Monday, April 11, 2016

INSPIRING WOMEN {Melissa Powell}

This months inspiring woman is Melissa Powell. I met Melissa at church when she was pregnant with Kiera. She was so excited to be a mother and couldn't wait to hold her baby in her arms. When Chance and I moved out of that ward we lost contact with many of the couples there. I was friends with Melissa on Facebook and loved seeing pictures of Kiera when she was just a newborn. 

I watched Kiera grow and hit mile stones on Facebook. Then one day I read a post that they had just found out that their sweet baby had a brain tumor. My heart broke for their family. It hit me rather hard because at the time I read the news I was feeling down about my situation. I was so upset that I hadn't been able to get pregnant. After reading their news I immediately started crying and became so mad at myself for not being grateful for what I have. As I followed Kiera's story I was continually blown away by Melissa's positive attitude. She was always so full of hope and strength. She bore her testimony on Facebook often and she always touched me so deeply with her words. 

I reached out to Melissa a few months ago and asked if she would be willing to share her story. I was so happy when she agreed and we were able to get together for pictures. It was so fun seeing Kiera in person, she is one happy child! I'm grateful for the opportunity to know such an amazing family! I will continue to pray for Kiera and the miracle that she is!

Here is Melissa's story....

When we first found out that our sweet fourteen-month-old daughter had a large brain tumor, I could feel my heart shatter inside of my chest. My world came crashing down around me. I was shocked. I was terrified. I couldn’t believe it. The tears came pouring out of my eyes and I couldn’t stop them. I felt physically ill. I was so scared and angry; I begged Heavenly Father not to take my daughter. It didn’t seem fair. We were in the emergency room at the hospital and Kiera was sitting on my lap. I held on to her so tightly, never wanting to let her go. 

Ten days before this time, Kiera started throwing up her milk. We thought that she had the flu, but it wasn’t going away. Then we thought maybe she had a milk allergy. We talked to her pediatrician who said that it was probably just the flu, but that if she started throwing up dark yellow bile we would need to take her to the emergency room right away. 

On the tenth day of her sickness (March 23, 2015), I woke up in the morning to the sound of Kiera gagging in her room. I went to get her and I found her lying in a puddle of dark yellow bile. I picked her up and she continued to throw up over and over again. I started to panic. I called my husband Aaron and he came and picked us up and took us straight to the emergency room. I called Kiera’s pediatrician to let her know what was going on, so she called ahead to the hospital to order a catscan. She had a feeling that there might be some pressure on Kiera’s brain. I didn’t think much of it, I just thought that we would get the catscan as a precaution, but I was sure that they wouldn’t find anything unusual in her brain, or anywhere else for that matter. The doctor came into the room with the results of the catscan. She told us that they usually don’t find anything abnormal on these scans, but in this case, they found a tumor. It was on the back of Kiera’s brain and was about the size of a golf ball. We were completely blind-sided. 

The next few days were a whirlwind. I cried myself dry, and after a while I just felt numb. I had no idea what was going to happen. I never would have imagined that something like this could ever happen to our family. Aaron was also very emotional during this time. It was difficult to see him crying so hard because he had never done that in front of me before. I was so grateful that he was there with us; I don’t think I could have faced this without him. Numerous doctors, nurses, and specialists bombarded us with information about what was going to be happening in the coming weeks. I only heard bits and pieces of what they said. I was still in shock and in denial. 

Kiera cried every time a nurse walked into the hospital room. She knew that they were going to poke her, or hold her down, or bother her in some way. We got very little sleep over the next few days. I was praying to Heavenly Father throughout this whole time, asking Him to bless Kiera, to give her strength, to help her to be safe, and to protect her throughout this hard battle she was facing. I prayed for the doctors that they would know how to best help her. I asked Him to give me strength, and to help me to accept His will. During this time I felt a strong sense of peace come over me. I got a very strong impression that Kiera was going to be alright. I knew it was true. I didn’t know what obstacles we would have to get past in order for her to get better, but I knew that she would be alright. 

The doctors told us that Kiera would have to undergo brain surgery to remove the tumor. The morning of Kiera’s brain surgery came and I was so nervous, but I still felt in my heart that she would be alright. I asked Heavenly Father to send angels to be with her and to comfort her, and I know they were there. Five hours later Kiera came out of her surgery. I was so happy and relieved that everything went well! The doctor was able to completely remove the tumor! Kiera was swollen and there were many tubes coming out of her, but she was alright. There was a massive incision on the back of her head where they performed the surgery. We later found out that the tumor was a desmoplastic nodular medulloblastoma, and it was cancerous. That meant that she would be starting chemotherapy in a few short weeks. It was so hard wrapping my mind around the fact that my baby had cancer. It just didn’t seem possible. The word cancer was so foreign to me. I didn’t let myself think about it too much at that moment though, because I needed to focus on helping Kiera get better and heal from her surgery. 

