September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month – Go Gold! More than 300,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year, and sadly 20% of them will not survive it. One of those affected by childhood cancer is my friend Abigail. Her spunky, sweet toddler started to walk around 11 months, as many kids do. However, about a month and a half after Esther took her first steps, she stopped walking. The pediatrician thought it could be her cold virus inflaming her joints, but after some tests, they got the awful call that Esther most likely had leukemia.
In that moment, their lives suddenly changed forever, and it was a whirlwind of tests, consultations, hospital rooms, pricks, pokes, and treatments with awful side effects. Esther has B-cell ALL leukemia. Which they say, if you’re going to have leukemia, it’s what you “want” to have, as it’s easier and less likely to be fatal.
In Abigail’s words, “The first month of treatment was brutal. Chemo was bad, but the steroids were worse. We watched our vibrant, goofy baby turn into a round, tired version of herself. By the end, she was eating, nursing, and sleeping.” Nursing has ended up being such a comfort to both of them. “It was a safe place where nothing else was safe. Throughout her treatment, it has given her comfort, disease immunity, and nutrition, keeping her from having to use an NG tube for nutrition.”
Esther may have been a baby, but she quickly learned what hospital visits and stays meant. “There are automatic hand sanitizer dispensers outside the inpatient rooms. It didn’t take long before Esther began to cry when she heard the sound, before the door opened.”
The day that Esther turned 14 months, they found out that she was in remission!! A beautiful day of good news, but their journey was far from over. Leukemia is a beast, and one that families fight for years. Treatments continue for months, even years, and 5-15% of kids have a relapse.
At this moment, Esther is in the “maintenance” phase where she receives treatments once a month with daily oral chemo at home and some steroids. And sometimes another chemo. Abigail says that “it’s not easy, but Esther loves hamming it up at the hospital. She has a full complement of adoring nurse and doctor fans.” She had received lots of sweet gifts and toys through her journey, and one of Esther’s favorites is a doll she received soon after her diagnosis, which came with her to this session. Despite all the challenges, it has been amazing to see this family find things to be thankful for and even help others at the hospital. “Going through this has allowed us to be a light for other people, and we have seen the goodness of God and the strength of His body.”
It was such a joy to photograph this sweet girl in the golden sunflowers as she is celebrating not only her first year of cancer treatment but also her second birthday. And it was so special to see some of her hair starting to grow back and hear her singing, dancing, and laughing!