After Your Kid Has Cancer

February 27 2018

I won the listserve in the fall of 2016. I honestly never thought I’d win once, let alone twice. At that time my family was going through one of the biggest nightmares you could imagine as a parent. My 13 year old daughter had been diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a cancerous bone tumor and was in the midst of treatment. Six rounds of chemo (each round was 3 hospital stays), and a surgery which amounted to a massive knee replacement plus a few inches of bone below her right knee added up to 21 hospital stays of 4-7 days within a 10 month period.

The good news…great news…is that she has been in remission for about a year now. We are so thankful to be on the other side of the cancer stuff. Kudos to Vanderbilt Children’s in Nashville and Erlanger Children’s in Chattanooga.
But things aren’t over. The effects of this whole process, the cancer and the treatment, are much deeper than we were prepared for.

For those that may not know, as a simplistic explanation, chemo meds are used for a “controlled kill” of your body. It’s a rough process, and the fact that my daughter went through this right at the age of puberty is about the worst time you could face this stuff.

Because of the real potential for audotoxicity of chemo meds my daughter has permanent partial hearing loss. She now has to wear hearing aids for the rest of her life. Also, she has to have an echocardiogram every year to make sure the meds didn’t damage her heart. We also don’t know at this point if the treatment made her unable to have children in the future or not. And those are just the physical side effects. And there is always the risk of a reoccurrence of this or another cancer.

What we REALLY weren’t prepared for are the emotional/psychological side effects. Our daughter had some moderate anxiety issues before cancer. What we saw come out of the other side of that….and what we are still dealing with…is hard to process.

She has always been a strong willed kid but a good kid, getting into very little trouble in her life. She volunteers with her grandmother at a local nursing home, and is very outgoing.

She had been seeing a counselor during and after her treatment but what we didn’t realize was at 14, our daughter was hiding and taking Oxy and similar drugs (left over from her surgery), not to get high, but to deal with anxiety, depression, and what was later diagnosed as fairly severe bipolar issues. We thought we’d gathered up and controlled all of those drugs but throughout her treatment she was on so many things at different times it was hard to keep track.

She was caught with these meds by an authority figure and when confronted told them she’d considered using them to kill herself. After all we’d been through with cancer you think you just can’t be gutted again, until you find out your 14 year old is in such mental anguish that she’s thought of dying.

Time was spent in a facility, she is home now. Things aren’t always rosy. She has a psychiatrist and psychologist and we’ve had a couple of med adjustments. We still have issues we are sorting out. Some days are better than others…but I have to have faith that we can survive, and thrive in this somehow.

If you have kids, especially teens, be aware of their mental health. Watch for changes. Ask questions. Get in their business.

Chris Cummings
[email protected]

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