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A Mother's Journey

Every waking moment is supposed to be spent making memories! Memories that will last a lifetime. In August 2021, my daughter, Kaidence, and I were diagnosed with COVID. This diagnosis came at the wrong time because my youngest child’s first birthday was right around the corner. The timing was off! While in quarantine, we had to miss his first birthday. On August 28th, we both tested negative and were out of quarantine. However, on September 7th, Kaidence’s grandmother, who was her favorite shopping partner, was diagnosed with COVID. Her diagnosis began a new journey in our lives that no one expected. The memories we longed for would take a different path.

Unfortunately, her journey ended on October 25th. This left my baby girl devastated because she loved spending time with her grandmother. Around this same time, Kaidence began to have recurring headaches. I constantly gave her Tylenol for the headaches, and I believed she was having continuous headaches due to grief. The loss of her grandmother really affected her as she talked about her all the time and even wished she was still with us. On Thanksgiving Day, Kaidence woke up with yet again another headache. I decided to take her to our local emergency room. Honestly, I thought they would provide her with headache medicine and encourage her to get more rest.

Nevertheless, our visit to the emergency room started a journey we never imagined. The doctor expressed he would not typically recommend a CT scan for a child, but it was the best option for my daughter. Every nurse and doctor working that shift came to our room to “see” my daughter. I was in disbelief because, in just a few moments, the words spoken by the doctor would change our lives forever. “Mrs. Peterson, Kaidence has a mass on her right temporal bone that has eaten away at her bone,” said the doctor. At that moment, he recommended that we go straight to Children’s of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. I was at a loss for words as I did not understand the diagnosis or even how to get to Birmingham, but I knew we had to get there swiftly. I drove as there was no time to wait for ambulance transport. When we arrived, 4 hours later, there was not a doctor available to evaluate her. Unfortunately, we traveled back home that night full of emotion with no additional information about the tumor or headaches.

Naturally, as her mother, I worried and prayed because I did not know what to do to help my daughter. However, a few days later, I received a phone call to schedule an appointment with a neurosurgeon. This phone call began yet another journey for our family. The first of many appointments began in December 2021 with a biopsy and many more procedures. It felt as though we were in a whirlwind during the month of December. First, Kaidence had a biopsy. Then, Damien, my youngest child, had ear surgery. Finally, I had nose surgery. Believe it or not, all three procedures occurred within one week. Our lives were changing and moving at a fast pace, even if we were not ready!

We continued to press forward. Her biopsy confirmed what the doctors predicted. At that moment, our lives changed once again, on January 11, 2022, Kaidence was diagnosed with Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH). LCH is a rare disorder that can damage tissue or cause lesions to form in one or more places in the body. This is a rare disease that begins in the LCH cells, which are a type of dendritic cell that normally helps the body fight infection. Her form of LCH was not cancerous, but it did require a treatment plan using chemotherapy due to the mass being near her brain. A membrane was the only barrier keeping the mass from interfering with her brain. If the mass would have eaten through the membrane, it would have affected her normalcy of life. My mind began to race as I learned all of this information.

Truthfully, I did not want to treat my 5-year-old with chemotherapy as I wanted her to have a “normal” life. However, chemotherapy was my only option. I wanted her to run, play, help her brother, and play in make-up, as I wanted a normal life for her. I did not want to take on this role, but I knew that I had no other choice.

By the end of January, a port was placed, and her first chemotherapy treatment was scheduled to begin in February. The first few weeks of chemotherapy were rough as we were traveling every week to Birmingham, Alabama, for 6 weeks for treatments. Then, her treatment plan changed to every 3 weeks. The pain of watching her cry out from being stuck in the chest every week grew stronger and deeper. Most days, I could not bear to be in the room and see and hear her crying out. There was a pain in her eyes as she looked to me for help. The sound of her voice as she cried out for me to help. These are the things a mother never wants to experience. I just wanted to take my baby and leave. The feeling of being helpless as I heard her crying out repeatedly played over and over again in my head. I felt stuck. I was stuck between not being able to help and helping. I think what hurt me the most was that Kaidence never got used to being stuck by the needles. So, every visit for chemotherapy was just like her first visit. She never got used to it and was never comfortable enough to just take it. Every time, she cried out for mommy. Every visit just continued to dig a hole deeper, and I could feel myself sinking deeper and deeper. The only thing that kept me sane for my daughter was my faith in the Lord, knowing His way is always better than ours. Treatment after treatment, we learned to make the best of it. It never got easier, but I learned to reward her for bravery. I learned that life was still happening after all the turmoil. Most importantly, I learned to pray for my child. Pray when she is well, just as much as when she is sick. We would pray together and turn every appointment into a mommy and daughter day!

On January 12, 2023, Kaidence completed one year of chemotherapy. She ended it with a bang! She never seemed to allow chemotherapy to get her down. Of course, she had some bad days, but they did not ever outweigh her good days. On January 25th, she had a Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI), and everything came back the exact way the doctor had planned and hoped. Since her results came back positive, she now has follow-up appointments every 3 months.

We never know what is going on, so we need to make sure that we are paying attention to the small things. Please get yourself checked; do not take checkups lightly. I was that careful mom that took her kids to the doctor for everything. Our experience has been a huge eye-opener for me. All the things I worried about that would happen to her during this experience never happened. I worried she would never be normal, and she would be the same as she was before this journey. She has conquered some things in her life that some people will never do and that’s receiving chemotherapy. She swims, rock-climbs, plays softball, runs, plays, and does everything she wants to do without a problem. I truly believe God let this happen to my child to get to me. I needed to learn to look at the situations. I needed to put my trust fully in him and stop trying to always be in control. I needed to let Him do what He does best. I needed to step back and pray without worrying about what the answer was going to be. I needed to learn how to be just mommy and not try to be superwoman. I needed to...JUST LET GO AND LET GOD!

Martika, alongside her husband Damien, is a devoted parent to Kaidence (6) and Damien (3). By candidly sharing their impactful journey through childhood cancer, Martika aims to illuminate their story, promoting greater awareness and understanding. Martika works at the local health department and is passionate about creating memories with her family.

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