After Kiera’s brain surgery was over I began feeling a little bit better about things, although it was SO hard to see my baby in so much pain. Kiera had just been through a surgery that no child should ever have to go through, and that no parent should have to watch their child go through. She didn’t like to be moved or lifted because it caused her a lot of pain. It was a hard process every time that we wanted to hold her. We had to hold her completely still because movement caused her to get headaches. I would sit in a small chair and hold her very still for as long as I possibly could (until my limbs were completely asleep from lack of movement). It was worth it though. I love holding my beautiful baby in my arms. 

I was starting to think that the worst part was over. Kiera was recovering, and five days after her surgery she started smiling again! It brought me so much joy to see her face light up and to hear her giggle again. A few short hours after this happy moment, my world was shattered for a second time. 

A cardiologist (heart doctor) came into the room and said that one of the nurses had noticed that Kiera had some irregular heartbeats, so they were going to do an ultrasound on her heart just to make sure that everything was okay. Several of the nurses had told us that many people have an irregular heartbeat, and it probably wasn’t anything to worry about. So, I didn’t think much of it. Then the doctor went quiet. A minute later he told us that there was a mass on Kiera’s heart, and it was very worrisome. I couldn’t believe it. It was like déjà vu. Aaron and I looked at each other and then we both burst into tears. I kept thinking, “How can this be 
happening? She just underwent major brain surgery, now she will have to have heart surgery? Why was she being asked to go through so much? This DEFINITELY isn’t fair!” In a matter of minutes we were transferred to another hospital. I rode in the ambulance with Kiera and I cried the whole way. I couldn’t understand why someone so small, innocent, and perfect would be asked to go through such terrible things. The thought kept creeping into my mind, “Can she survive another surgery?” I felt like I was in Hell. 

The doctors at the hospital met with us and discussed what they were going to do. Kiera would undergo open-heart-bypass-surgery in order to remove as much of the heart tumor as possible. The doctor was optimistic, and I was so grateful for that. Kiera would first have to have surgery for her VP shunt to be put into her body. She needed it in order to drain the excess fluid from her brain that her body was producing as a result of her brain surgery. After that, she would have heart surgery. 

The shunt surgery went very well with no complications. It looks like a big bump on the side of her head. You can feel the tube travel down the side of her head, and neck, and then it goes down the side of her stomach and ends at her belly button. The doctor said that it will grow with her, and she will probably have it for the rest of her life. 

The day of the heart surgery came, and I watched as two nurses took my baby down the hall and into the operating room. By this time Kiera had already had two surgeries and numerous MRI’s and catscans, but every time I had to watch them take my baby away it ripped my insides apart. I knew that I had no choice but to let them take her. I prayed and prayed and prayed. I was so scared because I knew that the doctors would have to stop Kiera’s heart in order to perform the surgery. I paced the floor, waiting for the hours to pass. I knew that the doctors could only do so much; she was in Heavenly Father’s hands, and I knew that He would take care of her. 
After several agonizingly long hours the surgery was over, and we got to be with Kiera again. Once again, the surgery went very well! I was SO happy and relieved! Kiera was extubated and breathing completely on her own! The surgeon was only able to remove 60 percent of the tumor because if he had removed any more than that, it would have compromised the integrity of her heart. Kiera will have to have regular checkups every year for the rest of her life to make sure that the tumor doesn’t grow. He was optimistic that it wouldn’t grow anymore, and he also said that it might shrink over time. (Over time we learned that the remaining tumor did in fact shrink! There is now only a tiny bit of the tumor left on her heart! That is a miracle!) We also found out that the heart tumor was benign (non cancerous)! I was so relived! Kiera’s heart was working great, and the remaining tumor wasn’t causing any problems. I knew that we would have to keep an eye on it throughout her life, but I still felt like she would be alright. I was so grateful for all of the doctors that had been helping her. They truly are amazing people who use their talents and knowledge to help save lives. They have helped save my baby’s life multiple times, and I will never be able to adequately thank them for that. We offered up so many prayers of thanks and gratitude to our Heavenly Father for helping Kiera to pull through all that she had been asked to go through. We knew that there was still a long road ahead, but Kiera had more than proven her strength and bravery. She is a fighter, and I know that she has so much left to do here on this earth. 

About a week later Kiera had surgery for her broviac catheter to be put into her body. It was inserted on the left side of her chest, above her heart. It would be used as a port for chemotherapy, medications, and IV fluids during her treatments. Again everything went well, and the next day we were released from the hospital! It was such a wonderful feeling to be at home with my family for a few days! Spending four weeks straight at the hospital was way too much. It was crazy to think about all that had happened in the past four weeks. Our lives are forever changed. 

