KRISTINA ISN'T OUT OF THE WOODS YET. (She couldn't be because she is still in West Virginia.) And she hasn't climbed her last mountain either. (Well, she couldn't have done that either because she is still in West Virginia). But if I were the woods or the mountains, I'd be stayin' outta her way.
Ten days ago, you see, my niece Kristina was diagnosed with leukemia. But if personality and will power have anything to do with it, this leukemia doesn't stand a chance.
I remember the first time I discovered that Kristina, cute and seemingly delicate little Kristina, would do just fine in this tough world. She was about two years old and her brother, older by two years and bigger than her by more than that, came flying at her from across the room. I wanted to intercept him but I was too far away, so all I could do was watch. Right before Benjamin got to her, Kristina stuck her arm out like a crossing guard signaling "Stop!" His forehead ran straight into her palm, leveling him. It was a stiff arm that an all-pro wide receiver would be proud of.
While her brother ran off to his mom, Kristina just shrugged and walked away. I remember thinking, "We don't need to worry about her." So, as you might expect, Kristina took up rugby. (Her favorite rugby match was played in the mud. By the time the match was over all the players on both teams were the same color: brown.)
If playing rugby suggests she's tough, that's just the start. While she was doing a semester abroad in Valparaiso, Chile, Kristina was competing on a rugby pitch when she hurt her hand. She didn't just finish the match, she scored a goal -- while having, it turns out, several fractured bones in her hand. This pretty thing with her stunning red hair and beautiful blue eyes could eat nails for breakfast (as long as they were vegetarian).
When our fiddle-playin' Kristina was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia, she was immediately hospitalized at West Virginia University Hospital in Morgantown where she is expected to be hospitalized for a month during her chemotherapy. The good news is that this is an acute myelogenous leukemia that "is associated with the highest proportion of patients who are presumably cured of their disease."
Some progressive physicians like for their patients to take charge of their treatment. Let's hope Kristina's WVU doctors are quite progressive. Here's an updated and abbreviated version of her father's Wednesday posting under "My Story" telling about Kristina's doings this week.
On Tuesday we (her mom and dad) got a call from the ICU saying, don't worry, Kristina's in no danger, but she removed "the tube." It wasn't until after hanging up that we realized they didn't say what kind of tube -- IV tube, feeding tube, breathing tube, what?
When we were allowed to return, we found out it was the breathing and feeding tubes. She had removed them herself. Rather than replace them, the doctors decided to see what happened when they were out. In fact, it turns out that she was able to keep them out for the night.
So what really happened with this tube? Here's her story: "I woke up and found myself strapped down on the bed. I had this horrible tube in my throat. I heard and saw people walking around. I wanted to tell them to take the tube out. But I couldn't talk. I felt like the Hulk. So I just used all my strength and lifted my arms up and took away the tube."
We and she are not sure that's exactly what happened. The fact is, she was strapped down. But who knows? Maybe she did break the restraints, or stretch them.
During her "break" from the breathing tubes, Kristina is half-lying, half-sitting up in bed, talking, joking. (I wish I had room to write some of the things she said last night as she was awakening. But some are best kept private. Whatever they gave her would make a good truth serum.)
She is really looking forward to getting back up to the cancer ward (that sounds funny -- but everything's relative), where, in contrast to the ICU, you are allowed to use iPhones and computers. Because then she can read all your messages. And maybe it won't be long before this really turns into MY story -- she'll write herself about her progress.
Gary D. Gaddy is praying for Kristina's recovery -- and hoping the cancer ward is a fiddle-friendly zone.
A version of this story was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday October 22, 2010.
Copyright 2010 Gary D. Gaddy