Amanda loved to laugh and play, with homework falling near the bottom of the list of things to do. She enjoyed horseback riding, talking on the phone or chatting on MSN. She was a healthy child, battling the usually amounts of colds and flu, and getting chicken pox at the age of 5, which kept her out of school for a week. We were not prepared for her final few years of life. Amanda was always active. In the summer months, she would play on a recreational soccer team. During the other months of the year, she would participate on school team sports; taking gymnastics, dance or skating lessons. At the age of twelve, she had the wonderful experience of witnessing the birth of her sister, Vanessa. Amanda took so much pride in being a big sister.
Soon after Amanda turned thirteen, she started to suffer from back pains. The initial x-ray and ultra sound were clear. The back pain persisted and a few months later, a growth was discovered on her spine and her final journey began. She was rushed to The Hospital for Sick Children on April 16th, 2003 and by midnight was in the surgery to remove a portion of the growth that caused the pressure on her spine. A biopsy confirmed cancer, Ewing’s sarcoma, a very aggressive cancer that usually develops in the teenage years. Damage was done to Amanda’s spine, which paralyzed her legs. After the initial shock wore off, and a lot of tears shed, we decided as a family that we would not let it stop us from enjoying life.
Amanda would be bounced back and forth between The Hospital for Sick Children for chemo treatments and Bloorview Kids Rehab struggling to regain the use of her legs. During that time, laughter was our best medicine. Whenever possible, tense situations were erased with jokes, silly comments, or a slapstick routine. This would help take our minds off the current situation. In May 2003, Amanda was given permission to attend her grade 8 confirmation. This was the first time that she spent an evening outside the hospital or rehabilitation center in over a month. All her schoolmates welcomed herwith open arms. Amanda was a little nervous about going. This would be the first time she ventured out with her wig and wheelchair, but her schoolmates were overjoyed that she was able to attend and she had a great time.
A few weeks later, and with another chemo treatment finished, it was time for the grade 8 semiformal. Again Amanda was nervous. She got all dressed up and spent the evening at the Glen Eagle Golf Club. She was beautiful. It was great that she was able to spend time with her friends, laughing and talking. They sat around and reminisced about all the years spent at Pope John Paul II School and chatted about what high school would be like.
Even though Amanda’s future was uncertain, she always believed that she would join them at high school someday.
The next big accomplishment was the school Ottawa trip. Two months after the original diagnoses and with three chemo treatments finished, Amanda was able to spend four days in Ottawa with the rest of the grade 8 students. Pope John Paul II School made special arrangements for a wheel chair bus, so there wasn’t anything that was holding her back. She had an amazing time with her classmates. Like any typical teenager, she came home with lots of memories and pictures of her exciting adventure.
The chemo treatments were effective for the first eight months and as a family, we started to relax thinking that she was going to beat the disease. In December 2003, Amanda was released from Bloorview Kids Rehab. She was now able to move around using a walker. Her chemo treatments were schedule to continue for another three months. But in January 2004, she was diagnosed with a new tumor at the top of her spine. The cancer had become resistant to the current chemo treatments and was starting to grow again. She went through two more chemo protocols, but with no success. She did manage to attend the RF Hall High School for a couple of months, but the discomfort became too much for her so she did home schooling for a while.
By the end of April 2004, Amanda was in palliative care. With the help of some family and friends, Amanda was able to attend the Toronto Maple Leaf’s playoff game on May 4th, 2004. She spent the evening lying in a stretcher cheering on the Leaf’s. It was an incredible evening for her. She came back to Page6he Hospital for Sick Children that night and spent the next week telling her adventures to anyone who would listen. Her picture was on page 34 in the Toronto Sun the next day. By now, some of her medication was changed and a small window of opportunity opened up. Amanda’s health improved to spend a week in Hawaii. With the work of the doctors and nurses at The Hospital for Sick Children, and the people at The Children’s Wish Foundation, everything was arranged in under two weeks so Amanda’s dream of swimming with the dolphins would come true. The Children’s Wish Foundation, provided us with wonderful memories and beautiful pictures of Amanda spending an amazing week in Hawaii.
The Hawaiian trip was the highlight to Amanda’s sixteen-month struggle with cancer, and as a family and with the help of friends and strangers, we collected lots of wonderful memories during this impossible time. With this disease hanging over our heads, every moment in life seemed precious. We were an affectionate family, but we would often hold the hug a little longer, say I love you a little more or add an extra emphasis to a compliment or praise. Throughout this whole ordeal, we never gave up hope. On July 22, 2004, Amanda lost her battle with cancer.
Amanda made life easier for us during this time. She rarely complained. She always laughed and smiled and took things one day at a time. She taught us many valuable lessons in life; never give up hope, always smile because smiles are infectious, and cherish your family and friends because they will always be there for you. Even in Amanda’s deteriorating state of health, she was always concerned for others, especially children. Helping others was something very close to her heart.
No child should go through what Amanda went through. But the fact is, that are a lot of families that struggle as we did while their children receive chemo treatment at children’s hospitals around the world. Believe it or not, were the one of the lucky ones. Amanda had thirteen healthy years before cancer came to her life. Other children are battling cancer from birth. Please do whatever you can to support this cause and any similar cause that will bring joy to a child’s life. No matter how difficult things get, remember that there is always hope!