One Family, 2006 – 2009
Grandmother diagnosed and treated for cancer
Mom’s first stroke
Daughter Peyton diagnosed and treated for cancer
A move to another state
Mom’s second and third strokes
During the treatment for her mother’s breast cancer, Anissa was gliding through summer in Florida. Vacations, summer time play, all of the regular things a family that lives in the Sunshine State enjoys.
It was 2006 and the family got a cold and everyone had the sniffles. Everyone in the family got over the cold except for Peyton, then age 2, who continued running a persistent low-grade fever. A month later Anissa did what we all do — fit in an appointment to our pediatrician to see if there was something else, like an ear infection, sinus infection; the typical stuff of childhoods. Looking back, Anissa says, “Peyton was younger and napped anyway so I never noticed she was tired.”
Soon after, Peyton started waking up at night because she was “hurting” but since her older sister had done that as well at around the same age Anissa and her husband, Peter, didn’t think much of it.
“All right,” Anissa said, “She was messing with my sleep now! If she was going to act sick I was taking her back to the doctor! I didn’t know it at the time, since we were in sunny Florida (and tanned kids were the normal) that Peyton was pale. The doctor ran some labs and at 7:00am we heard the home phone ring. And ring. Then the cell phone rang. And rang. It was the pediatrician calling to say we needed to go directly to All Children’s, St. Petersburg, where a room was waiting for us and an appointment with oncology. ‘Pack a bag,’ the doctor said.”
Anissa knew exactly what that meant.
She didn’t know what kind of cancer until she insisted the doctor tell her. He said it was the most common, most often successfully treated, Acute Lymphocytic Lleukemia (ALL). ALL is a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow — the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made. They gave her blood, inserted a port.
Anissa will have you know that not all statistics are true, especially if you have a child die from it. The words “successfully treated” don’t apply to everyone. Fortunately Peyton completed her treatment plan – 2 ½ years of treatment – and went into remission. She gets checkups every 2 months for re-occurrence.
The possibility of the cancer’s return is never far from Anissa’s mind. “Even now, I look at her and think to myself, she’s pale, she has a bruise — even an unexplained nap — can be cancer.” While she says she doesn’t obsess about it, it is still there, there is always a possibility so she never says, “Okay we’re done, I’ll stop thinking about cancer.”
The day Peyton went into the hospital, Anissa started blogging at Hope for Peyton, as an easy way to keep family informed about what was happening in Peyton’s treatment. Over time it became less about what was happening in the day-to-day treatment and more about her and husband Peter’s feelings about having a daughter in cancer treatment. It became a place where she met people, future best friends; where they all found hope and help.
A year after treatment ended Anissa “retired” from updating the blog but leaves it up to this day because she wants to make their story and herself available for families with children newly diagnosed.
It would be hard to end the Mayhew story with Peyton’s remission since the family has endured more health crises since. Once Peyton’s cancer treatment was completed they found themselves in Atlanta less than a year later when Anissa had her (well-documented) debilitating strokes.
Husband Peter blogged again at Hope for Peyton, where I also followed along back in November and for the months during Anissa’s recovery. Anissa talked about the community around her and about one friend, Natalie, whom she’d met because their children both had cancer. Years later and best friends, Natalie drove up to Atlanta to help during Anissa’s recovery. We talked about real life friends and blogging friends and we agreed that the line blurs when we’ve found our families in crisis.
Adjusting from caregiver to patient was “hard “ because at the time Anissa was used to running 100 miles an hour as the family caregiver, driver, babysitter and domestic goddess. Letting go is still a struggle. It’s been hard to give over total control but it was done without choice.
“It was good to come home and see him doing what he had to do and for the kids to know they could depend on him,” Anissa admits. As she gets healthier the kids are relying on her more, which is also good.
She says her “recovery is slow but is constant.” She wants to do more things for herself, but more importantly she wants the kids to see that no matter what, their mom tries her hardest. I can’t ask more from them than I would give. If they give 150%, I had better give two hundred percent.”
When I asked her about her marriage and facing the challenges they have she said, “The best part is knowing that I can depend on my husband. Sure, he’s annoying as hell sometimes – he’s lazy, he lies on the couch and scratches his nuts, but he’s a hell of a husband. And he will do what has to be done for you.” What is the worst about the new way their relationship works? “My husband is tried, so, so tired. It takes a lot out of us…physically. It is work to have my husband help me with the shower, clothes, and there are things that he has had to do that he didn’t have to before, but it goes back to what is great about my marriage, I can count on him to be there when things aren’t good.”
I asked Anissa about her relationship with God and what she had to say was so interesting I decided to write another article for our on-going series on Faith and Special Needs.
Anissa can be found blogging at http://freeanissa.com/ and on twitter @AnissaMayhew (she’s wicked funny!)
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