Fighting cancer is a tough task. Catheters, dripping nerve blocks, drains stitched into skin, dressings needing changing and an amputated limb are keeping Alyssa Divers and her mother, the Rev. Lynn Litchfield Divers, busy, busy, busy.
But just because the mother and daughter duo, now in Texas for treatment, don’t have time to chat on the phone doesn’t mean their story shouldn’t be told.
“Right now we are in the hospital and Alyssa is recovering from a high-femur amputation with a vascularized tibia autograft in an attempt to give her a small, ‘residual limb’ upon which she may one day wear a prosthetic. It is a rather pioneering operation,” the Rev. Divers said in an email.
Noting that her days are pretty much slammed with assisting Alyssa, the Rev. Divers — pastor at Sojourners United Church of Christ — agreed to let us borrow from her blog.
In her mother’s writings, we learn that Alyssa is one tough young cookie. In January 2011, she didn’t know how tough she was. That’s when her legs started hurting after tap dancing class.
“I assumed she’d tweaked it on some of our more advanced moves. By the weekend, it was clear her knee was really bothering her,” her mom wrote. “We tried rest and ibuprofen to no avail. A trip to the pediatrician revealed no abnormalities, so more rest and ibuprofen.”
The knee did not improve, so they went to the doc. An X-ray showed “widening of the growth plate consistent with an overuse fracture,” but a two-hour MRI showed a mass on her femur had caused the break.
That, they were told, ain’t good.
Two weeks before her ninth birthday, Alyssa learned that she had osteosarcoma, a rare, aggressive bone cancer.
Surgery to remove the tumor and more than a year’s worth of chemotherapy followed. Unfortunately, as she got her last dose of chemo, she got news that the tumor was returning.
They flew to Houston, where an expert in the disease offered alternate chemotherapy and suggested amputation.
It’s been a rough road to ride and no one has had it tougher than Alyssa. While moving about, some of the drains and wires and cords surgically installed in her got hung up a bit and Alyssa moved to accommodate them, her mother wrote in her blog.
“And, as she moved her residual limb over the sheets, her dressing came off. The dressing is lots of gauze held on by a netting thing. No tape to hold it on her skin,” the Rev. Divers wrote. “It was the first time she had seen her leg and I’m afraid she wasn’t quite ready. All in all, it was painful and traumatic. But she did it.”
The road ahead is long and with many a winding turn. There is need of a wheelchair, a prosthetic and possibly more treatment. Although they have insurance, the Diverses are still dealing with large medical bills.
To help, the Sojourners congregation is planning a July 21 benefit concert at the Elliott Avenue church in Charlottesville with desserts and events for children.
In the meantime, Alyssa continues to work toward recovery. And kind words from others help.
“We are making progress,” the Rev. Divers said. “I watch how hard simple things have become. I realize the path ahead will continue to present obstacles that my brain can’t even begin to comprehend and my heart doesn’t want to. But, because [people] have reminded me I am not alone — she is not alone — we are not alone in this nightmare, I face the future with a little more confidence. I don’t have to do this by myself and neither does Alyssa.”