June 24, 2015

Miracle Stories: The Case of the Missing Tumor [ACNM]

Quick, I need the number to the Vatican SMU (Special Miracles Unit). Okay, maybe this one is not worthy of getting on the Pope's calendar. But it is certainly the most amazing miracle I have experienced.

It involves my eight-year-old daughter who is a happy, healthy cancer survivor. In fact, just a couple of years ago her oncologist said, "I consider her cured." That was indeed amazing news and something that has to be attributed to the grace of God. But the miracle itself occurred a few years earlier.

To get you to that miracle without making you read something comparable to the length of War and Peace I am going to have to fast forward you through some of the most difficult days of my life.

My first daughter was born in 2006. During those joyous and exhausting moments after childbirth, one of the nurses looked at our baby's little rear end and said something to the effect of, "What's this? We'll have the pediatrician check that out." My wife and I did not sense any alarm.

Now I'll really speed up the story. The next day a pediatric surgeon examined our child, suspected (and later confirmed) that she had a potentially life-threatening tumor on her tailbone and declared that she would need surgery almost immediately.

Following an emergency baptism by a priest (thank God we were in a Catholic hospital), our one-day-old baby was loaded into an ambulance and moved to the local trauma hospital where she underwent surgery to remove the tumor.

The tumor had "cancerous elements." So we gradually realized that the next several years of her life, if not longer, would consist of frequent pokes, prods and scans. We brought her home from the hospital on her twelfth day of life, but the situation was far from over. In fact, she needed blood drawn frequently to monitor her alfa-fetoprotein (AFP) levels which could indicate a recurrence of the cancer if they increase.

Now I'll skip the recovery phase and jump ahead to when she was 13 months old. The oncologist called to inform us that her last blood check showed a rise in her AFP. The next several tests showed a clear pattern that her levels were increasing rapidly. Translation: the tumor was coming back.

After consulting with the "tumor board in Boston," the oncologist laid out the treatment plan for us: Our little girl would need three rounds of in-patient chemotherapy followed by another surgery to "scrape out the rest of the tumor." For brevity (if it's not too late for that) I'll skip past the chemotherapy experience other than saying this: It's horrible to sit there and watch nurses pump poison into your child's veins that makes her throw up and lose her hair. But it's worth it if it knocks out the cancer.

My brave chemo patient

We hated the idea of having to subject her to another surgery. This one was going to be more invasive and result in a longer, harder recovery time than her first operation after birth. The surgeon said he might have to "go in from both the front and the back" because he "won't know exactly what I'm dealing with until I get in there."

In the midst of chemotherapy we half-jokingly tried to talk the oncologist out of requiring surgery. "Maybe the chemo will just take care of everything, and she won't need it," we said. It was a nice try, but the best pediatric oncologists in central Texas were adamant that surgery was necessary.

[Don't stop now. You can find out what the miracle was by reading the rest of the story right over here at Austin Catholic New Media.]


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