Chemo Duck

Meet Ducky.

Chemo Duck 2

He’s no ordinary duck.  Although at first that is what I thought.  “We will add him to her collection of stuffed animals from the hospital stays,” I said to Dan.  “I really don’t think that she will pay much attention to him.”

Dressed in blue scrubs with a red bandana on his head, Ducky became a bigger part of our lives than I could have anticipated upon his first arrival.  Then when I first pulled apart the velcro that fastened his shirt together, I remember losing my breath briefly.

Cehmo Duck 3

Ducky came to Tessa from the hospital as a gift from the Gabe’s Chemo Duck program. Megan, the child life specialist, introduced Tessa and the duck, and an instant friendship bloomed. She told us that Chemo Duck is often used as a stress reliever and companion for kids going through treatment.  “He will soothe her and comfort her,” Megan said.  To me he was just an adorable duck, but to Tessa he was so much more.  

Like Tessa, under his shirt he has a central line placed in his chest.  His arm has a cuff on it to help keep his IV in place…or in Tessa’s case to check his blood pressure. When Tessa gets her dressing changed, so does Ducky–and he even goes first!

Tessa learned how to listen to his belly, back and heart.  She checks his temperature and give him his daily meds.  She checks his eyes and checks his mouth for sores.  She built trust and confidence in herself and the hospital staff with the help of her new friend.  When Ducky is not busy showing her the endless ropes of the inpatient life, he is sitting next to her watching Madagascar, sharing popsicles, strolling the halls in the grocery cart, and eventually cuddling her to sleep.  I had no idea that Ducky would blend so perfectly in her environment.

Chemo Duck 1

You see, he has given her something that I couldn’t.  You would not think that a two year old would notice the similarities between herself and Chemo Duck, but she does.  I see the way her eyes light up when I ask where Ducky is?  Her smile grows as she reaches out to give him a massive hug.  She makes sure to tuck him into bed with a blankie.  Ducky provides an escape from reality of the hospital by offering up extra soft security.  When we are unsure how to be there for her, he is there just how she needs him to be.  He gave Tessa the gift of true friendship, not just because she can relate, but because he is always there for her comforting her, soothing her, making everything alright.  He makes her happy.

As I prepare for Tessa’s final round of chemo scheduled for tomorrow, I catch myself constantly checking to see that Ducky is still packed in with her things for the long stay. He makes an escape now and then for a quick round of tea, but he has never missed a treatment.  Sometimes I forget what it is like to be a kid, relying on the one thing that melts away the bad as soon it is in hand.

Chemo Duck 6

For me it was Lucy, a handmade bunny dressed in a red paisley pattern.  Sure she had a wooden block that stabilized her head underneath that pattern, but I loved her so much that I could ignore the minor injuries to my face while sleeping thanks to her wooden neck.  I carried Lucy with me for many years, and tucked her in beside me at night.

For Tessa it is Ducky.  I won’t soon forget about all that he has done for her by doing nothing at all.

Chemo Duck 5

And if I could, I would tell Ducky thank you.

Chemo Duck 4

To learn more about Gabe’s Chemo Duck program, please visit

Hope in Heartache

On Friday Tessa was admitted to the hospital to begin her next round of chemotherapy.  We were initially placed in the Bone Marrow Transplant unit because each room was full and we have since moved back out onto the main hall.

Today I find myself more emotionally sensitive to my surroundings.  It could have started with waking to the snow falling freely outside our hospital picture window or the intense and painful cries of another child down the hall.  Maybe it is watching a bag of poison constantly run through my girl’s body for hours on end.  My emotional battery was fully charged when A Thousand Years came on the Pandora Baby Lullaby station during Tessa’s nap time.  After reading about a little boy who lost his battle with ALL on Saturday, I could not stop thinking about his family or the hardships that can come with diseases like leukemia.  All of these and a combination of other happenings captured my attention today.  I kept finding myself wondering how we got here.  How did this happen?  And in a moment of pity…why her; why us?  Why anyone?

And I lost it.

I suppose I am entitled to times like these.  I am entitled to empathy for our neighbors on our floor.  Maybe I need to let songs tug on my heart strings when they fit so appropriately.  How do I not put myself in the shoes of others who are saying good-bye to their child who fought a similar fight?  How do I avoid thinking about what could happen?  I suppose I am also entitled to a little bit of pity for Tessa and myself as well.

One of my jobs as her mother is to keep her safe by protecting her, and I am learning just how big of a task this is.  I am also finding that no matter how perfectly I mothered her, there are some things I will not be able to protect her from.  I think this is one of those defining moments in parenting where I have to let go of what I am unable to shield her from, and discover ways to triumph through the rough waters–while at the mercy of things that I cannot control.  Everything can change in an instant; and I have to stand steadfast in the wake of any changes, good or bad.  I have a feeling this will be a lesson that I learn more than once over the next several years.  Excuse me while I get rid of the small chip on my shoulder.

Sometimes all it takes is her laughter or dancing to make me feel better.  Sometimes it is the blessing of watching her sleep away an afternoon while I drink coffee and watch the cars and construction below.  More recently I reflect on our time at home.  Tessa would squat down by Kendal (who was happily playing with her toys) and say, “Hunny, no-no…oh, hunny!”  Casin would trade playing in his room for reading a book to his sisters.  In a moment my heart is mended, and I can continue to count my blessings. Because in the midst of heartache lays hope, and hope feels much better than heartache.

Tonight Tessa’s nurse will hang up her last bag of chemo for this round.  She is tolerating it well.  She acts as though we never left the hospital to begin with.  The same as last time, we will wait for her blood counts to drop as her bone marrow remakes new cells.  Then we will wait for her blood counts to climb again.  We are hoping and praying for protection from viruses and infections throughout this process.  Maybe, just maybe, we could all be home for Christmas.

Family Xmas 2013