Tanya Koger wants parents to pay close attention to their children's symptoms.
The Mazon mom said if there's one thing she wants other moms and dads to know, it's that out of the ordinary symptoms mean head to the doctor. And of your instincts tell you the diagnosis might not be right, get a second opinion.
A persistent runny nose or an unusual rash may be something quite different than what a parent would think. It might be nothing, she said, or it might be everything.
Tanya and her husband Caleb are parents of three young children; Karson, Landon and Tenley. They knew the ropes of raising kids when their youngest, Tenley, had some odd but not overly concerning symptoms. Their babysitter had commented on her runny nose, which the Kogers had also noticed, that had been almost non-stop for a week.
The three-year-old also had had six ear infections in the past few months, also not unusual for a toddler.
Then, four months ago on a cold February day, Tenley started complaining that her leg hurt. Her parents thought it might be growing pains or a charley horse and gave her a mild pain reliever. The next morning, the family woke up to Tenley in horrible pain.
“She could not move at all,” her mother said. “She could not roll to get out of bed, she could not sit up. She was screaming all the way from the bedroom to the hospital.”
After a flurry of examinations and tests at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, Tenley was diagnosed with acute B-cell lymphoblastic leukemia. The diagnosis of ALL by the team of specialists was quick, and the parents were stunned by the news.
“We just kind of sat there,” she said. “We didn’t really know what we were getting into, but the oncologist said that if you’re going to have leukemia, this is the kind to have.”
Two days after her diagnosis, Tenley began her first round of chemotherapy.
According to The American Cancer Society, ALL is fatal if not treated as soon as possible. With today’s treatments, 90 percent are cured.
In the months since, Tenley has gone through a bone marrow biopsy, a spinal tap, GI scopes and port placements.
She contracted pneumonia twice and had two major gastric bleeds, one of which caused serious hemorrhaging and required immediate surgery and transfusions requiring 20 bags of blood.
“As fast as they were putting it in,” Koger said of the transfusions,” it was hemorrhaging out. We were terrified.”
A team of 12 physicians, along with several nurses, specialists and lab staff were on her case with non-stop, side-by-side care at one point.
“She had 16 different IV machines hooked up to her at one time,” Koger said, “plus her port. They blew her veins out. . . and they had to put PICC lines in.”
But on March 20, Tenley was declared cancer-free. Tanya describes her feelings as relief with apprehension. Their daughter will continue to receive chemo treatments every week, and then once a month, for two-and-a-half years to kill any cancerous cells that may pop up.
“I feel like we’re in a good place right now,” she said, “but we don’t feel like we can really let our guard down.”
Tenley is returning to her normal self this summer, with her fun “sassy” personality. She enjoys Barbies, Tinkerbell, cooking in her play kitchen, painting and riding her new bike in the driveway.
The Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation recently gave the family a gift that Tenley had requested – a fishing trip. They caught fish, rode with an Iditarod dog team and fed horses, chickens and goats.
Tanya had to quit her job at a Morris dentist office to go on the many trips to the hospital and to take care of her daughter at home, who cannot be exposed to germs while she is on chemo.
To help ease the burden of the medical expenses, the family has a Go Fund Me fundraising site, at “Fight like a girl – Team Tenley,” and ta Facebook page of the same title.
They are also planning a blood drive later this summer, the details of which will be announced on their Facebook site.