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Anatomy of a nervous breakdown

Since the moment Peyton was diagnosed with Leukemia we were taught that everything in our lives depended on one piece of paper.


It told us if she needed blood products.

It told us how strong or weak her immune system was.

It told us if her liver wasn’t working properly, if her body was fighting infection, if anything was suspicious.

We, quite literally, lived and died by that piece of paper.

I have every single sheet of blood counts a nurse ever laid in my hands….3 hole punched and placed reverently in a binder. I have the history of her blood for the past two and half years documented and preserved…the highs, the lows, the almost normal and the devastating unsure.

The Monday before our monthly clinic appointment is a hard one, because Tuesday is always our day, and I struggle with what the sheet might say.

Praying for good numbers, high numbers where they’re supposed to be high, low numbers where they’re supposed to be low.

The knowledge always there that they could come back wrong.

Each month I sit in the chair next to Peyton and wait for the magic machine to churn away and print out the papers…for the lab tech to clip one copy to her 8-inch thick treatment binder and hand the other to me.

I always close my eyes and say a prayer before I look at the numbers.

Every month they’ve been perfectly where they’re supposed to be and all my air rushes out in a breath of relief and joy.

I sat there today. I waited through the ritual: poke, blood, machine, printer…

…then the slightest hesitation before handing over the paper.

WAIT. We don’t hesitate before we hand over the paper. That’s not part of the ritual.

I couldn’t close my eyes, but I still said my prayer.

I hoped God understood my muttered, “no, no, no, no, no”.

And I looked down at the sheet.

It almost didn’t connect at first.  I struggled to find the numbers I expected…hoped…to see, but they weren’t there.  In their places were numbers that were horrifically and cosmically WRONG.



Her hemoglobin was too low, her platelets were too low.

And not too low by a small margin, it was a dramatic and damning drop.

This was cancer back low.

I felt my heart stop…like a rock in my chest.

I couldn’t draw a breath.

My legs went numb.

It took everything I had to not throw up all over the white floors.

She’s looking at me. My daughter is looking at me. She’s watching me and I can’t do this. She cannot see me fall apart.

I choked back every tear that burned like acid and I hid my shaking hands.

I shuffled her out of the lab and into an exam room.  I could feel the tech’s eyes on me, I knew that SHE knew what I was thinking and I knew that SHE was thinking the same thing.

I looked at her and said, “I want a peripheral blood smear.” (A basic preliminary test to show if there are any cancer cells obvious in the blood)

She nodded.

Don’t agree with me!! Tell me I’m wrong and overreacting and stupid and I shouldn’t be allowed to even have children I’m so damn stupid!!!  Don’t agree with me!

“We’re going to do it again, fingerpokes can be wrong.  We’ll do it again by IV and see what the counts are.  She’s had pink eye, it could just be her body fighting an infection again.”

Whatever, just do it.

Go away.

Let me think about this. Let me process that this is THAT day.

And I went THERE, I said it over and over in my head…as if to familiarize myself with the phrase would somehow make the truth, when faced with it, easier to handle…her cancer is back.

She has Leukemia again.

Her cancer is back. Her cancer is back. Her cancer is back.

Peyton decided at that moment that she had to go to the bathroom and I took her down the hall, directly in front of the nurses station and the lab.  The moment she went in, I saw the faces around me…nurses, doctors, techs…all smiling those reassuring fake smiles, talking to me in those low soothing tones, not coming too close, but staying near.

“When she comes out, we’ll pull more blood and run the tests again.”


And then we’d have the answer.

Whatever the answer might be.

I held her tight as she cried and screamed throughout the IV blood draw, something out of her comfortable ritual, new and invasive, painful and scary.  I almost cried along with her, overcome with fear that we were heading back into this life of me holding her down, letting people hurt her and poke her and scare her again.

After it was over I almost couldn’t stand to feel her skin against mine.  I wanted to reject the tears and the shuddering of her body.  We’d done this all before, it’s supposed to be over.

But, I held her tight and rocked her as she recovered.

She grumbled, “The rubber thing hurted the baddest.”

Of course it did. Not the needle shoved in her arm. The plastic band used to get a vein was to blame for all the theatrics.

