Birthdays have always been a big deal for Ellory. But her 11th birthday took the cake.
It was the first time in three years that Ellory got to celebrate her birthday outside the hospital. More significantly, she commemorated another year of life – no small feat for a young cancer survivor who underwent 850 days of chemotherapy as part of her treatment at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
After experiencing unexplained aches and pains for weeks, Ellory woke up one morning to find her hands and feet were so swollen she couldn’t walk. When a blood test revealed a highly elevated white blood cell count, her pediatrician told her parents to take her to Children’s Colorado immediately.
“She was drenched in sweat when I got her out of bed that night,” recalls Ellory’s mother, Joy. “I held her the entire one-hour drive to Children’s Colorado. We arrived at midnight, and there was a team of oncologists waiting for us. She was admitted immediately.”
Ellory was diagnosed with leukemia in December 2013.
Two and a half years of Chemo
Dozens of tests, blood draws and IVs ensued, followed by a three-week stay in the hospital and two and a half years of chemotherapy treatments.
As grueling as the past few years have been, Ellory’s mother said that she had peace of mind knowing that her daughter was getting the best care available.
“Children’s Colorado not only has wonderful caregivers with outstanding talents and skills, they also have the latest technologies in cancer treatment,” says Joy. “There is no place better equipped to handle our daughter’s care.”
One of the hardest parts of Ellory’s treatment was the constant risk of infection. While chemotherapy is effective in killing cancer cells, it also wipes out the body’s immune system, making patients particularly susceptible to illness. Last year, Ellory was hospitalized for 17 days, including her birthday, with a life-threatening infection.
“A lot of kids who get this particular infection don’t survive, so that was very scary,” says Joy. “Our care team was amazing. They were unendingly patient and sympathetic. They used all the means at their disposal to make her feel comfortable and loved.”
Support and Laughter
Ellory’s family was especially grateful for the child life specialists at Children’s Colorado, a team of trained professionals who help patients and families cope with the hospital setting and treatments. Because of generous philanthropic support, child life specialists are available to patients at no charge.
“Those folks are absolutely essential – not only for kids but for the parents, too,” says Joy. “They helped us figure out how to talk to her and what to say that was age appropriate. They even helped her learn how to swallow pills.”
Ellory maintained her positive attitude and sense of humor, even in her darkest days of treatment.
“One time, after I lost my hair, there was a boy at the park who was convinced I was a boy,” recalls Ellory. “He kept asking why I was wearing earrings, and I kept saying, ‘Because I’m a girl.’ Finally, I got tired of it and I said, ‘Well, I guess I’m just a boy who likes earrings.’”
Joy says it’s a perfect example of her daughter’s goofy, cheerful personality.
“She loves to make people laugh,” says Joy. “Even when she was at the hospital for treatment, she was always cracking jokes. She’s the type of person who makes you smile just by walking through the door.”
Today – her treatment complete and her leukemia in remission – Ellory is a fun-loving fifth grader who loves animals and dreams of someday working at a doggy daycare.
“We’ve worked really hard as a family to look on the bright side of things,” said Joy. “We never would have chosen this, but we’ve used this experience to grow our character and to remind Ellory of how strong she is.”
Joy smiles, adding, “And she is one strong kid.”