Emily, a happy update from Aunt Kate

Emily0709.jpegI've been asked to write a  little something to let the many Metuchen Matters readers know about Emily's progress. If you are one of the hundreds of "fans" of Emily's and get my emails, you know when Aunt Kate writes an update, it is unfiltered, unedited and unapologetic. I am not sure how the following biased, un-objective, totally out there next few paragraphs will sit with you, but, hey, this is just a little summary about our life over the past 11 months and where we are now.

On August 12, 2008, the beautiful, vivacious Emily Claypool Almeida, age 6, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. Bone cancer. It was truly the most devastating day of my life. Spent the last trimester of my second pregnancy so sad and so pissed. Cancer.  And I am only the Aunt. I cannot fathom in my mind what must've gone through my sister (Alison) and my brother-in-law's (Jose) heads when they were told in a whirlwind of fast events that their daughter had cancer.  I want to say this now, as I have never said it before but have thought it from day one:  Jon and Kate Plus 8, or even 28, have nothing on Alison and Jose when it comes to staying on track and focused  in a strong partnership and loving marriage, not without faults, but with forgiveness, love, humor, and a fantastic support system, the best one, for each other .

 

Over the past  11 months, the intense chemo cocktails and hospital stays at Emily's second home at Bristol Meyers Squibb Children's Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson in New Brunswick were endless and took an incredible toll on Emily's little body. Her insides were being attacked from top to bottom. No appetite, no energy, no hair, no glimmer in those beautiful brown eyes. Fevers abound. Very high fevers. She weighed as little as 45 or 46 pounds, but kept growing taller like a weed. She became our bionic woman with the surgery performed in October that removed her left humerus and replaced it with lots of metal.  We all learned phrases and words that I wish we all didn't need to learn: neutropenic, cystplatin, zofran, Clostridium difficile.  None of us even flinched after a short time when we heard Em needed a "boost" of platelets or a blood transfusion. That shouldn't be.

 

There have been some highlights of the past year. Some you all may have heard about. Others you may not have. Little things get me.  A few weeks ago, visiting Em on the second floor HEM/ONC area, I had the honor of being a human radio flyer wagon puller with Emily, her ferociously funny five year old sister Lily, cousin Michael (my five year ALL BOY son) and the infamous baby Chrissy (Christopher is 8 months old and born just in time to bring some light to our family when we were muddling through the dark). We navigated turns on the floor around the nurses station very fast, speeding by rooms, hoping we didn't get "in trouble."  There was Easter at my house when Em was well enough to come home. We had a wacky, messy egg race in the middle of the street that turned into an egg fight, trying to pelt Gram in the rear, and then eating way too much candy. There is Em's  Santa, who keeps in touch.

 

There was Bingo Night for Emily, what a night! She was so sick, but determined to at least see the sold out event in her honor. Her oncologist and family attended as well. After only a few minutes, Dr. Weiss said it was time to get to the hospital; but she got to see it. When Emily met Jon Bon Jovi, he knelt down to her level to speak with her. Then, as he sang 'Who Says You Can't Go Home' during a small concert, he sang right to her. Trust me, it happened. When Emily surprised our whole family (including me) and was released from the hospital in time for baby Chris' baptism on June 19, Father John made sure he gave her an "extra spritz" during the ceremony. 

 

Last week, I took the four kids to the mall for lunch and errands. Lily announced on the way, as we blasted the latest Mr. Ray CD, that it was the first time in a really long time we had all been together. She was right. In the middle of Macy's, my Michael decided to stop near the women's sunglasses. He tried on some stunningly large Jackie 'O glasses and did a little jig to accentuate the modeling of the shades. The kids, including Chris, and I just howled with laughter. Together.

 

At Lily's Kindergarten graduation in June, Principal Pineiro's speech mentioned how a few families in our community faced an extremely rough year. His theme was hope. "In a town like Metuchen, the families of the community share everything. Every success, every challenge, every heartache, every victory. This year, some families in our Moss community have experienced some of the most difficult challenges a family could ever face. The staff and I have been humbled by the courage we have seen, the courage, perseverance and strength.  And the support of a... community that has brought us a deeper understanding of the words "compassion" and "community."  My family tends to agree with Mr. Pineiro. The compassion and empathy and true meaning of friendship, kinship, has been defined by all who have been with the Almeida family during this horrendous journey

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During all this, there was a whole community of friends and neighbors buzzing around this family. Our  roots in Metuchen grow very deep - there is a reason why we never left:  The people who live in Metuchen played a big part in getting Emily to where she is today.

 

On July 1st, the early afternoon was spent in a tiny room with a huge machine Emily was sandwiched- in, scanning all of her tiny bones.  Later, I had the honor of being with Emily and her parents and my parents and her favorite great aunt Judy in her hospital room, just waiting. Torture.  Then Dr. Weiss came in and said two words that wouldn't have sounded sweeter even if Andre Bochelli sang it at the Vatican...

 

All clear. ALL CLEAR! Did you read that? Can you feel the energy and exhaustion and the enthusiasm through these typed words?? I hope so.  Got Outback takeout for dinner that night at the hospital and ate outside. Still hooked up to a round of chemo, with her pole on wheels we've all endearingly named "Wall-E", Emily did a little show and sang an old favorite song she used to sing back when she was "younger" called "When You Say Nothing At All." That steak never tasted so good and that song never sounded so sweet.

 

At this time, Emily's near future looks very bright. All tests came back great. Alison and Jose and family are well aware, as I'm sure many if not all of you reading this, that they are now living in 3 month chunks of time.  This euphoric feeling of safety, wellness, and relief can leave us at any time. This is just the beginning. In September, Emily will start second grade at Campbell School (with probably the cutest pixie hairdo by then).

 

Right before her 8th birthday, in October, she will go back to RWJ for all the bone scans, CAT scans, EKGs, MRIs, all over again. You all know how positive I've been, but if I think about it too much, my jaw clenches and my belly tightens already.  She has won the first battle against this hideous, disgusting enemy called Cancer, but it's a long, long war.

 

We all thank each and every one of you for your support, food, prayers, positive thinking, gifts, donations, hugs, babysitting offers and much more.  I speak for Emily Claypool Almeida's entire family when I say it's an honor to share our heartache, success, victory, and challenges with you all. No one is going to tell me part of her great results didn't happen because of the energy sent to her from around the world.

 

Especially from her extended family in Metuchen.  Enjoy your summer as I know we will.  Keep thinking of our babe during the next few beautiful months and know she is hopefully having the best time ever. Like Alison once wrote, "there are lots of bikes to be ridden and swings to be swung."

 

I'll be keeping you posted...


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