Léandre Gaucher is a 12-year-old brain cancer survivor from Montreal. Léandre is a talented violonist, he played a beautiful song during our 2021 Brain Tumour Walk Opening Ceremony, and he is also a gifted writer. Today, he shares part of his story in a text entitled “An Unusual Birthday”. Thank you Léandre!
It’s Tuesday morning. I am asleep in my bed, when suddenly I wake up, sweating. I hear my younger brother Justin snoring. Suddenly, a shiver goes through me. I feel so cold!
“Something must be wrong,” I think and call my mother. When she comes, I tell her what’s going on.
“Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no, no, no,” she mutters to herself, She goes into the bathroom to get a thermometer, and I suddenly hear a loud crash.
“Wha-” I say, but Mom ignores me and calls: “David?”
“Yes?” comes a low and tired grunt from the bedroom.
“HelpmeIthinkNoah’sneutropenicandIcan’tfindthethermometerandnoweverythingfell down!” shouts my mother.
Wow, Relax, I’m coming, Sally,” says Dad. I hear a thump, a grunt, then footsteps, then a “here it is,” and Mom and Dad come into my room with the thermometer. They stick it in my mouth, and then we wait.
And wait some more.
Finally, the thermometer beeps.
“Oh NO!” Mom screams and lays her head in her hands. “39 degrees!”
“Sally, “says Dad, putting a hand on her shoulder. “He just had his first round of chemotherapy and is probably neutropenic. We’ll have to go to the Hospital right away. They’ll take care of it. The nurse told us.
Oh. This is NOT good. My birthday is in five days, and I wanted to spend it at home. Being neutropenic means that my immune system doesn’t work that well, and it is caused by the chemotherapy I’m given to treat my cancer. I’ll have to spend a few days there.
We get in my dad’s car and drop off Justin, who we had to wake up, at my grandmother’s house, which is just down the road.
Forty-five minutes later we are walking towards the entrance of the CMH (Children’s Memorial Hospital). I have to wear a mask so as not to get infected by the hundreds of other people there.
We make our way to the elevators and go up to the seventh floor, the oncology/ hematology department, where my dad talks to a nurse at the reception desk.
“Follow me,” she says and gives me an identification bracelet. We follow her to a room with a lot of beds.
“This is the infusion room,” she explains as she leads me to a bed. You’ve probably been in here when you had your first round of chemo?”
I nod and follow her to the bed.
“I’ll just take your temperature…” she says and takes out her own thermometer. “ If you could sit on the bed…”
I do, and then she sticks it in my mouth.
A Beep. This one is much faster than ours. The same thing is written on it: 39 degrees.
“OK, you’ll probably have to stay here a few days. I’ll come back soon with a team to hook you in. Then we’ll leave you here until we can get a room for you. Meanwhile, the doctor should also come by to see you. Oh, and I’m Betty, by the way.” She smiles and walks off in a hurry.
I get on the bed. It’s not the most comfortable, but I lie in it and wait for Nurse Betty and her team to ‘hook me up’ to the IV.
A few minutes later they come. Betty gets the material and asks: “Which side is your port on?”
I point to my left.
Then she gets ready to access it. A port is a rubber device under the skin that is connected to my veins. Before your first round of chemo they do a surgery to get it inside. I am really happy I have this, because the injections hurt a lot before, since they had to look for good veins.
The needle is small and has a little tube attached to it. Betty counts: “one, two three”, pushes it in and then it’s over. First, she takes some blood, then screws in the tube
that leads to the IV, which is on a pole with wheels, to the tube on the needle. It is now attached to me.
“Now we’ll get a room for you,” says Betty, and gestures for her team to leave. Then she adds: “I hope you get better soon!” and goes to get a room.
I ask my mom to give me the book I brought to read.
She hands it to me, then mutters that she has to go take care of Justin. “Bye,” she waves and disappears behind the curtains.
I wave goodbye and start reading, and after a few dozen minutes unexpectedly doze off.
Next thing I know, about an hour later, I am woken up by my dad.
“What’s happ-” I start, but then I see the doctor standing in front of me.
‘Hello, I’m doctor Martin.” He rumbles. “How are you feeling?”
“Good,” I manage to whisper, but I can’t sit up in the bed. I’m just too tired!
“OK,” says Dr. Martin and gets out his papers. “ We looked at your blood results, and your neutrophils are near zero. Your nurse is getting a room?”
I nod weakly.
“Ahuh.” He clears his throat. “So how are you in general? Any problems?