Classic Peyton.

I smiled because no matter what, this child is a fighter.

The machine again churned and worked.

Did the man who designed this machine, the workers who assembled it ever dream that their creation would be the device that decided the fate of our lives?

The printer ran.

And the tech turned with the page waving in her hand.

A HUGE smile on her face.




She handed me the sheet of paper and my eyes scanned the numbers…normal…perfect…not low…exactly what they were supposed to be.

Her cancer is not back. Her cancer is not back. Her cancer is not back.

I know other things were said.  Explanations of why fingerpokes can be wrong. Percentages are on her side to NOT relapse. Relief expressed that everything was fine.  A collective sigh was heard over the entire clinic.

I could barely hear it. All I could even comprehend was that her cancer was not back.

It’s not back.

Thank you, God, for understanding my less than eloquent, one word prayer.

She’s fine and healthy and good for another month of cancer-free living.

And I?  Will be spending the rest of the day with a bottle of wine, trying not to think about those moments..but failing miserably.


Don’t forget to enter the raffle to help Mandy Willis, an 8 yo brain tumor patient and a DEAR friend of ours!

95 Comments on “Anatomy of a nervous breakdown”

  1. #1 Dan Cohen
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 12:40 am

    I am so happy that Princess Peyton is ok.

    But I became broken and sad as I was reading this.

    Knowing that it is NOT back made me glad and thankful.

    I am sending all of you hugs with love.

  2. #2 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:23 am


    It was so hard to write all that down, but I sure felt so much better after. Sometimes I feel like I drag all of you with all these ups and downs and I’m just amazed anyone ever comes back. Thank you.

  3. #3 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:24 am


    It’s never easy, but thankfully this time we got the answers we wanted.

    Thanks for the hugs, they are much needed!

  4. #4 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:24 am


    I KNOW! I can’t even explain how glad I am, it’s crazy.

  5. #5 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:26 am

    @Musings of a Housewife,

    Thank you so much for your sweet encouragement. Yeah, there’s a lot of this in our lives, but I hope you still want to talk to me anyways…it’s not always this extreme.

    We’re just so very thankful that it turned out the way it did. Phhheww!

    *hugs back at ya*

  6. #6 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:26 am


    And thanks for being here for me. It means a lot. You have no idea how much.

  7. #7 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:27 am


    Can I tell you that although I felt better after venting it, it still doesn’t come anywhere near being able to tell how it truly felt. I hope I never feel it again. UGGGG

    Love, darlin’!

  8. #8 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:28 am


    I had a really good cry….a long, sobbing cry…and then wrote it all out and I felt so much better after. Not perfect, but a lot better.

    Thank you so much for your sweet words, it means a lot to know ya’ll care.

  9. #9 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:29 am

    @Domestic Chicky,

    Thanks, sweetie.
    *kisses back to ya*

  10. #10 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:29 am


    All that matters is that we know everything is as it should be. I’m working on shaking off that feeling. Thank you so much.

  11. #11 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:30 am

    @Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah,

    I didn’t know the heart could stop for that long. I swear mine didnt beat for 15 minutes straight. UGGG, but I’m focusing on the good news. GOOD news.

  12. #12 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:31 am


    Thank you so much, I feel like I’ve taken you on a crazy ride with me and I’m just so amazed that you stay to be there for me. You are one heck of a support system.

  13. #13 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:32 am

    @always home and uncool,

    It has it’s rough moments, you know that better than most. BUT the good is REALLY good.

  14. #14 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:33 am


    Thank YOU! Natalie and I just wrapped what felt like 1000 raffle baskets and I am so excited to see her family get the kind of community support they so deserve. She’s a special friend.

  15. #15 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:34 am


    Thank you so much for being a support, I’m just glad it’s over and everything ended up being ok. It’s hard to forget that feeling.

  16. #16 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:34 am

    @Janine (@twincident),

    Sort of like watching Titanic and knowing that the boat’s going down, but you just can’t help it can you?

