“A Perfect Match” Web-Only Story

The media Gods here at WECT decided that the piece about her chemotherapy treatment should be a web-only story.

This portion actually happened between Parts 1 & 2 that were broadcasted.

Before her bone marrow transplant (BMT), Denise was admitted to Chapel Hill’s Children’s Hospital to begin chemotherapy and radiation. I went to see them a few days before the final “heavy duty” doses of chemo began.

I arrived late at night in Chapel Hill and admittedly, I was very nervous to see Denise. Up until then, I had just known her as a laughing, playing 11-year old. Now she was a “patient.” I didn’t know if she’d be very sick…if she’d lost all of her hair…if she even wanted to see me! But Valeria insisted I come up.

When we arrived on the 5th floor, we walked past large waiting rooms filled with families and little kids who had their small heads wrapped in scarves. It was really heart breaking….

You have to wash your hands before you enter the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. Once inside, you have to wash your hands again before entering a patient’s room. The rooms are ‘germ-free’ because the patients have such low immunity.

Denise was resting inside..typing on her laptop. She had QUITE  a set-up! TV, computer, treadmill, private bathroom, big windows…what a great facility! We talked until about midnight. She told me all about her radiation…much of which was completely new information for me…

I always thought radiation was like an x-ray but Denise said they propped her straight up, with her feet elevated. Her arms were out at 90 degree angles and they taped her shoulders back to keep her up (she kept dozing off). She said that the radiation came out like a bright light all over her body and the machine made a very loud noise. She said that she couldn’t feel anything while the radiation was going on but once it was over she was sick to her stomach and began vomiting.

I asked (a lot) to get video of the radiation process so I could show what it was like. The hospital said the radiation room was jam packed with patients, so that wouldn’t be possible but they did give me a little bit of interesting background on the procedure…such as…Did you know radiation therapy was discovered after scientists saw the effects of nuclear bombs? (I didn’t…)

The next day, I headed back to Denise’s room. This time, I also had to wash down all of my camera equipment before entering.

Denise was wide awake and playing Wii(a video game) with the recreational nurse. They use the game to encourage the kids to get out of bed and get some exercise. Her doctor, Dr. Gold, also said that during school, all the kids go to school at the hospital (its a classroom that looks just like any other). They try to treat them like “normal” kids…because they are…and Dr. Gold said if you treat someone like they are sick…they will act sick.

You saw much of the chemotherapy treatment on the video. Really, there wasn’t much to it. The chemicals drip down into her “central line”…an IV line that goes right into her chest.

What DID surprise me was that the nurse told her she’d have to start taking showers every couple of hours because the chemotherapy would start to come out of her pours! My mind was raising a million miles an hour with all of this information…but Denise seemed to take it all in stride.

Apparently, the chemicals come out of the pours in your body. If they sit on your skin…they will burn you. Her mom told me just a few days ago that she has in fact developed some of these burns. The chemo has also given her sores inside her mouth. She can no longer eat and is being fed through her I.V..

Dr. Gold came in shortly after the chemotherapy began…and Denise’s eyes lit up! Dr. Gold, I’m told, is a brilliant man in his field…but he’s also a clown with the kids! He and Denise have slapping fights…he sticks straws up his nose while talking to them…he was throwing ice chips at Valeria while she was sleeping! I can’t tell you how WONDERFUL it was to have his humor in the room after seeing the chemotherapy treatment.

I am trying to create a “blooper tape” where you can see more of his antics! There’s something to be said about treating someone with more ‘personality than pills.’ Denise knows her cancer is serious business. But she doesn’t just need a doctor..she needs a friend…and Dr.Gold is more than happy to do double duty.

What really surprised me was that he wanted to do the interview right in front of Denise. I had some serious questions that I was nervous asking in front of her…but Dr.Gold didn’t mind…and neither did Denise. I had to remember that there are no secrets between friends….

Dr.Gold told me that they dont really know what causes leukemia. It may be just a “switch” that turns on in the body for some people (yikes!). I thought that maybe Denise’s age and race would make leukemia a rare disease for her but he said that wasn’t the case. There don’t seem to be any patterns of occurance.

He also explained how hard it can be to find a match. There’s only about a 25% chance of finding a match within siblings. Luckily, her sister Janaya matches all 10 markers. More specifically, those markers are called HLAs: human leukocyte antogens. They are markers on every white blood cell that you have, given to you by your parents.

Denise became very tired as the afternoon wore on and Valeria had to get home to her other kids back in Wilmington. I finished up the day with a tour of the hospital and then I also headed home.

That was on a Friday…the following Wednesday is when Denise was to receive her bone marrow transplant which you saw in the piece that aired at 6 tonight. You can find more information about BMT in that blog entry….


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