Thursday, November 18, 2004

katya's hopeful story

We had dinner last night with our nephew, his wife and their almost-six-year-old daughter, Katya. They were visiting the coast from the Okanagan to attend Children’s Hospital and have the first of a series of post-treatment MRIs to check Katya’s condition.

Katya’s story began to unfold this day almost two years ago (December 9, 2002; she was three at the time), when a week-long massive headache was found to be caused by a build-up of fluid in her brain. They flew her to Vancouver that night, did surgery, drilling a hole in her scalp to drain the fluid and then, after a battery of tests, inserted a shunt to give her brain fluid a permanent and reliable route into the abdomen. But the cause of the fluid build-up in the first place was not discovered.

About three months later she was back to have her shunt checked and more tests, with an MRI this time to also check the spinal column. That MRI told the malignant story. She had a vicious and rare pediatric brain cancer with cells found in brain and spinal fluid. It appeared the earlier blockage had likely been caused by a collection of those cells clogging the normal routes from which fluid drains.

Pediatric oncologists from a variety of hospitals in the U.S. and Canada worked together to come up with a treatment regimen. They devised a harrowing schedule, with a cocktail of drugs, a round of radiotherapy and then more chemo.

I was at the hospital the day Katya’s chemotherapy began. Her mom explained to me how toxic the medication was - so toxic that even Katya’s bodily fluids were poisoned. On the white board in her room there were circles and x’s - a pictorial explanation to a little girl of four, how there were now good and bad cells inside her brain and how drugs would go after the bad cells. But Katya remained her delightful self. Though weakened and already drugged with pre-chemotherapy medications, she insisted on finishing a craft in the play room, then went to her bed and asked for a movie, a red popsicle and could we make sure her toy ponies were easy to reach? That night we left Katya, still not nauseated, just after the nurse attached the second chemotherapy drug to the I.V.

That day also happened to be first day of the U.S.’s foray into Iraq. As I watched the grainy black and green shadows, and the star-burst and sheet-lightning explosions on the television screen, I couldn’t help thinking of the war being launched at the same time in Katya’s body, and hoping the end of that war would be as quick and decisive as they were predicting this middle-east war would be.

The intervening months were a series of ups and downs. To avoid having to give her endless pricks to get blood for tests, the doctor installed a portal in her abdomen. When, partway into her first round of chemo, she refused to eat, she had a feeding tube put down her nose and into her stomach. Every round of chemo had its tense days when her white blood cell count was so low, she easily fell prey to the weakest infections and spiked fevers which, several times, interrupted up her chemo schedule.

There were good things too. The "Make a Wish Foundation" paid for the whole family to take a trip to Disneyland. The community of Kelowna, where Katya lives, rallied round the family so that work interruptions and the expense of many trips to Vancouver was no longer a burden. And little Katya rallied so many to pray that God would send His healing touch, instantly, or the long way, through doctors and medicine, or however.

Finally, this May, an MRI after the last treatment, proclaimed Katya’s system free of any visible cancer cells. We were all jubilant. But now comes the rest of her life.

She must now have an MRI every six months for two years. The chemo did some permanent damage. Her balance is slightly affected, though she’s taking ballet and last night had no trouble showing off her exercises to us. She also has some hearing loss - a tricky thing, though, for she heard the sound of a distant train whistle yesterday, and yet a few minutes later, asked her dad to get her hearing aids in from the car. "She hears some frequencies well," her mom explained to me. "But other wave lengths just don’t come through, so there are blanks in what she can hear."

Her mom and dad will find out today what yesterday’s MRI showed. We hope and pray that everything is fine - and remains so. I want Katya to raid my leftover stash of Halloween treats again another year. I know she’ll realize her dream and get good at dancing if given a chance. I imagine her someday having her own little girl and telling the hopeful story of how God heals - even though He doesn’t always use the instant route.

4:00 p.m. Just got a phone call. Yesterday's MRI was ALL CLEAR! Yes!!


Phil Dillon, Prairie Apologist said...

Nancy and I will continue to pray for Katya.

This is a wonderful story of God's grace, a little girl's courage, a family's love, and a community's support. I believe it's the way things should be in troubled times.

Violet N. said...

Hi Phil, thanks for dropping by. And thanks for the promise of your prayers. Much appreciated!

Kim said...

Wow, what an amazing story! I hope this little girl gets to grow up and tell of the wonderful miracle God wrought in her life. Thanks for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

So many times we see the dark side of things, it is a pleasure to look out and see people comming to stand beside such a courageous young person. Praise God the MRI was clear. Violet, thank you for sharing. It is so nice to hear good when in the news all we hear are sad things. God encourages us in many ways and this is one. Thanks again and thank you Katya for being such a strong girl.

John said...

I don't know why I was posted as anonymous but I was. 11:54 was me.

Violet N. said...

John, that is strange! And yes, Katya (and her family) had to be very brave. An illness like this takes its toll on every family member with lots of unthought-of ramifications, like sibling rivalry, hours of summer holidays spent in waiting rooms etc. We pray that she continues to be free of cancer.

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