My name is Christine Scott. I’m a forty-six-year-old mother of five children and I grew up with a mentally disabled sister. In my first segment of Laura’s Story, I recounted her birth and slow development. In Laura’s Story, Part 2, I told about the impact of her seizures. Processing the memories and spending time reminiscing with my mother about my sister’s life is exactly what I needed—and my mom too.
Cancer is a six letter word no one wants to hear. It’s the fear on everyone’s mind when anything abnormal happens to a loved one’s health. And no one wants to hear the word cancer associated with their child.
At the age of seven, Laura had this reoccurring lump on the right side of her neck. Our family doctor thought it was a puss pocket inside the gland and whenever it became enlarged he’d treat it with antibiotics.
Laura’s whole life up until that point had been a series of illnesses, which included reoccurring strep throat. After about two years, the lump stopped responding to antibiotics and she never really got to a point where she felt good. Children usually have boundless energy, but she was often lethargic. Even after the lump stopped responding to antibiotics, our family doctor didn’t suspect the possibility of it being cancer although Laura’s health continued to decline.
Mom was tired of not getting answers and she took Laura to another doctor who was Dad’s friend. He diagnosed the lump as Hodgkin’s lymphoma, so she took Laura to LDS Hospital where she underwent her first surgery to have the lump removed. Biopsy of the lump was sent to five different hospitals to be tested; two diagnosed it as cancer.
It took six months from the time the lump stopped responding to antibiotics until a formal diagnosis was made. Luckily the cancer was only in stage two and very treatable.
Laura was admitted to Primary Children’s Hospital to have her spleen, appendix, and gallbladder removed in preparation for radiation treatments. The doctors chose to treat Laura with radiation because it was believed to be less invasive than chemotherapy.
During this time I had become a wild thing. This seems very fitting considering Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak, is my all-time favorite children’s book, except my mom was too busy taking care of my sister to send me to bed without my super. I remember chewing up a carrot and spitting it all over the TV screen and then blaming it on Laura. Since she lacked the communication skills to deny the accusation, my mom believed me. I’m sure this blaming Laura for my foul deeds was a common occurrence.
We lived in a hundred-year-old house and behind it there was a wooded area where I would play for hours by myself or with the neighborhood kids. My imagination went wild. I caught snakes in the ditch and went on many adventures, which I’m sure would make good children’s stories if only I could remember them in detail.
Another memory which reflects my wildness is when Laura was in the hospital following her second surgery. I was left in the care of an elderly neighbor while my mom stayed by Laura’s side. At the end of her hospital stay, I remember being quite proud of the fact I’d managed to go a whole week without a bath.
Mom drove to Primary Children’s Hospital three times a week for six weeks for Laura’s radiation treatments. She would get me out of bed at some horrible hour, long before the rest of the world stirred. We’d drive the hour to Salt Lake. It’s funny how a child’s memory perceives things on a much grander scale. My recollection of this drive is of us winding through the mountains, which Mom told me was Memory Grove. At this time Primary Children’s Hospital was located in the avenues. I waited forever on hard chairs where I often fell asleep. We stopped at a convenience store and bought breakfast—pickled eggs—which I loved! Then my mom drove another hour to Ogden Weber so Laura could attend a few hours of school. After dropping her off, we drove twenty-five more minutes back to Morgan so I could go to school. I often arrived late for class. Miss Compton, my first grade teacher, usually got upset with my mom for bringing me late. If she knew the circumstance surrounding my tardiness, I wonder if she would have been so quick to pass judgement on my mom.
Many, many months later Laura was pronounced cancer free. I can’t imagine how my mom survived those surgeries and the six weeks of radiation treatments. My dad’s hang gliding business had really taken off and he couldn’t take the time away from work to help her, so she did it all alone. Yesterday I asked her how she did it and she said, “You just have to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and take it one step at a time.” Then she smiled and added, “I’m made of good pioneer stock where the fittest survive.”
At that moment I realized how much I love her and appreciate all she sacrificed for our family.
Thank you, Christine, for sharing more of your sister’s story. I love seeing this caregiving journey through a child’s perspective. It helps me understand what my own children went through because so much of my time and energy went to caring for their dad. I realized to a degree how hard it was for them and felt concerned about it. It’s so difficult to juggle all the responsibilities. Your mother is blessed to have you and I’d be willing to bet you brought her sunshine on those dark days.
I look forward to your next segment.