“No,” says dad for me, and looks at his phone.
Dr. Martin puts on a mask, I put on mine, and he comes to do a lot of tests, like ‘touching the tip of your nose and then his finger’, and ‘he hits your leg with a small rubber hammer to see your reflexes’, and ‘walking like on a wire for balance’.
“OK, I’ll leave you then.” He waves. “Hope you get better soon!”
He walks off, no doubt to see another patient.
I decide to cuddle up, close my eyes, and drift off because I know it’ll be a while until they get a room for me.
After what feels like forever, my dad wakes me up again.
“ You have to stand up,” he whispers. He is crouched down so that he is face to face with me. “They found a room.”
“Oh,” I slowly say and stand up, carefully, because I am attached to the IV. I almost forgot.
Betty and her team are standing in front of me.
“We have your room,’ she says and gestures to me to follow her. She walks to my right, out the door, then down a long hallway at the end of which stand double doors.
I grab my pole and follow her. My dad is on my tail. I have to walk really slowly because of the IV. And I’m also tired. Finally, we push through the double doors, and facing us is a door with the number 7 written boldly on the left hand corner.
“This will be your room.” Betty turns to face me and smiles. I walk forward, and pull the door open with all the strength I have left. It opens easily, and I can see the room.
To my left is a giant TV. I walk towards it and then see a bed that looks much more comfortable than the first one. I go lie on it. A nurse comes and hands me a type of handle attached to a cable leading in the wall. On the handle is a red button.
“Press it whenever there is an emergency,” she explains, but I already know. I’ve had a room after my operation and in my first round of chemo. My dad walks towards a couch.
“You can sleep here during the night,” says the same nurse, gesturing to the couch. My dad sees a little latch that he pulls. A bed folds out.
“Oh, I won’t be sleeping here,” counters Dad, pointing in the direction of where we live. “ My wife will come a little later to take my place.”
“OK.” Then the nurse explains how to use the TV and everything you should know. I guess she is the AV-technician.
“You get everything?” she asks.
“Then I’ll be back in a few hours to take your temperature and blood pressure,” says Betty and waves. “Bye!”
They all leave. Dad and I are alone.
“Let’s try this TV,” suggests Dad.
We watch some Netflix. A few hours later my mom comes with Justin to visit me for a bit, then take my dad’s place. They have masks. Betty, who also has a mask, peeks in and takes my temperature and blood pressure. Not better.
That night I brush my teeth, put on my pajamas with the help of my mom and get into bed. I think about my birthday, and if I’ll have to spend it here. Then, I fall asleep.
The next few days are the same. I watch TV, eat, the childlife specialist comes in (with a mask) to bring me games (that she disinfected) and Betty comes to do tests, and so on.
Much too quickly, the day before my birthday arrives. That’s when Dr. Martin comes in with Betty at his side.
“First of all, how are you feeling?” he asks and even though he is wearing a mask I can see that he is smiling.
“Better,” I say with more force than the first few days.
“ We have some bad news,” he says. This was unexpected for us. Your neutrophils haven’t gone up very much and we think you can’t go home tomorrow. I’m sorry.”
I am devastated. I really wanted to spend my birthday at home!
After the doctor and Betty leave, Mom looks at me.
“I’m sorry,” she sympathizes. “When you can go back, we’ll do a huge birthday party with all of your friends and-”
I don’t hear the rest. Sadly, I get ready for bed, climb into it and nod off right away.
I don’t sleep well, partly because Betty takes my temperature and blood pressure every two to three hours. And I can’t believe the fact that I can’t spend my birthday at home.
I wake up in my hospital bed. I blink. Nothing changed. I’m still in my room. But I feel… charged up. I suddenly hear a knock.
“Yes?” I say.
The door opens and Dr. Martin steps in.
“Good news!” he exclaims and grins so wide, I think his head is going to crack. “You can go home today! Your neutrophils shot up like a bullet!”
I laugh. I’m so relieved and happy. My mom hugs me and rushes off to call my dad. Then everyone comes in and wishes me a Happy Birthday. The childlife specialist has a cupcake and a small gift for me. A few hours later I am in my mom’s car and on my way home.
When we arrive, my mom says smiling: “There is a surprise waiting for you inside.” I look through the window of the door, and waiting on the stairs are my brother, and beside him a little grey Tabby-kitten. I throw open the door and rush to pet and play with him! He’s so cute! I always wanted a cat!
I decide to call him Itzak Purrman. I am so happy! This is the best Birthday ever!
Brain Tumour Survivor