Something personal: the Firefighter Street Children’s Clinic

Last night we were watching an episode of Veep and childhood cancer was mentioned as one of the few evils of the universe that can’t be explained, at all.

Sometimes the little details of very silly things like a television show strike far too close to home.

We’ve had a hard few weeks. Something’s happened in my larger family, something’s been happening, something that I find very difficult to grasp, and to not think about constantly, and to not let it eat up everything I touch with the sheer unfairness of it all. And I’m not the person most directly affected. Not at all. Not even a little bit, strictly speaking: besides being plaintive and complaining, this is not about my pain.

And still I have trouble focusing on anything I need to do. I have trouble sleeping, I get nightmares that make me lie awake and spin out scenarios of the Worst Possible Outcome, not just for the situation at hand but for things that have never happened but if they did, they would affect everyone I love in horrible ways.

(That’s the true curse of being Hungarian, more so than the badly shod, beer-bellied, racist and embarrassing machismo that masquerades as politics and policymaking in Hungary these days: that you can think of the worst-case scenario in any situation much faster and in far more elaborate detail than anyone else.)

I wish it was just a nightmare. But this thing is real. It’s chilling, and scary, and outside the natural order of things. It makes you stop in your tracks and gasp for breath, forces you to see that there are limits to what we human beings can do to save each other, it makes you grind your teeth in a blind rage, helpless. It’s personal. And then you stand there, unable to move, unable to do anything to or for anyone at all.

It’s no one’s fault, there is no one to direct our rage at. But that’s how we are, we humans: it’d be reassuring to assign blame. It’s hard to accept that there is no one to blame.

My sister’s ten-year-old son, who had a bout of leukemia four years ago, has relapsed a few weeks ago.

We do not know what his prognosis is. It could be anything, after a relapse. I’m not sure it’s worth knowing what the prognosis is for anyone besides his doctors. Because your individual story is your individual story, and statistics are made up of many, many individual stories, all of which play out differently. That’s the tiny, shiny spot where hope resides.

Childhood leukemia is a terrible disease, but it’s one of the first cancers for which people have come up with what is close to a cure. It’s a harrowing cure, to be sure, but the disease is far worse. Childhood leukemia is painful, swift, and awful. My late father-in-law’s brother died of it at age three, within a month. But that was a long time ago (in the early 1930s), and since then, people have figured out a treatment protocol that works, most of the time.

But not always.

If I owe you an email, I apologize. It will be written, I promise. If I should have finished something and sent it to you but haven’t yet, please know it’s coming and I’m sorry it’s coming later than it should.

Someday, most of my family will get over this and be fine.

But not all of us.

So there is one thing I need to ask you. If there is a children’s hospital you care about, and you can afford donating to them, please do. Worldwide, treatment protocols for childhood cancers are mostly the same. The difference is in the resources each hospital has, the resourses needed so that sick children can have, besides chemotherapy, things like clean sheets, nutritious food, physical therapists, clean bathrooms, enough nurses, toys, psychoterapists – or translators and social workers to help their parents. Yes, really. Many hospitals could use your help: in most parts of the world there aren’t enough funds for the things that those of us with solid health insurance, here in the U.S., take for granted.

Áron, my nephew, is currently treated at Tűzoltó Utcai Gyermekklinika – which means Firefighter Street Children’s Clinic – in Budapest. (How appropriately named: Firefighter Street Children’s Clinic.) This is their foundation’s donation site. Four years ago he was treated at the Heim Pál Gyermekkórház – Madarász Utcai Részleg (Paul Heim Children’s Hospital, Birdcatcher Street Division). Their foundation’s web sites are here and here. Please consider helping them, or any other children’s hospital in the world that could use a boost.

You could also just give blood. Childhood leukemia patients need a blood transfusion as often as every 8 days during one phase of treatment. If you’re like me and feel faint at the sight of a needle (ironic, being as how I embroider so much, isn’t it?), tell them to give you some beer! It keeps your blood pressure a bit more even, and helps you NOT pass out while giving blood.

(I’m trying to infuse levity into the situation. Trying. Because laughter should be healing. The reality is that I don’t know how to laugh much at all, these days.)

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6 Responses to Something personal: the Firefighter Street Children’s Clinic

  1. oonaballoona says:

    much love to you all…i know there’s not much else to say, but i’m thinking about you.

    • kata says:

      oona – thank you. I do believe good thoughts matter. In some strange way that neither science nor religion has been able to decipher.

  2. TinaD says:

    I’m so sorry. We’ve been through something similar. It’s the powerlessness that gets to you–it makes all the rest of it, the cellphones and the jet planes and the 60-story skyscrapers and the things we use to convince ourselves that we have power and control over our existence seem so pointless and self-deluding. But just as we can’t control, we also can’t predict. (My mother, who was born in Genoa, worries on a semi-professional basis, and is a master of the elaborate worst-case scenario. She has proven to be, usually, quite wrong.) Thank you for the reminder to donate, both money and blood. It is easy to forget what a difference such small things can make. If you don’t mind, I’ll also keep your nephew in my prayers.

    • kata says:

      Thank you, Tina! I’ve also pulled out my bone-marrow donor card, and I’m going to get the rest of my immediate family swabbed and registered for compatibility. It’s a very abstract responsibility until someone you love needs some very real bone marrow. And then you realize it could be anyone’s beloved child, just like your sister’s. A whole different level of responsibility.

  3. Nicki says:

    I’m so sorry to hear that. My dad had leukemia when I was a teen. I cannot imagine how terrible it is to watch a child go through the same thing. Much love to you, your nephew and family. Thinking of you all.

    • kata says:

      Nicki, thank you! That must have been terrible: your father’s leukemia, I’m so sorry! Thank you for your good thoughts – they matter!

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