Saturday, January 17, 2009

Severe nausea may (hopefully) be resolving

Isabella is now finishing day #8 of her 2nd chemo cycle, and hasn't eaten anything for 7 days. She seems to be pretty sensitive to the side effects of the chemo, often vomiting 6-10 times/day despite trying all types of anti-nausea medications. Over the last two days, the spontaneous vomiting has stopped, but she throws up any little bit that she tries to eat or drink. Finally tonight, she held down a ravioli, then a piece of watermelon (she has such little appetite that we are willing to obtain and feed her anything she wants). They still have IV fluids running to try to correct the electrolyte imbalances that have resulted (very low potassium). We keep saying, "She should be better tomorrow", but this time I think it might be true. The chemo has affected her taste buds, and she has been telling us that meat tastes funny, and sweet things are no longer appetizing. She bit a piece of pizza earlier and said it tasted "weird."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Pet Therapy

Rusk has many forms of therapy available to the kids.  What’s funny is that for adults, therapy can be a burdensome chore, that they dread.  Here in the Pediatric Rehab, everything is pretty much playtime!  For occupational therapy for example, the kids can draw or use play dough, which helps improve their dexterity.  For recreational therapy, they may play the Wii, which improves their hand-eye coordination. One of the therapy sessions that Isabella particularly enjoys is Pet Therapy where a group called Pets for Patients brings in an animal that the kids play with.  Today, they brought a small pony for the kids to play with.  The pony was pretty hairy, and responded to commands like sit, and shake hands, and play fetch.  Pretty smart pony! :)


Back to Rusk! Yay!

Yesterday was a good day overall. Isabella was transferred from the Pediatric unit to Rusk to continue her physical therapy.  Isabella also took the fifth and final dose of temodar pills for this cycle.  The dose is made up of two pills.  Although she had problems with the first pill, she took the second pill like a champ.  For this cycle, we created a "Pill Chart" for Isabella.  Isabella's Pill ChartFor each day she took her pills, she put a sticker on the chart.  You can see the chart to the right.


The therapists at Rusk were all amazed at Isabella's progress while in the Pediatric unit, especially with how she walks and uses her right hand.  We look to make even more progress over the next couple weeks.


Isabella continues to feel nauseous from the chemo, and although she eats a little bit, she still throws it up.  We’re hoping that the nausea wears off within a day.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Case of the Curious Fever

So Isabella spiked a fever on Sunday afternoon, which required her to be treated with antibiotics. We still aren't quite sure what caused her fever on Sunday, but since she didn't show any other symptoms, the doctors suspected that it may have something to do with the port in her chest - which was infected a couple weeks ago. But, the bloodwork did not show the same bacteria as the previous infection, so for now, they have ruled out the port. If the bloodwork had shown the same bacteria, they would have had to replace the port in her chest, which would have meant another operation. But for now, we are just going to watch her closely.

Her temperature has been normal since yesterday, so they are looking to finally discharge her back to Rusk rehab on Wednesday. Isabella is still feeling nauseous from the chemo, but she has been doing better with the pill swallowing. Wednesday will be fifth and final day of temodar pills. She has started to eat stuff again, and finally tonight, she has been able to keep her food down.

We're hoping that the worst is behind us for this cycle.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Swallowing Pills

How do you teach a 5 year old to swallow a capsule?

The first method used to teach Isabella was not very successful. The teacher gave me a handout to describe the process and I'll try to summarize it: the parent leaves the room, the trainer asks the child to take a drink of water, the trainer then models the pill-swallowing behavior for the child. The child is then told to practice the behavior with the smallest placebo. If the child is successful, the child is praised. No rewards are to be given. The trainer then states, "Next pill . . ." and moves up in size. There should be no bribery, cajoling, or other persuasion. Protests or questions from the child are to be ignored . . .

Needless to say, Isabella wouldn't even acknowledge the woman was in the room with her. (I could have predicted this - Isabella often won't warm up to someone until she sees them for the 3rd or 4th time.) The woman apparently concluded that Isabella wouldn't participate and we never saw her again.

The child psychologists from rehab were then asked to see Isabella. They took a different approach, believing praise, bribery, and persuasion are sometimes necessary. If these ladies were drug-pushers, they'd be very successful! Again, parents left the room. They sat like they were all having a tea party, and were laughing and acting like it was all lots of fun. After playing Connect 4 several times, we could overhear things like, "OK, now we're going to try something really fun! Look what I can do with this Nerd candy! I'm going to put it on my tongue, take a sip, and look . . . it's gone. This is so cool! You have to try this, Mary!" Mary tries it and agrees, "You're right, this is easy and very cool to do. How about you try it Isabella!" Soon we were hearing that Horton (Isabella's elephant) was swallowing the Nerds, and wanted Isabella to do it, too. After the tremendous peer pressure, when Isabella finally did her thing, the rest of their time together became play time. She swallowed nerds for 2 days, then Tic-Tacs for 2 days, then a tiny clear placebo capsule filled with pink sugar the last 2 days before the real meds were to start.

