as told by her mom, Sandi.
When I was first asked to write about Jaiden’s journey through childhood cancer, I was more than willing to do so.
However, the reality of trying to put that time in our lives into words has been much more difficult than I anticipated.
After two months, many attempts and a few start-stops – here is Jaiden’s story.
Jaiden has always been a strong-willed, able-bodied, busy and confident girl. She walked at 9½ months, spoke in full sentences long before the age of two and, when we put her in skates at the age of 22 months, she skated away from us. It always seemed that very little could stop her…or even slow her down.
Fast forward a few years…Jaiden has been playing hockey and soccer since she was four. She competes annually in cross country, usually earning herself a spot at the regionals. She is 13 years old and in Grade 8.
For the better part of 2014, Jaiden had a lump on her neck. Since the lump would rise and fall when accompanied by colds, and blood work and an ultrasound came back normal, we were fairly unconcerned. We were confident that it was a reactive lymph node that would subside in time. In October, Jaiden once again had a cold, the lymph node swelled right up and she had a fever. We went back to our family doctor, who sent Jaiden for more blood work, a chest x-ray and gave her an antibiotic. When the lump did not respond to the antibiotic and had grown to the point where movement became difficult and painful, he referred us to a pediatric surgeon at Children’s Hospital. Our appointment was for Dec. 2.
The pediatric surgeon scheduled Jaiden for an ultrasound. Once she had viewed the ultrasound, the surgeon scheduled Jaiden for a biopsy on Dec. 11, where they removed approximately 25% of the lump and sent it for testing.
On the evening of Dec. 17, a phone call changed our lives forever. I’ll never forget that moment and the awful moments that followed – telling Jaiden that she had cancer.
One moment we are a normal family dealing with normal issues. And the next moment, we are a cancer family.
Nothing can prepare you for it.
Jaiden was diagnosed with Non Hodgkins Lymphoma. Originally, her diagnosis was Burkitt’s Lymphoma but further testing showed that it was actually Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma. Honestly, the name made little difference to us then or now; our daughter had cancer.
Jaiden was immediately referred to the Pediatric Oncology Department at Children’s Hospital for more tests. What followed was a whirlwind of action – more blood work, a neck to pelvis CAT scan, an ECG, an echocardiogram, a bone marrow biopsy and a spinal tap. We met our oncologist, Dr. Cairney, and her team, as well as a social worker and a nurse practitioner. Jaiden was admitted to the hospital on Friday, Dec. 19 to start the first round of treatment. We spent 31 days in the hospital for that first round, including Christmas and New Years.
It’s so hard to describe the array of feelings we had during this time. We knew nothing about this process. We felt lost, alone, overwhelmed and extremely raw. We were so busy trying to process what the doctors were saying to us, that we hadn’t even considered any of the financial hardships we might be up against. Before we had even got to that point, we met Renee.
Renee came to visit us that very first day in the hospital. Although we came to really rely on the meal vouchers and parking pass that she provided, it was the time she took to sit with us and just listen that meant the most at the time. Not only does Childcan fill a very important role in the journey through childhood cancer, they have managed to find one of the most compassionate, kind and giving people to represent them. Renee is truly an angel. I can’t express that enough.
Jaiden’s treatment was aggressive, as her type of lymphoma is considered fast-moving. Jaiden endured a total of seven rounds of chemotherapy which required hospitalization each time. Once her round of chemo was done, she would be released from hospital for a few days, only to return a few days later with a fever due to falling blood counts. During five months of treatment, Jaiden was admitted to the hospital about 12 different times. EVERY time, Renee would stop by for a visit, dropping off much-needed meal vouchers for us and sharing her story of her daughter’s journey through childhood cancer, or sometimes offering a shoulder if the day just seemed too much. Her presence was invaluable.
Jaiden endured her treatment and has reclaimed her life. All tests continue to be cancer-free. Jaiden is now in Grade 10 and plays hockey as much as she can. She is a normal, busy and healthy 15-year-old girl again…and for that we are forever grateful to everyone we encountered at Children’s Hospital – for the nurses on the 6th floor, the team in the PMDU, Childlife, our social worker and, most importantly, for Renee, who I now consider a good friend, and Childcan.