For most parents, cancer treatments like chemo are uncharted waters, but not so for Emma’s dad Sean.
When he was 11, doctors diagnosed Sean with a Desmoid tumor, a condition in which noncancerous tumors wrap themselves around the body’s muscles. Doctors removed his tumors, but they grew back the next year, this time wrapped around his hip.
Surgery was no longer an option because doctors feared paralysis, so from the sixth grade until his sophomore year of high school, Sean periodically underwent chemo at Children’s Medical Center Dallas.
When Emma was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia “ALL,” it comforted Emma’s mom Sarah to know her husband had gone through a similar experience and was treated successfully at the same place their daughter would be treated. “Even now, he knows how Emma’s feeling physically,” says Sarah. “He has been a huge help.”
Doctors reassured the couple early on that Sean’s condition did not contribute to Emma’s diagnosis and that the diagnoses are not related in any way.
Father and Daughter Experiences Similar But Not Identical
Sean expected Emma’s experience to be a lot like his, but he has been pleasantly surprised to find the opposite. “She has handled this totally different than I expected,” he says. “I was a big baby, but Emma is happy; she doesn’t complain. I remember going through chemo and feeling like I would fall apart if I moved, so I was expecting something similar with Emma. I thought we would have to carry around a vomit bag or something like that. But she has been much stronger than I was.”
Sean’s primary physician at Children’s, Naomi Winick, M.D., who also helped chart Emma’s treatment plan, says the family has a great dynamic, which has helped them get through this difficult time. “They’re the kindest, most gracious family. They’re always calm, cool and collected,” says Dr. Winick, an attending physician in the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders (CCBD).
Being Social While in the Hospital
Emma is an expressive 4-year-old who has the type of manners all parents strive to instill in their children. “Please,” “thank you” and “may I” are as much a part of her vocabulary as “candy” and “Santa Claus.” She is also outgoing and cooperative, a couple of the many reasons she is a big hit with her caregivers. When she checks in for treatment, physicians seldom find Emma in her room when they come to examine her. Sean explains, as he does to the doctors, “She’s probably with one of the nurses or walking around saying ‘hi’ to everyone.”
“We just love Emma. She’s such a sweet girl. She hangs out in my office for an hour or so and keeps me company,” says Gretchen Hirshey, R.N., the clinical manager for the CCBD’s oncology clinic.
Kids Interpretations Are Not the Same as an Adults
Even model patients pose some challenges. The biggest for the Locks: Emma is very aware for a child her age. “It’s a good and a bad thing,” Sean says. “She understands everything that’s going on, so it’s easy to explain things to her. But when something bad happens, she remembers it for a long time.”
Once while receiving chemo, Emma stepped on the IV tubing that ran from her IV pole to her port, a surgically placed intravenous device that allowed her to receive chemo without multiple IVs. Stepping on the tubing disconnected it, causing her a lot of temporary pain. So for the next month, she sat practically motionless next to her pole during her treatments to avoid a similar experience.
Like Father, Like Daughter: Part 3 begins with the most difficult day of Emma’s journey and checks in with Emma during the maintenance phase of her treatment.