In a special, personal column, Hadas Rosental, mother of 3-year old Moriah, speaks about her everyday struggle with cancer in the oncology ward of the Schneider Hospital in PetachTikvah, about the challenges and the new life routine.
We’re starting the chemotherapy. What, now? Yes, yes, now. But we just got to the ward, and just did a biopsy, and she’s still weak. True, but there is a tumor inside that is growing bigger every day. If we give it more and more time, it will keep growing. That’s why we are starting, and starting now. ..
Moriah’s treatment protocol is one of the longest there is. Unlike leukemia or lymphoma, a neuroblastoma requires treatment with almost every possible technique that cancer can be treated.
Every round of chemo requires four days of full hospitalization and another ten days of recuperation at home. But you are not really home. You come to the ward for check-ups every Monday and Thursday, and if the temperature goes up, you are hospitalized, and the only thing going through your head is that one more day has gone by and we are getting closer and closer to the next chemotherapy.
I cannot imagine the thoughts that go through Moriah’s mind and the feelings in her heart, but just the thought of going to the hospital, of being connected to a stand with bags of chemo, makes me feel nauseous and like I have a ten-ton load on my heart. To our good fortune, and that of all the patients in the ward, there are the Ezer Mizion volunteers, who make the stay at the ward a little easier, more pleasant, and a lot more tolerable.
Throughout the treatment period, we considered Ezer Mizion our second home. The Donald Berman Rehabilitation Center offered everything from music classes to sand therapy. From professional support for the whole family to a petting zoo which Moriah would have wanted to spend every waking hour ‘talking’ to a cuddly bunny or frolicking with an adorable puppy Most of all, there were the people who really understood what we were going through and took care of our every need.
Our first night in the ward, we were told that only one parent can sleep over. Since I was in my fifth month of pregnancy at the time, and couldn’t change Moriah’s diapers when she was getting chemo, it was clear that my husband would be the one to stay. My eyes glistened with tears, and I thought to myself: I am about to leave my little girl here, attached to this bag of poison. I said good-bye to Moriah, promised her that I would be back at the ward before she woke up (which I indeed was) and with a heavy heart, strode towards the car. I don’t know how I got back to my mother’s house, because all the tremendous pressure that was choking me drained out in the form of copious tears.
Chemotherapy kills. It kills cancer cells, reduces tumors, minimizes the illness and (in most cases) cleanses the body. Chemotherapy also destroys the immune system: the neutrophils drop, the hemoglobin level sinks and the thromobocytes touch rock bottom. Every time Moriah went through a round of chemotherapy, I took her home and watched her like a hawk. I wouldn’t allow any outsiders into the home and we ourselves didn’t leave the house. We followed the big book of instructions for parents of a sick child to the tee, and hoped that the immune system would restore itself quickly and that Moriah would not be exposed to bacteria that could harm her
Chemotherapy kills the appetite. The tongue loses the ability to distinguish between tastes and everything tastes bad. Moriah rapidly went down from 14 kilos to 12 kilos, and later, during the transplant period, she lost even more weight. All the shows, songs, dances and other performances we did for Moriah just to get her to take another bite of food would not have shamed the theater.
Chemotherapy kills the hair follicles. The most tangible and characteristic symptom of a cancer patient is the bald head. When I first sat down with our social worker, she asked if we would like to make a wig for Moriah. I didn’t have to think twice; I immediately answered in the negative. We will wear her baldness with pride. We won’t be ashamed of it and won’t hide it. But it wasn’t easy.
At a later stage of the treatments, when I had already learned to identify signs of a fall or rise in the immune system, and when I knew that Moriah was not neutropenic, I would take her with me for a trip to the “outside world,” for brief outings.
The minute we would walk into a store, everything would stop. People froze in their place and gazed in our direction. The butcher at the supermarket took his curiosity a step further and asked me, in front of the girl, “Why is she bald?” I gave him a look of “Do you really want or expect me to answer you?”
On another occasion, I was at a birthday party in Ezer Mizion’s Oranit cancer patient guest home for a boy whose parent was sick. Some of the boys’ classmates were at the party and they very naturally were curious about Moriah’s bald head. Two children who passed by us giggled and said, “Look, that girl is bald.” I wanted to scream at them, to call their parents and insist that they teach their children how to behave. I wanted them to apologize to Moriah. Someone, who saw the fire in my eyes and the storm within, took my hand and said to them, “Bald is beautiful.”
Well, we made it through with Ezer Mizion at our side. The bone marrow transplant, all the psychological help, the practical assistance, the fun days, parties and trips to keep up our spirits, an open door at Oranit… We couldn’t have done it without them.
Chemotherapy kills, but it saved my little girl.