  17. #17 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:35 am

    @Ami Czorapinski,

    Oh, Ami…I hurt thinking about the fact that you’ve been through this and the answers weren’t good and he is going through all of this again. I’m sorry. I feel like an ass because I know so many of our friends haven’t been so lucky. You know you’re always in our prayers, we love your family so much.

  18. #18 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:37 am


    LOL, I know, I feel the same way about all of you…most I’ve never met and yet I feel your strength and prayers and hope for my little girl. It gets me through a lot of rough days.

    Thank you for being here for me. It means the world to me and I am thankful for your encouragement.

    I hope we DO get to meet one day, tho

  19. #19 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:40 am


    WOW, thank you for sharing your story! I will be heading over to check out your blog and I can’t wait to hear about your family. We have a couple of friends with ITP and I know it’s not without it’s very scary issues and complications.

    The waiting is really some of the worst times…your mind can take you places you don’t need to go and it’s hard to come back from there. I’m sorry that this is a part of your life as well, but thank you for being here for me on this very rough day.

    I will be praying for your daughter.

  20. #20 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:41 am

    @Megan (mommyesquire),

    Meet me for a CASE of wine?

  21. #21 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:41 am

    @Holly at Tropic of Mom,

    LOL, you’d be amazed how quickly i’m going gray…with days like these? I’ll be snowy white by 40.

  22. #22 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:43 am

    @Queen of the Mayhem,

    You aren’t kidding PRAISE GOD! I am and i have spent the whole day just thinking about those moments and trying to focus on God’s grace.

  23. #23 AnissaM
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 2:44 am


    You know I will, thank you so much for all your encouragement.

    Many hugs and prayers.

  24. #24 heather...
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 4:43 am

    DUDE. I am in a FRAGILE STATE right now! Don’t ever scare the shit out of me like that again.

    I’m holding YOU tight (in my mind).

    heather…s last blog post..Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One

  25. #25 just mom
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 9:48 am

    I could probably just save you some read time by saying ‘Ditto’ after what everyone else here has already said and leave it at that. But I can’t let you off that easy. 😉

    Seriously though – but only for a moment. . . I wanted so much to get to the end of your entry and find that the finger poke results were just a silly computer error or something. I got the biggest lump in my throat and found myself holding my breath as I read. I am so glad that the second set of results came back clear. I can’t even begin to imagine what that must have been like for you (but ya done a pretty dern good job making me feel it right along with you! I almost needed a stiff drink by the end of the read too!), or what poor Peyton must have been feeling having to get yet another IV draw after all she’s already been through.

    I only found your blog several months ago, but am very glad I did. Though it breaks my heart to read of the struggles your family has been through with Peyton’s illness, it is such a joy to know that you all have and are surviving. I just keep praying that some day, other families walking the same road you have will be able to say they too are survivors.

    Gaaah! There comes that lump in the throat again! Must. . . find. . . a. . . happy. . . place.

    *gianormous hugs to you and your family from me and mine*

    This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. (Lamentations 3:21-25)

  26. #26 Sarah @ Ordinary Days
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 11:04 am

    What a rollercoaster! I can’t even imagine how you must have felt. Enjoy your good news and your wine. 🙂

    Sarah @ Ordinary Dayss last blog post..How This Midwestern Honkie Got Her Some Culture

  27. #27 lori smart
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    Your facebook comments had me worried and then relieved, but your post made me cry. What a horrible day for you all. I am so glad that the fingerpoke results were in error, and that everything is fine. Peyton deserves no less than a perfect life from here on out! (And you do too, Anissa)

  28. #28 Jennifer
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Next time I give you crap, would you just smack me really hard?

    Not in the face, though. I like it on my butt better. Oh wait, wrong venue.

    Glad Peyton is okay and that you survived the day.

    If you need something, like a dog or a goat or even a baby rabbit, just let me know. I’ll hook you up.

  29. #29 Stimey
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    I can’t even imagine how terrifying those moments must have been. I am so glad that you don’t have to walk back down that road.

    Stimeys last blog post..I’m a Winner! I Mean, a Whiner.

  30. #30 tiff
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    That was heart in the throat stuff.
    Glad the bloods came back normal.

    tiffs last blog post..Baby bedhogs.

