Part of the challenge of having a child who has had cancer is the after effects. Of course, when you're in the midst of the major challenge of trying to save your child's life, the poisonous drugs the doctors pump into him are welcome. Anything to make that ugly beast go away.
Life after cancer is not something most people really think about. Get rid of the cancer, that's the goal. Although we were warned numerous times about how the doctors weren't really sure what the effects of the chemo would be on Dee, we knew we had no choice but to use the drugs in an effort to kill the tumour. This, along with everything else done to Dee, was in an effort to save his life.
The nature of Dee's cancer (Stage 3 Neuroblastoma) required heavy artillery. In addition to numerous surgeries, there was a medley of chemos injected into his tiny body on a regular basis. One of the numerous and varied chemo cocktails injected into Dee was Doxorubicin, a drug the colour of blood.
Doxo is a nasty drug, and although it often does the job it's meant to do, it's also known to irrevocably damage healthy organs. Which is the point of this post. Doxo can do a real number on the heart, and oftentimes, the damage done doesn't show up for years. Often, these kids experience heart failure when they hit puberty, or a huge growth spurt, because the heart can no longer function well enough to support a growing body.
Dee is now 11 years out from his cancer diagnosis, which we are thankful for every single day. I watch him play hockey, do handstands, finish his homework, and I am in awe of him. Lately, though, he's been really tired, oddly so. And if there's one thing parents of cancer survivors do, it's watch their children with the eyes of a hawk. Any and all symptoms are under extreme scrutiny, and we all go through "The List", ticking things off one by one, in an attempt to convince ourselves that this is nothing but a cold, or a muscle strain.
So, when Dee would come home after school and collapse on the couch, complaining that he was so tired he couldn't move, I took note. Then, he began conditioning for a season of hockey, and his fatigue was even more obvious. He could barely make it through the hour on the ice. He would come off the ice, bent over in two, trying to catch his breath. He could barely walk to the car and, once home, would just go to bed.
In our family, I am the emotional one, the one to fly off the handle at the slightest thing. Mr. Handsome, on the other hand, is like Dr. Spock: logical to a fault. So, when I get worried about something, or notice something out of the ordinary, I oftentimes check in with 'Spock' to ensure I'm not yet again jumping off the deep end unnecessarily.
This time, when Mr. Handsome agreed that Dee's behaviour was strange and worrisome, I knew something could very well be wrong.
So, yesterday, Dee and I headed to the hospital for a cardiac check-up. He was due for one in January (children who have had chemo/radiation are monitored for life for late effect issues such as heart failure), but because of his recent symptoms, the doctors pushed things up to NOW. And let me just take a moment to say, thank god for our health system. It leaves a lot to be desired, yes, but when it comes to our children, they are very well taken care of.
After an echocardiogram and an EKG, we were sent on our way. I was told that if there was anything worrisome, we would be contacted soon. Fortunately, I know the system, and I try to circumvent it whenever possible. So, when the technician said the test was over, I asked her for some numbers, hoping she would actually give them to me instead of tell me I had to wait until I could make an appointment to speak with a doctor. I don't do well waiting when it comes to my kids' health.
I am happy to say Dee's numbers are well within normal range for a healthy heart. We will know more when we see his doctor in a couple of months, but I feel pretty safe to say we can breathe again. And although the echo and EKG are not the only tests conducted to rule out heart failure, I think they're a pretty good indication.
So, although we still don't know why Dee is so tired (we still have to get blood levels done), we are now more certain that maybe he's just out of shape, which would be a blessing, believe it or not.
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