It took eleven years of trying and a lot of different infertility treatments for my husband and me to get pregnant. In 2007, we finalized the adoption of our older daughter and I gave birth to a healthy baby girl. We named her Rhiannan.
When she started walking, I found a lump on her back. The pediatrician was concerned, but said she would check again at Rhiannan’s one year appointment.
The lump was still there.
We went to the hospital for an ultrasound. Rhiannan was happy because there were all kinds of toys to play with, and the procedure consisted of snuggling Mommy while some weird lady but sticky stuff on her back and rubbed a wand over her. I, however, was worried when they told me “Wait here. Your pediatrician wants to talk with you.” I was then instructed to take my toddler directly to onconolgy. They were making an appointment for her then and there.
The word terrified me. It means cancer…something we can’t cure and something no child should be afflicted with. I will skip ahead, and tell you it wasn’t cancer, but something else. And it has a happy ending.
Because Rhiannan was so small, the MRI of her back included most of her torso and hips. It was the MRI that saved her life because, although the lipoma was the main concern, it turned out to be the symptom of something bigger.
My daughter had a tethered spinal cord.
The doctor explained it to us like this: There’s a bit of sticky mass, like bubble gum, at the base of her spine where her nerves are supposed to spread out to her lower body. Instead of growing with her, the nerves were stretching. She would eventually be in a wheelchair.
Rhiannan’s first surgery, to remove the lipoma, was fairly simple. Samples of the lump were sent to labs across the country, as is procedure in pediatric cases, and they came back as benign. No cancer. She came home the next day her usual giggly wiggly self.
The second surgery, to release the tethered spinal cord, was more complicated, and much more scary. When I asked my pediatrician “How will I keep a fourteen-month-old still for three days?” she answered “Don’t worry. She won’t want to move.”
The pediatrician was right.
Rhiannan and I spent three days in the hospital. Since I was breastfeeding, I was the usually the parent who was there with her, as well as sleeping overnight. A sign over her hospital crib sternly warned everyone that she could only be moved in a log roll, she could not be picked up and held. I pumped milk and gave it to her in a bottle. She had bits of real food when she felt like it, but most of the time she was sleeping, and healing.
On the third day, she was allowed to sit up. That went well, so we moved on to the next greatest thing which was being pushed around the ward in the awesome little pink car.
My baby didn’t have cancer. She had two tumors, but with the grace of God and the miracles of modern medicine, both of those were healed. At her one-year follow-up appointment, the surgeon happily told us she’d probably never see us again, and she wished us well.
And well is what we’ve been.