Hitting the Wall - By Beth Page, Tanner's mom
Here's Tanner at five years old. She was a happy, healthy kindergartener riding bikes, playing soccer, taking dance lessons. But, within a few days of this picture being taken, she started complaining about back and leg pain, which is pretty odd for a five-year-old. Within the week, her school had a one-mile fitness test at Pinkerton Park and Tanner came in dead last, limping across the finish line. Our pediatrician agreed that she had probably strained something at field day or her dance recital. Several weeks after this picture, she woke in the night screaming inconsolably that her back hurt. This started the two-day process of determining that our spunky, sassy girl had leukemia and would only live a few more weeks without chemo intervention.
Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia is the most common type of childhood cancer, and Tanner’s low risk factors made her situation the best case scenario for treatment. Even so, she would go on to endure two-and-a-half years of chemo, the standard protocol for a girl with ALL (boys do an extra year). It is truly the marathon of cancer treatment.
The first six months of treatment were brutal. She had weekly IV chemo, and other chemos delivered any which way you can imagine: 19 lumbar punctures with chemo delivered into her spinal column; chemo injected in her to thighs through simultaneous, painful shots; oral chemo; massive high-dose steroids; chemo we brought home and nervously administered through her port, and on and on. Her body went through incredible changes. She gained 15 pounds in the first month from steroids and was, literally, unrecognizable. Then, over the next few months, the weight fell off of her, along with her hair, and she became emaciated, pale and frail.
But, Tanner never gave up. She never stopped dancing and singing, and playing with her brother. Just like a runner hitting the wall, she kept going, even though her body begged her to stop and she, eventually, triumphed and came to a better place.
After six months, Tanner entered the maintenance phase of treatment for nearly two years. She was able to go back to school during this time, although she still missed a lot of class and I found myself at school often, bringing painkillers or anti-nausea medicine. Maintenance was easier, but still no picnic: daily oral chemo, monthly IV chemo and steroid pulses; and the dreaded lumbar punctures every three months.
About a year into chemo, when her school once again had their one-mile fitness run, Tanner asked on the way to school that morning, “Mom are you and Dad coming to my fitness run?”
“Of course, ” I replied, then added, “You know Tanner, you don’t have to run if you don’t feel like it. We could bring pom poms and cheer on your friends. “
“I want to run,” she said.
“Okay, well just know that if you need to stop, that’s okay. You just run as far as you can.”
“Why wouldn’t I run?” she said, confused.
I paused for moment before answering, “No reason. Go for it!”
And she did. She ran and didn’t finish last despite a year’s worth of chemo in her small body. That spirit and resilience continue to serve her well today.
Tanner is now a healthy, active ten-year-old. August 6, 2013, marked two years off of chemo for her and she is playing soccer, loving 5th grade, acting in local children’s theatre, singing and being her spunky, silly lovable self.
We are so grateful to people like Emily, who choose to use their passion for running to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. They have been a vital force behind Tanner’s survival with the research they have sponsored in the past. LLS continues to sponsor promising research to improve outcomes and find ways to treat leukemia with less side effects. We hope that you will consider donating so more kids can ask, "Why wouldn't I run."
And just in case you need the fundraising site again, go here.