Throughout the previous four weeks while we were in the hospital I had a lot of time alone with my thoughts (which probably wasn’t a good thing). I felt depressed, angry, and scared, but somehow we were getting through it. Many times I felt guilty because I didn’t feel very close to my Heavenly Father. I still continued to pray to Him, and I knew that He was still there and that He loved me and my family, but I was having the hardest time accepting what was going on. I knew that there was a reason for all of these things that were happening to Kiera, but it was so hard because I couldn’t see the bigger picture. I remember one night I was standing in the hospital bathroom getting ready for bed, and I couldn’t hold my emotions in any longer. I started crying uncontrollably. It was the hardest thing in the world having to watch my baby suffer, knowing that there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I wished with all of my heart that I could take her pain away and experience it for her. I would have done it in a heartbeat. I love my baby so much and it hurt me so badly to have to watch her go through such unimaginable things. I felt so alone. I felt like there was no way that anyone could possibly understand what I was going through. 

All of the sudden I felt the impression that I was wrong. Heavenly Father knew exactly what I was going through. He sent His Son to die for us so that we can all return to Him again someday. He knew how much it hurt. He knew what it was like to watch His child suffer, knowing that He had to let Him go through it. And because of this, our Savior was able to take upon Himself all of the pains of the world. My Savior died for me so that I could receive comfort in my darkest hour. I felt very humbled in that moment. There was a reason why we were going through such a terrible trial, and I knew that I might not understand what that reason was until after this life, but that if we would endure it well, we would be blessed. I knew that I had a choice to make. I could either be angry, bitter, and let myself be overcome with despair, or I could let my Savior help me carry this load, and allow His atonement to take full effect in my life. I knew that I had to trust in my Savior. I knew that I wasn’t alone, and that He was constantly encircling me in the arms of His love. I knew that through Him, we would make it through this trial, even though it would continue to be a very hard road. I knew that He would continue to watch over and help our sweet Kiera. This knowledge helped prepare me for the long, hard months ahead. 
After spending four wonderful days at home, we were re-admitted to the hospital so that Kiera could start her chemotherapy treatments for the brain cancer. We were in and out of the hospital for the next ten months. Kiera’s treatment protocol consisted of six cycles of chemotherapy and each cycle was about 28 days long. She had to go through several types of chemotherapy in different amounts over specific periods of time. We were able to do two of her chemotherapy cycles at home because they weren’t as intense, so during those times we gave her the treatments through oral medications and shots. The other four cycles we spent all of our time in the hospital, and the chemotherapy was given intravenously through her broviac. 

Nothing can prepare you for a cancer diagnosis. Out of the blue we were just up-rooted from our normal lives and thrown into a scary world where we had to watch our baby fight for her life every single day. Our days and nights spent at the hospital were long and hard. They were filled with chemotherapy, IV fluids, antibiotics, to many medications to count, blood/platelet transfusions, scans, physical therapy, fevers, throw up, and doctor visits. We had to try to eat our meals, stay entertained, and sleep comfortably in a very confined space. It was difficult for us. Kiera’s favorite part of the day was when Aaron was able to come and be with us at the hospital after his long hours at work. He would always take her on a wagon ride down the halls of the hospital, and she absolutely LOVED it! It was so much fun seeing her find joy in such a simple thing. Getting out of the hospital room for a small moment each day was wonderful. 

The chemotherapy was really hard on Kiera. Although it did kill the cancerous cells in her body, it also killed the healthy cells. It was difficult seeing the physical effects that the chemotherapy left on her little body. Her hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows fell out. A lot of the time her eyes looked tired, and during the most intense parts of her treatments the rosiness faded from her complexion and she was very pale and sick. She threw up a lot, and that made her not want to eat at all, so she lost weight. There were so many times where I was worried sick about her. I often thought to myself, “What have I done? How could I have ever consented to this?” But I knew that this poison was ultimately going to save her life. 

We had amazing nurses and doctors taking care of Kiera the whole time we were in and out of the hospital, and we also had so much support from our family and friends. Their prayers, love, and generosity helped strengthen and sustain us. They will probably never fully understand how grateful we are to them. 

Each cycle of chemotherapy introduced new challenges. After Kiera’s third cycle of chemotherapy she endured a second heart surgery because there was some fluid buildup around her heart, and after her fourth cycle of chemotherapy she got an infection and had fevers for five days straight, reaching as high as 105 degrees. During those times I was absolutely terrified because I didn’t know what was going to happen to her. I felt completely helpless. I didn’t want to lose my baby. But no matter what she was faced with, she always pulled through, and she remained incredibly strong. Even though the chemotherapy made her tired and drained her energy, she still smiled and played throughout the entire process. Her bravery and resilience is so inspiring to me. She is my hero. 
After the sixth cycle of chemotherapy Kiera had a stem cell transplant to help recover her bone marrow that had been completely depleted as a side effect of the chemotherapy. This was a planned transplant; they used her own cells that they had harvested after her first cycle of chemotherapy. Everything went well, and slowly Kiera started to get better. We were excited to finally be finishing up her treatment! 