The first day of Temodar came, and the whole family was there. We started our game of Monopoly, and stopped in the middle until everyone swallowed their "pill". Mom and Dad went, then Annalise tried a Tic-Tac, but couldn't, so she had to chew it. This made Isabella so proud that she could do something better than her sister, that she swallowed hers without a problem. I cannot describe how relieved we were.

Unfortunately, on the second day, Isabella had a fever and felt terrible. She was starting to throw up from the IV chemo already despite anti-nausea meds. We had a difficult struggle over several hours, and then finally forced the pills down while she had her mouth open crying.

This is not going to be as easy as we had hoped.

Nathaniel Helping at the Hospital

While at home, Nathaniel always manages to get to a broom and run around the house sweeping. We have no idea where he gets it from because I don't know if he's ever seen Julianne or me sweeping. :) Anyway, while visiting Isabella, one of the maintenance closets was opened and Nathaniel got a broom and got working! This video shows him running around the Pediatric floor cleaning up!

Monday, January 12 Update

Isabella had a pretty rough Sunday.  She already began feeling the effects of the chemo from Saturday and didn't have much of an appettite.  She was also feeling weak, so we didn't do much except for sit in bed and play with her Leap Pad (a children's computer).  Later in the afternoon, she developed a slight fever, which made her feel yuckier.  They administered her carboplatin with no problems, but when it came to the temodar, she refused to take it.  We were surprised because she had taken the temodar so quickly the day before.  We finally were able to get her to take the temodar, but with great effort.

They also drew her blood to run tests and gave her some antibiotics and Tylenol to get her fever down, which had spiked to 101.5.

So, unfortunately, this will delay her move back to Rusk, so we'll be here for a little bit more.

Right now, Isabella is actually feeling a little better.  She atIMG_0750e a little bit (but threw it up a little later), and is now playing a game with Julianne.  Also amazingly, her right hand continues to gain more flexibility.  Although she is able to close her hand, it is difficult for her to open her hand (especially Mr. Thumb, as we like to call him).  But today, she is able to hold her right hand wide open, including Mr. Thumb, and give me a high five!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

10,000 Hits for Isabella

Sometime today, someone read Isabella's Fight for the 10,000th time. It's very heartwarming and gratifying that so many people are still keeping up with us and that we're not going through all this alone. We're not even two months into this and it already feels like it's been forever - that our "old lives" are just distant memories. This fight is like running a marathon, and unfortunately we're not even half-way to the finish line yet. But to put things in perspective, there are other types of cancers where the patient goes through chemo for over 2 years - we'll be doing it for (hopefully) just 5-6 months. And even after it's over and if Isabella is cured, we will forever still be anxious at every twitch or every headache or every stumble that she has - that's just the nature of the disease. When we pass this marathon's finish line, we will have to just keep on running.

How do WE do it?

A lot of people ask how we manage to handle everything going on. In addition to having at least either myself or Julianne at the hospital at all times, we still have two kids at home that we need to take care of. It doesn't help that we live in Connecticut, and to get to the hospital is typically an hour each way. Sometimes we drive in, but most of the time, we take the train in. Since NYU is just a few blocks from Grand Central Station, it's not a bad walk (except for those days that are really cold and windy!) Since I work in New York City, I have a monthly pass, so there is no additional cost for me to take the train - plus my office is only a couple blocks from the hospital, so it's really convenient for me to walk to the hospital during lunch or after work. Julianne's boss gave her a generous gift of some train passes to help defray the cost of Julianne taking the train.

At home, we usually have some family helping out with the kids while one of us is either going into the city or coming home. On days when I am home, I get Annalise on the bus then jump on the train with Nathaniel. I take him to the Stamford train station where my mom picks him up, then I jump on the next train into the city. Someone is usually home to pick up Annalise from the bus stop after school, then either Julianne or I will be home around dinner time to finish up the day with the kids. Usually we take 2 day shifts at the hospital, because when we were doing every other day, it felt like we were getting no time at home and it was really exhausting.

It should get easier once Isabella is done with her inpatient rehab at Rusk. We're hoping that she will be able to move from inpatient at Rusk and go home and just do outpatient therapy. This will be a lot easier on us and at least we'll all be home together. We don't have a definitive date yet on when she'll be done with therapy, but hopefully, it will be within two or three weeks. As long as she doesn't have any medical setbacks and can get a good two or three weeks of therapy straight through, we should be able to go home.