  31. #31 Dawn
    on Feb 19th, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    Unlike others I did not know the outcome. In fact I was happily playing catch up reading some older posts first – BTW good luck with the fundraiser for Mandy, you are SUCH a good friend to so many people.

    Anyway I just got half way thro this latest post, to the point of you saying ‘the cancers back, the cancers back’ when someone interupted me needing an answer. I looked up with tears in my eyes and all worked stopped. Everyone wanted to know the outcome. It was a heartstopping few moments while we read the rest. I can’t tell you how glad I am that everything turned out OK in the end. Praying that you never have to go down that road again. Please give Peyton an extra big hug from me tonight. Stories like these certainly make me hug my kids extra hard.

    I’m off now to join you in that bottle of wine – or maybe two!

  32. #32 Marie
    on Feb 20th, 2009 at 12:37 am

    My gosh Anissa, you almost gave me heart failure. I was sitting there saying NO NO NO NO NO right there along with you until that magical number 302. And good ole Peyton (good ole CANCER FREE Peyton), oblivious to it all, the worst trauma being a mean old rubber band. SO glad she is still ok…you really gave us all a fright there Peyton!!!

  33. #33 BlapherMJ
    on Feb 20th, 2009 at 7:24 am

    Thank you Lord for delivering Peyton through….. Anissa — you had me choking back the tears as I read this…. God is so good.

    BlapherMJs last blog post..Thursdays Thoughts

  34. #34 JD
    on Feb 20th, 2009 at 7:52 am

    My heart was in my throat the entire time…. (((((((((((((((( big hugs )))))))))))))))

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  36. #36 Erica
    on Feb 20th, 2009 at 11:29 am

    I had tears in my eyes as I was reading your post…I can only imagine what you were feeling at that time….take care of yourself, b/c those kiddos need you.

    Ericas last blog post..Going to the Chapel…

  37. #37 jennifer
    on Feb 20th, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    I am so sorry that you & Peyton had to go through this. I am thrilled that everything worked out to be good. Hope you enjoyed a GOOD bottle of wine – you deserve it!

  38. #38 Janna
    on Feb 20th, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    I don’t have eloquent words. I barely have coherent words.

    Thank you, Jesus!

    Jannas last blog post..Woot!

  39. #39 Musing
    on Feb 21st, 2009 at 11:53 am

    My heart stopped as I read this. I’m so glad she’s okay!

  40. #40 alayna
    on Feb 24th, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Holy freaking cow! I have been off my computer for a while, and I just read this – even after I had already read the other post that it was a false positive, and I STILL got all teary-eyed and nervous! Sheesh! Ler us know before the next clinic appointment so we can be praying – not only for normal counts, but for strength for you to be able to walk back into the building without throwing up or fainting!

  41. #41 Velma
    on Mar 23rd, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    Oh. Deep breaths, huh? After reading your blog for a while, it just finally dawned on me that Peyton had ALL, something that another child we know battled from 3 months on. (He ended up having a bone marrow transplant and is doing very well, terrorizing his parents and little brother at age 3.)

    My husband is a radiation oncologist, although he doesn’t treat pediatric patients. It never ends, does it, that fright? Just don’t forget that no matter what numbers come back, all those nurses and techs and doctors really do care about YOUR child. You are not mistaken when you sense a connection between your child and her caregivers – it is real and while it might feel like unendurable pity while you are processing the bad (or maybe just mistaken) news, it is also a wealth of care and experience to draw from. One that I have every confidence that you won’t HAVE to draw from, but still – no one goes into oncology for the easy work.


    Velmas last blog post..Happy "Mommy’s Turn with the Wii" Day!

  42. #42 Maura
    on Mar 24th, 2009 at 12:23 am

    I cannot even begin to understand the emotions this put you through, but I’m delighted that it was an error. My stomach plunged while I was reading it; your ability to convey it all is potent.

    Mauras last blog post..Year of Living Generously – Hollywood Edition

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  44. #44 Janice (5 Minutes for Mom)
    on Aug 28th, 2009 at 2:54 am

    OH MY WORD – how unimaginable terrifying and horrible that must have been. Thank God it was wrong!

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