A few weeks after Kiera finished her last planned cycle of chemotherapy, an MRI revealed to us that there was something abnormal on the bottom of her spine. We were devastated and so worried for Kiera. That fact that something was growing all the while she was going through high dose chemotherapy was terrifying. At this point we were completely exhausted physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It seemed like her treatments were never going to end. Many nights after Kiera fell asleep, I would sneak away for a moment so that I could cry without anyone seeing me. I tried not to cry in front of her, because I didn’t want her to be scared or think that anything was wrong. I thought if I could appear strong that she would be able to draw from that, and continue to keep fighting despite the devastation that we faced. 

Because of the questionable spots on Kiera’s spine, she had to go through a seventh round of chemotherapy with another stem cell transplant. This seventh cycle of chemotherapy was the hardest on her. She was SO sick; she threw up almost every two hours for an entire week. Her nose was almost always bleeding. You could tell that she felt absolutely miserable. It broke my heart. The acid from her frequent vomiting caused her entire esophagus to be burned, so she cried out in pain whenever she tried to swallow food or liquid. She was sick for weeks, and she didn’t want to do anything except be held and lay down in her crib. We spent Christmastime in the hospital, which was very lonely and so hard. I longed for my baby to be healthy and at home, enjoying the holidays like children should do. 

After her seventh cycle of chemotherapy Kiera had another MRI. I was very anxious… but we soon learned that the images from the scans came back completely clear! It was a MIRACLE! The doctors still strongly urged us to do an eighth cycle of high dose chemotherapy with another stem cell transplant because it could lessen the chances of the cancer coming back in 
the future, but Aaron and I just didn’t feel good about it. We prayed, pondered, discussed, and read our scriptures. Aaron, Kiera, and I were all given priesthood blessings to help us feel comfort and guidance while we were trying to make our final decision of whether or not to go forward with more chemotherapy. During the blessings we were told that we would make the right decision, and that Aaron and I would both be in agreement about it. We were also told that we would need to take a “leap of faith” regarding our decision. The risks and harsh side effects of another cycle didn’t seem worth it to us. We wanted Kiera to have the best quality of life possible, and doing more chemo when it probably wasn’t necessary didn’t seem like the right thing to do. Kiera’s scans were clear, and we knew that the cancer was gone. Deciding NOT to continue chemotherapy treatments despite the doctor’s firm suggestion that we should do more, was one of the hardest decisions we have ever had to make. 

We know that there is always a chance that the cancer could come back, regardless of whether we were to do more chemotherapy or not. We will continue to hope and pray that it will NEVER come back. We put our complete trust and faith in our Heavenly Father. We know that He will continue to watch over Kiera and our family like He has done throughout our entire journey. We have felt peace about our decision. 

On February 24, 2016 Kiera had a four week follow up MRI, and again all the images were clear! We made the right decision! Kiera has finished her treatments and the cancer is completely gone! After 11 months, five surgeries, seven cycles of chemotherapy, two stem cell transplants, and 153 days spent in the hospital, Kiera has won her battle with cancer! I am so proud of her for never giving up! Her doctors are amazed at how strong and full of life she is despite everything she has been through. We made it through a year of Hell. We could not have gotten through this without the help of our loving Heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ. They carried us throughout this entire trial. I will forever be grateful for them, and for the knowledge of their restored Gospel. We are so blessed. 
I can honestly say that I know more about cancer than I ever wanted to know. My eyes have been opened to the horrible reality of it, and the fact that thousands of innocent children are suffering from cancer right now. I have met so many “warrior” children and families that have been so kind and supportive to us, all the while fighting their own hard battles. I am so grateful for them and for their good examples. I hope and pray that there will one day soon be a cure for cancer, so that children and adults won’t have to suffer from it anymore. 

Today Kiera is happy and healthy and recovering wonderfully! She is an active, fun, and curious two-year-old. She brings so much love and joy into the lives of everyone that she meets. It’s been both exciting and hard trying to adjust back to “normal” life, but we are so grateful that we have made it to this point. 

Kiera was so incredibly brave throughout everything that she was asked to go through over the past year. She is an inspiration to me and she makes me want to be a better person. She has helped me learn that I should never complain, because she had every right to complain about the terrible things that she had to go through, but she never did. We will live each day to the fullest, and never take this life for granted. We are so grateful that no matter what, our family will be together forever. I am eternally grateful that I am Kiera’s mother. I love her so much. Kiera is proof that miracles happen on this earth today. She is proof that Heavenly Father hears and answers our prayers. She is my miracle baby. 

1 comment:

  1. This is an amazing story! And the pictures are beautiful!!