A Father Cries To God (cervical cancer)
My last article dealt with my personal struggle against a terrifying ailment we call cancer. The moments we shared in my story were that of a grown man born into the strength and courage of a Bronx Irish family. An outcome of success expected by myself, my parents, cousins and fellow “Bronxites” who share at least our own perception of toughness under fire. I say this when, in fact, my years as a policeman have demonstrated that courage is universal. Quite often it is camouflaged in one’s fear. Those least likely expected to have it possess the most. It has no color nor does it speak a language,. It exists on every continent on earth. Age does not insure that you have developed it.
This is a story of a 9-year old girl. A ballerina. A student. A beautiful child. This is a story of Courage! It is the story of my daughter…..Tamara.
The awards adorn her room. Gold and silver trophies set the backdrop of a child living the dream of a successful ballerina….. the next media child, maybe. She is so disciplined it worries me. Five days a week and hours a day working at perfection. The awards makes me so proud yet my intuition begs me to have her slow down. The stress mounts with each trophy. There is a momentary break in the training. During a simple exercise this child protégé has a sharp pain in the neck. “It’s nothing,” say the trainers. Keep up the “pounding trek” toward the next trophy. The “gut it up” motivation was well intentioned. The trophy never arrived. An MRI took its place.
The cold sterile room at Baptist Hospital housed the clanking sound of a magnetic resonance machine. A 50 pound child with beautiful long hair and huge brown eyes to match rests playfully on a stretcher. “Daddy the pain hurts. I’m scared Daddy. I need this test. Why won’t the pain go away?” I don’t know the answer but I expect that the results will be good. Maybe a SPRAIN! “Mr. & Mrs. Maye, we have something serious to talk about.” Those words again shatter everything in your psyche. “Your child has a lesion on her cervical spine from C4 to C6. We feel it is …...(pause). “ Our tears begin to flow. “She will need a neurosurgeon, hematologist and possibly a radiological oncologist.” Appointments are made as we are getting the news. They are ten long days into the future. Days are spent, mostly at the computer, researching her form of this complex disease. The answers come in small increments. Family members and friends mobilize to help. Prayers pour out from every direction. Finally all the protocols are discovered, read and copied.
Our first appointment is with the neurosurgeon. He is thorough, brilliant and has the best reputation. However, he is cold, sterile and so academic. Our daughter’s throat will be cut to biopsy the lesion. My wife handles it poorly. She cries and wonders why God is doing this to her. I watch Tammy sleep and beg God to give me the strength to transfer to her. “Daddy? Can we talk? Why do I have to have this surgery?” I don’t know how to answer her. I hug her. I assure her she will be ok.
The recovery room is a special place for patients and families. It is here that your first fears of treatment are addressed. A nine year old girl with long brown hair and especially beautiful brown eyes stares up at you. Her throat is bandaged. No tears in her eyes, only looks of happiness to be back. I hold her hand. My dad, her grandfather, plays with her toes. Grandma talking to her. All of us secretly thinking prayers.
Most of the lesion must remain. It is not operable. Chemotherapy is suggested and pursued. Vinblastine, Predisone and chemical agents, identified only by numbers, are injected. Each session the nausea gets worse. The shots themselves are so painful they require a local anesthesia patch prior to injection. Tammy and myself sit holding hands, for it seems forever. All the other children look sick. Tammy asks me for the first time is she will die. I want to cry, to scream, but I can’t. She needs my strength. “No, honey, you will be fine.”
Several sessions are completed. Tammy holds my hand again. The injection is delivered. I take her to her favorite movie, “Evita”. There, just the two of us waiting for the nausea to begin and begin it does. This time something is wrong. The shaking and the pain increase. The emergency room advises that her bowels are paralyzed. A rare reaction to Vinblastin has shut down the movement inside her gastric tract. “Daddy!” she screams in a loud chilling voice. “Make the pain stop. God send an angel to stop my pain. Let me go to heaven now so I don’t suffer. Please, Daddy, do something.”
Seven days and nights the screams continued. An old treatment of increased potassium broke the stalemate and her bowel sounds returned to normal. Tammy lay there, a broken, pale, thin child, her back to the television and very depressed. She had given up on life even though the pain had stopped. I picked her up and placed her in a wheelchair. The trip to the maternity section was short and silent. I wanted her to see where her little life had begun. I knelt before her and for the first time cried in front of her.
“Daddy, I’ve never seen you cry! Why Daddy?” My eyes focused on her. “Daddy, promise you will stop crying.” I begged her to promise not to give up. She jumped into my arms and promised. She stayed in Daddy’s arms for hours. God gave me back my little child. A father had shaken heaven with prayers. So many others shook heaven with me and a child who never complained taught the world a lesson.
Chemotherapy was changed to radiation and Tammy won her battle like many of you will. These challenges were not to be her last or all of her experiences in life. She is thirteen now. A beautiful child with long brown hair and equally beautiful brown eyes , a candidate as I write this for the junior National Honor Society. Traveling together we tell our story so that others will not feel alone or different. A patient, a caregiver, a physician, a father, and another soul, I am as you are. A dedication to the sick and the answers they deserve are my vocation.
Tammy enjoyed a blended recovery. Something many have not been privileged to! Her illness arrived at a time when I was in my first of four years of Chinese Medical training. She was our class project. Acupuncture, herbal and nutritional therapy as well as advanced Qiqong exercises molded a positive future for a courageous child. These are stories of myself and my child. The greatest story is truly left untold. This would be your story. Only through the flames of such sorrow could I have emerged as a healer with a heart. A heart that currently utilizes fine tuned investigative skills to send out and deliver the very best alternative advantages you deserve.
Dr. Frank M. Maye
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