But for Jen and Eric Paulson, the trials of toddlerhood took a tragic turn this summer when a few seemingly normal childhood ailments added up to the worst case scenario for their young daughter Ellis: acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of the devastating blood cancer.
And now the family is facing years of chemotherapy treatment, along with its many debilitating side effects, as well as the emotional drain and expenses that come with childhood cancer.
Still, they remain positive; Ellis is being treated at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, which is among the nation’s most trusted children’s hospitals. Plus, the prognosis is good: acute lymphoblastic leukemia is the most treatable form of childhood leukemia and doctors at the Mayo Clinic say there’s an 80-90 per cent chance of a full recovery for Ellis.
However, as anyone who has witnessed a loved one battle cancer knows, the treatment can cause as much suffering as the disease itself. Over the next 2 1/2 years, Ellis will undergo rigorous chemotherapy treatments to fight off the damaging leukemia cells. During each treatment period she will suffer from constant nausea, vomiting and constipation. She will also need a spinal tap every three months and will lose her strawberry blond hair. Ellis could possibly suffer even more serious consequences, such as nerve damage, pancreatitis, blood clots and weakening of her heart.
And through it all, Ellis’ immune system will be susceptible to infection, which means her attentive parents will never truly rest until the last leukemia cell is eliminated: every fever will mean an emergency room visit. Every stumble will be examined for signs of nerve damage. Every uneaten meal will make them wonder, “Is this the cancer — or is she just a picky preschooler?”
Doctors hope to eliminate Ellis’ leukemia by the time she is five. By then, she will have lived half her life with cancer.
Though it’s too soon to say what Ellis’ treatment for leukemia will cost over the next few years, it’s sure to strain the Paulson family as high deductibles, medication, unpaid leave from work, emergency room visits, and hotel expenses add up. Even child care will be a concern for the family, which recently welcomed a new baby girl, Quinn, born June 3, 2014; during chemotherapy treatment Ellis will have no immunity to all the infections that healthy kids can handle, so it’s likely she’ll need alternate care as her white blood cell count fluctuates throughout regular treatments.
If we can help alleviate the financial burden for the Paulson family, they can focus on rallying around Ellis in her recovery from leukemia. And hopefully one day they can go back to worrying about normal things — like potty training their next child.
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