Thursday, January 14, 2010

Prayers For Michaela and Haiti - The Sum Of Light

Dialogue Between:
Billy Kwan, seasoned freelance photo-journalist based in Jakarta, Indonesia
Guy Hamilton, Journalist, neophyte, foreign correspondent from Australia

BILLY: And the people asked him, saying, what shall we do then?

GUY: What's that?

BILLY: It's from Luke, chapter three, verse ten. What then must we do? Tolstoy asked the same question. He wrote a book with that title. He got so upset about the poverty in Moscow that he went one night into the poorest section and just gave away all his money. You could do that now. Five American dollars would be a fortune to one of these people.

GUY: Wouldn't do any good, just be a drop in the ocean.

BILLY: Ahh, that's the same conclusion Tolstoy came to. I disagree.

GUY: Oh, what's your solution?

BILLY: Well, I support the view that you just don't think about the major issues. You do whatever you can about the misery that's in front of you. Add your light to the sum of light. You think that's naive, don't you?

GUY: Yep.

BILLY: It's alright, most journalists do.

GUY: We can't afford to get involved.

- I was here to bask in the 50-degree heat before returning to the Grand Icebox, I mean Valley, tonight. I had a good interview today, but was kind of dismayed when on the way here the temperature in Vail was higher than it was in Grand Junction.

Combined with the inversion-induced haze largely obscuring Grand Mesa from town, the current weather in GJ reminds me of the surroundings at a structure fire on a cold winter evening. All of the snow and ice that collectively refuses to melt on the yards and streets seem to serve the same purpose as the output of hoses that freezes and accumulates on the sides of buildings, overhead wires and poles, dropping the temperature in the immediate area of the scene by at least 15 degrees. Now there's a possible reason for the City and County to get the ice off of the side streets; maybe it'll help warm things up.

Considering the futility of complaining about the weather, I want to start reflecting on some past blog topics by revisiting the struggle of my fiancee Leslie's youngest daughter, Michaela. Nearly two years ago I wrote about Michaela's fight with neuroblastoma, described in medical literature as "the most common extracranial solid cancer in children".

In February 2008, Michaela had surgery to remove a tumor in her chest cavity. Since that surgery, oncologists at Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh have used different standard combinations of chemotherapy and other drugs to try to keep the spread of tumor cells at bay. This included, most recently, enrolling Michaela in a clinical trial for an experimental medication that held promise in reducing the spread of these cells.

Monitoring the presence of neuroblastoma cells is aided by the use of what is called an MIBG scan. MIBG is a substance that binds to these cancer cells, and when combined with radioactive iodine will make them light up on a nuclear medicine scan.

Recently, additional small tumors were discovered again in Michaela's chest. This return of 'active disease' disqualified her from the clinical trial, and the doctors at CHP stated they had no other viable treatment options available at their facility. Leslie began searching for different appropriate treatments, and found one being done at only a few hospitals around the country.

This type of therapy involves using the same MIBG used to track the growth of neuroblastoma, but instead of just serving as a marker a different radioactive iodine is used to essentially deliver radiation treatments directly to the cancer cells.

Michaela had this procedure done today at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She and Leslie will be in the oncology wing there until at least next Monday. Leslie was detailing to me today all of the protocols and precautions being taken for a patient treated with this type of radiation. This includes an isolation-type environment; Leslie must wear a dosimeter badge when in the room, to measure how much radiation she is being exposed to while caring for Michaela.
Michaela will go back home, and have follow-up care in March. It is hoped that all of this will slow or stop the tumor growth.

Michaela has been in the loop for all of the discussions about her care; Leslie makes sure that she is as informed as an 8-year-old can be. While we're all hopeful for some measure of success, the somber realization of what happens if it isn't has an unspoken presence in the lives of Michaela and those around her. Leslie has only been able to work sporadically while caring for Michaela; tangible support in many forms has come from neighbors, loved ones, Michaela's school classmates, and the community at large.

One day at a time, moving forward, keeping fear at bay.

The photo of Michaela above was taken this past October. She's a vibrant, curious child who deserves every chance she can possibly have at survival. Your addition to the sum of light in the form of prayers for success in her treatment are most appreciated.

Strip away the ignoble and miniscule scale of complaints about how cold it is in Grand Junction. Those of us who have had cancer in our lives know the personal pain and tragedy involved not only with addressing the needs of an ill loved one, but trying to maintain a stable existence in the meantime.

Superimpose over these personal trials the mass suffering in Haiti, and it's easy to see how one's heartstrings are tugged upon at varying and sundry degrees and amounts on a daily basis.

The snippet of screenplay at the top of this post is from one of my all-time favorite films. I have a hard time with those who have leveled complaints about the non-stop media coverage of the carnage in Haiti, as well as the comments made by the likes of Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh. A fair question here; if you aren't adding to the sum of light, are you contributing to the darkness?

Last night I added my tangible light to that gathering for Haiti, directly through the Red Cross website. I'll add those intangible thoughts and prayers as I make my way back to the Western Slope tonight, while I'm talking with Leslie when she takes a break. She can't use a cell phone when she's wearing her dosimeter - it affects the accuracy of the instrument. Isn't that special..

I hope that all of you reading this have some light to share, in whatever way you can.

Have a good evening.

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