This blog post would have been unfairly difficult to digest before the joyous school start-up earlier this week, so we’ve waited a little longer than usual to update you all. Since then, things have indeed improved, but our sweet Hillary still needs your prayers and positive energy. 

We were expected to have been done with the first stage of her immunosuppressive therapy treatment after eight days, but it is now Day 19, and Hillary and I are still in isolation at CHEO, with another 14 days to go…maybe longer. 

It’s difficult, but not a surprise. My connections with other strong mothers fighting this rare disease alongside their children provided advanced notice of the complications that would inevitably arise. They warned me this journey would be extremely long and arduous — almost impossible. I was ready. 

The past two weeks have been very challenging for Hillary. 

She has endured unimaginably painful headaches, violent screaming steroid rages, CT scans, ultrasounds, a heart echo, daily blood cultures, hourly IV medication infusions, cups full of pills, fevers, night sweats, swelling, and several platelet transfusions. Her blood pressure is all over the place and and her organs are working hard. She was in a morphine sleep for four days straight. She did not look or feel like herself. 

Hillary’s headaches have finally become manageable after three adjustments to her medication doses. But on Hillary’s scheduled discharge date, she developed a staph infection in her blood. When the overnight attending physician woke me in the middle of the night and took me outside to talk about Hillary’s blood culture coming back positive for “gram positive cocci” — that was my darkest night thus far. I thought I was strong up until that point. Not so. 

It’s quite common to develop an infection while your immune system has been essentially wiped out to nothing with this treatment. Some infections are worse than others, and some you can’t come back from. We are just relieved that the blood infection has been identified, and is being treated with the proper antibiotics. The infectious diseases team is involved daily and we strive to attain that coveted negative daily blood culture. It’s coming. 

We are very fortunate to have CHEO’s diligent team of doctors, fellows, and nurses springing into action every single day for Hillary, because every single day brings with it a new challenge. A small fever is treated as an emergency, and every night is sleepless. Hillary’s room is a revolving door. She entertains around 15 different medical specialists each day. 

We need to get a grip on the headaches, the infection, but most importantly, the aplastic anemia. Hard to explain to a normal six year old….. but not Hills. She gets that no matter how much it all sucks, we absolutely have to push through, and take our medicine even when we can’t open our eyes. She is astonishing. I’ve seen Hillary during her strongest fight response…. no filter. She is a hero and an inspiration — there is no doubt about it.

As of yesterday, Hillary has turned a corner and is now singing again. 

You wouldn’t believe how resilient she is. She used the self-regulation exercises she learned in Kindergarten at St. Leonard School to breathe through the pain of her headaches. She is showing teenagers how to swallow pills. Thanks to some new Nike shoes from Baba, she gets up in the morning, and does a dance workout. 

Hillary also started Grade 1 this week with M.F. McHugh Education Centre. Her daily in-room lessons from her teacher, Reg, are….moving, to say the least. I weep in secret each morning as Hillary packs her backpack and waits by the door for Reg. We even get visits from fellow fighter Nancy Kawaja, an educator with McHugh who is overcoming health challenges of her own. I’ve never seen education delivered this way — with pure patience, understanding, compassion, and joy… all from a hospital bed. How fortunate are we.

We would not have made it this far without my parents…Hillary’s Nana and Baba. 

They’ve given up everything. They cook healthy food all day for both myself and Hillary (whatever she craves), do all of our laundry, buy us whatever we need (toys, games, supplies), provide relief for showers, take Alyssa for sleepovers … sometimes they just sit in the parking lot and wait. They are here every single day, and on call all night long. They are truly selfless, and we will forever be grateful. If you see them out and about in Orleans, know that whatever they are doing, they are doing it for Hillary. Give them a pat on the back. 

I’m able to write this because I do envision a successful outcome with this treatment. One that offers complete life-long remission. We can be part of that 70% that does not have to proceed to transplant. I have a band of mothers at my fingertips stepping me through every single moment. 

Erica in Saskatchewan has been through it with her son. It didn’t work, and they went to transplant for full remission. Their only match was a 60 year old woman from Germany. 

Lori in Toronto did it, fought it, and had to settle for an unmatched donor for lack of an available one in the database. She is caucasian, like us. They are doing great. 

Amanda in Nova Scotia is currently in it with her daughter, two months ahead of us, waiting for the immunosuppressive therapy to work. I get hourly updates. 

What will our story be?

Well, I can tell you it won’t involve us not finding a stem cell match if we need one. Not on my watch. It was very difficult to miss the stem cell drive at my former high school, St. Matthew High School on August 29, facilitated by the Bruce Denniston Bone Marrow Society. 

Natalie (Dixon) Spence, you went way above and beyond to support my family by organizing all aspects of the event. Not sure what we did to deserve you. Thank you. Kalum Figura, for repeatedly mobilizing the air waves to promote these stem cell drives…you play a large role in educating the public on this issue which is heavily misunderstood.  

Amy Volume from KISS FM — we’re not sure what motivates you to go to the ends of the earth for Hillary, by getting Gabriel’s Pizza to donate pizza in exchange for a cheek swab…but thank you. Please keep loving her. 

Nicole…thanks for shaking hands for me at the drive event, for reading Hillary books at bedtime via Google Hangout, and for bringing me chocolate. Susan, thanks for rushing to my side with your mom on our toughest day, for lighting prayer candles for Hills, and for bringing me chocolate. Victoria, thanks for bringing me chocolate, and a sweatshirt to hide it. 

Corey, Hillary loves her necklace wears it every day. Glenna — just seeing your name on a card moved me. Molly Penny, your daily visits mean so much, and you never deflect from the core function of your role here at CHEO. These are only a few of the people who require our gratitude. But this is all I can offer right now from this room.

Life here is surreal. I’m pretty sure I have already died. Sorry. 

I plug my daughter into a wall every night to sleep. I watch as they pull vials of blood from her bruised and pale arm every day while transfusing her with someone’s else’s blood into her other arm at the same time. I wear gloves to feed her medicine that would harm me if I got it on my skin. I no longer sleep in a cot on the floor. I sleep holding Hillary in her hospital bed. 

It’s been dark. But, the light is beginning to shine through. And it’s brighter because we’ve witnessed true darkness with our heads held high.

It shines through our commitment to promoting Canadian Blood Services. It shines through the continued stem cells drives planned in Hillary’s honour, like the one coming up at Ottawa University on October 3. It shines through Twitter — where hundreds of people mobilized to help find single donor platelets for Hillary. It shines through the Grade 12 student who got swabbed for Hillary, and has already been contacted to be a potential match for someone in need. He said he will follow through.

It shines through Hillary.  

She will forget. I will be re-born. We will heal.