One Family's Experience with Childhood Cancer

Dan and Andrea Gorsegner were stunned to learn that their 2 1/2-year-old daughter Natalie had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Andrea offers a small glimpse into their journey as a family, from cancer diagnosis to the maintenance stage of her treatment.

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[MUSIC] Two days before Natalie was diagnosed, we were doing a family photo shoot. Natalie hadn't been feeling great and I remember at one point the photographer said, oh, Andrea, her nose is bleeding a little. I said, that's weird, and I grabbed a tissue. When I look at this picture of Natalie now it's almost hard to believe that this family doesn't know their world is about to be turned completely upside down. The night before Natalie was diagnosed I noticed a couple of broken blood vessels in her eye, and she woke up the next day with a little bruise in her hairline. I took this picture to email the pediatrician and plan to work half a day so I could take Natalie to the doctor that afternoon. But the minute I got to work, my phone rang. It was the pediatrician. And she told me, I should bring Natalie in now, which really scared me. When we got to her office, she drew some blood. But then she said she couldn't read Natalie's blood on her machine. You need to take Natalie to the emergency room, she said. I called Dan and I brought Natalie to the ER. I waited for her test results and then like a scene out of a movie, I saw a small team of people approaching, one with tears in her eyes. An oncologist told me the news. Your daughter has leukemia. After that, I couldn't hear anything. I couldn't speak. Natale started blood, platelet and plasma transfusions right away, and surgery was scheduled for the following day to insert a port in her chest to start administering the chemo therapy. Dan took this photo of us when they brough us up to the pediatric oncology floor. If you look closely, you can see the little bruise in Natale's hair line. As Natalie got her treatments at both clinic and the hospital we tried to settle in to our new routine. Sometimes Natalie was too tired to walk but she also enjoyed rides on her IV pole a lot. A few months into Natalie's treatment she became more comfortable with the routine and part of that routine was frequent blood withdrawals. The doctors and nurses like to empower the kids as much as possible, and in the beginning they would say, "Natalie, would you like to help?" She'd say no, but eventually she wanted to. This is Natalie at three years old helping to draw her own blood. Many times people say to me. It's a good thing Natalie's so little. She won't remember any of this. She'll probably only remember the good parts like getting the gifts. But, I don't want Natalie to forget some of the difficult moments with the port in her chest and her Tubie, and how the treatment made her stomach protrude to the point that she was uncomfortable wearing shirts. Whenever Natalie's struggling later in life, I want her to look back and remember so she can get through anything. When Natalie got sick, we brought her favorite rainbow tutu to the hospital thinking, it might make her happy. But she didn't want it. It was sad because she never seemed her old self anymore. And then one day at home she went upstairs and she came down wearing the tutu. It was such a beautiful moment. There's really no one who can put Natalie in a good mood like her sister can. Even when Natalie's feeling really, really crappy, the true test is when Hannah comes into the room. We actually call Hannah the Natalie Whisperer. When Natalie was getting her vitals checked in the hospital Hannah brought her doll so she could get her baby's blood checked too. On this day, I noticed that every last hair had come off of Natalie's head. As she was losing her hair, I didn't want her to be scared of it, or to think that she wasn't beautiful. So I'd say. Oh look, mommy can see your beautiful face more. And her sister would say, I wanna bald head just like you, or bring me that cute little bald head so I can kiss it. Since I was with Natalie every day, I didn't see the changes to her as much as they were happening. It's kind of like having a baby and then one day you look at your child as a toddler and say how'd you get so tall? But suddenly one day I could see it all, the hair gone, the pale skin, and the deep circles around her eyes. For the first time I looked at Natalie and could see the actual cancer patient. It's hard for Natalie to understand the severity of cancer and having to take medicine on days where she actually feels good I took this picture of Natalie's little hand reaching for her medications and posted it to Facebook because at this point she had accepted the routine as her new normal and stopped fighting us. Which to me was a good and a bad thing. I just wanted people to see the reality of childhood cancer. Natalie's moved into the maintenance stage of her treatment, which means in addition to her daily oral chemo medication, we only have to go to clinic once a month now instead of every week. We feel like, aside from the major fact that our child has cancer, we are incredibly blessed that Natalie will survive this. After Natalie's chemo is done in a few more months, we can start thinking about enrolling her in school. Having a child with cancer just changes you forever. You look at the simple moments and really do appreciate them more. Not only was high risk and we're finally almost out of the woods, but too many families are less fortunate. We can really do so much more for kids with cancer to raise more money, raise awareness. [MUSIC] I want all children, including Natalie, to be be able to climb trees until they can climb them with their own kids.

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