, almost like a stroke victim. Not only that, but she seemed weak on the left side of her body, unable to squeeze your hand firmly or balance on her left leg. My sis and BIL took her to the family doctor, who diagnosed Bell's Palsy. However, the symptoms didn't all fit. Bell's Palsy ONLY affects the face, and M was having trouble with the entire left side of her body. But the doctor, being stubborn, brushed off the other symptoms because they weren't that pronounced and didn't fit her diagnosis. Heaven forbid a doctor should be wrong! M was referred to a pediatrician, but around here, those are few and far between. You only see a pediatrician if you have a problem that needs monitoring and appointments are hard to get. My sis and BIL didn't get an appointment for M until the middle of June.

So last night my BIL took M to the emerg at Sick Kids. They did a CT scan, and that's when they found the mass in her brain. My sis left my nephew T with my mom and my dad took her down. My brother A was actually with my BIL giving him support.

As of yet, here's what I know. She has had a CT scan. There is a mass that appears to be on the brain stem. The neurologist said he was fairly confident it was cancerous, and that given the location, inoperable. The oncologist apparently talked to my sis and BIL for quite a while and my BIL gave my dad the impression that he seemed more hopeful than the neurologist. It's not 100% sure that it is malignant, but that's not ruled out yet. She will shortly be going for an MRI to determine more, and we won't have those results until this evening.

I am sick to my stomach with this news. I can't eat. I can't think. I can only imagine what my sister is going through.

When R was just three, we had him in Sick Kids. He had been crying with pain in his stomach for a day and a half. We had him at the hospital, and appendicitis was ruled out, and he was given an enema for constipation. Well, I knew my little boy, and he was never constipated, so I knew that wasn't the problem. However, they sent him home and said he'd be fine in a while.

He wasn't. He was crying in pain, waking up from a dead sleep crying. He had no fever, no vomitting, it wasn't a virus. So I took him back to the ER and demanded more tests. I knew there was something wrong with him. After they gave him an x-ray and ultrasound, they saw a mass in his abdomen. The doctors at our hospital had never seen anything like it, they actually had to call Sick Kids to ask about it. At that point, he was taken by ambulance in the middle of the night to Sick Kids.

So I know a little of what my sis is going through. I know that heart-stopping, gut-clenching fear. That switch in your brain that suddenly turns your emotions off and commands you to move on, because this really isn't happening to you.

That night I had to go home. DH went with R to Sick Kids, but we had an 8-month-old waiting for us at home that was still breast-feeding. I had to go home and go to bed not knowing what was happening and what would become of my precious little boy. My DH had it worse. He had to explain, over again to the doctors, the technicians, whoever, what was happening. He had to keep calm a scared and in pain little boy. He had to hold him down while they inserted tubes and needles and a naso-gastric tube that made him puke. And he had to worry alone.

R was taken to surgery the next day. The fantastic staff at Sick Kids removed a mass that had probably been growing there since he was a baby. It was benign. Fairly harmless, and something that just happens. The pain was because it was finally big enough to be putting pressure somewhere. He spent a week in the hospital, because that kind of surgery has to be monitored afterwards very carefully. They even showed us pictures of the operation the staff had taken with a digital camera. His guts were splayed out, on top of his stomach, outside of his body while they worked. It was gross, horrifying and fascinating all at the same time.

Only for a micro-second during the whole ordeal did I let my mind entertain the thought of the C-word. It was too awful to think about. But for that micro-second, I know what I felt. And to think that N is going through that right now is heart-wrenching. She is hearing that word, over and over and over again.

It's hard to imagine the world without M. I don't know how my sis and BIL will get through that, if it happens. And I'm not being negative here, or at least trying not to be, but sometimes I think we have to prepare our brains for the worst case scenario. I googled "brain tumor" a LOT this morning. I googled many variations. I learned that there are many different kinds of brain tumors. I also learned, when I typed in the location "brain stem" as well as "tumor" and "cancer", that the prognosis isn't good. Very low survival rate, very low cure rate. Basically, treatment is only to prolong the person's life, not to save it.

I'm not a religious person. I have no faith in God, Jesus, or otherwise. I have some belief that we are all part of the same entity, the same energy, that we are all connected somehow. I also believe that positive thoughts can help, which is what praying can be for some people. At times like this, since I was brought up a church-goer, my first thought is to turn to prayer. But I don't believe in praying in the traditional sense, it's just a gut reflex. I will however keep the belief that we will all get through this together. I must believe that this isn't as bad as it initially seems to be.

So I am asking you all, however you deal with these sorts of tragedies, to please keep my niece and family in your thoughts. If you pray, please pray. Both of my sisters do still have faith in God, so they will appreciate it. If you believe in sending "good vibes", please do. I do believe that positive thoughts and energy will help, however much we can get.


  1. very frightening. I'll be thinking of you and your family and hope that there is some positive in all of this and that the tumor can be removed. Your poor neice must be scared out of her mind.

  2. Oh, Jenni, please send my thoughts to you and your entire family. Please let me know if I can do anything at all.