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When Vinegar Burns

Miriam Sultan Laine

They said she wouldn’t survive without another bone marrow transplant. They said she’d never have a child of her own. But Miriam Sultan Laine knew that her life was in the Hands of her Creator, and if He so wills it, anything is possible. Vinegar can burst into flame, and a deathly ill child can not just survive and thrive, but have a child of her own.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

“Miriam is not leaving this clinic until she has a blood test,” my mother declared. I was 14 years old and my mother was making a scene. I was mortified.

“I promise you everything is perfect. There’s no reason to worry,” the doctor told her. The fatigue, fever, and cramps were nothing more than the virus that had hit all of Montreal, he assured us yet again.

Still, he referred us to the hospital’s blood clinic. Sluggish with fatigue, I followed my mother onto the metro to the Montreal Children’s Hospital. The fresh air and movement did me good, and once I’d done the blood test, I told my mother that I wanted to go back to school. I wasn’t a motivated student, but I was a popular one, and during the weeks I’d been curled up in bed I’d missed my friends.

The results came sooner than we expected. My white blood cell count was high, too high, the hospital told my mother just a few hours later. I was expected at the oncology clinic at eight the next morning.

My mother blanched. My mother’s cousin had succumbed to leukemia a few months before; the realization that I had similar symptoms threw my mother into a panic. She came to school and pulled me out of class, insisting I come home to rest. A happy-go-lucky ninth-grader, I rolled my eyes and assumed that, like all mothers, she was overreacting. I wasn’t even perturbed when, that evening, our house filled with relatives. “You’ve been sick for a while, they want to see how you’re doing,” my mother explained. Amazingly, I did not question her explanation.

As I walked through the oncology ward the next morning, I felt a sense of disconnect. I was surrounded by gaunt faces and bald heads — a frightening and disturbing sight for someone who had never even heard of, let alone seen, kids with cancer. Still, there I was, full head of luxuriant hair, striding through the ward. These kids had no bearing on my medical situation, I thought. They were in cancer world. And cancer world was a planet more distant than Mars.

The oncologist administered a painful bone-marrow test. He sent the results to the laboratory, but he took a small sample to examine himself under a microscope. And then he delivered the blow.

It was leukemia. Chronic Myeloid Leukemia.

I was looking straight at the doctor when he told us. “Oh, okay,” I said. “So now what do we do about it?”

“We start chemotherapy.”

“Wait!” There was something missing here, some connection I couldn’t make. Chemotherapy ... that was what cancer patients were treated with. “Is leukemia cancer?” I asked.

The doctor nodded.

 

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