For most parents, the months between November and April are filled with attempts to prevent their little ones from catching colds and the flu. No parent enjoys their kid being sick, nor do they want to deal with the stress that comes with taking days off work to be at home with them.
For parents of premature or immune-compromised babies, the worry runs much deeper.
My son came home from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in the later days of October, just as the weather was starting to get colder. His doctor’s voice played over and over in my mind warning me that something as simple as a cough could land him right back in the hospital.
Having just lived through six weeks in the NICU, my sense of worry was already on high alert. Every cough and each little sneeze led to hours of sleepless worry. We spent those months washing our hands raw and even donning hospital masks if we felt that familiar tickle in our throats—all efforts to try and avoid passing any germs on to our high-risk baby. Asking family and friends to stay away if they even felt an inkling of a cold became awkward. Not everyone understood the potential complications and many thought we were being overprotective.
As much as we try to prevent it, our children will get sick during the winter months. Premature or immune-compromised babies are even more susceptible to coughs, colds, the flu and even serious illnesses such as bronchitis, pneumonia and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).
RSV season is the time of year where RSV infections are most commonly spread within our communities. In Canada, this season lasts from late fall through to the spring. Nearly all children (premature, immune-compromised, or not) will have their first RSV infection by the time they are two years old.
RSV can start with symptoms that are very similar to a cold: a cough, stuffy nose, sneezing and a mild fever. It can also impact a baby's lungs and there may also be wheezing, difficulty breathing and feeding. If you do notice any of these symptoms you should seek medical attention right away.
Because of his compromised immune system and complicated health issues, my son received a monthly vaccine to help protect him against RSV during that first winter. My daughter on the other hand, was a full-term, healthy baby, so there was no need to add the extra vaccine to her regular schedule—but she did contact RSV. The moment I noticed her struggling to breathe, I packed her up and took her to the ER where they gave her oxygen and medication. We were lucky, she was back home that same afternoon and recovered well.
Anticipating illness can be stressful for all parents, regardless of whether your baby was premature or full-term. Here are some tips to reduce your kid’s risks:
When your baby gets sick, the best thing to prevent panic is to be prepared. The Canadian Premature Babies Foundation is an excellent resource and can offer guidance on when you should seek medical attention. They have also written the Common Winter Illnesses pamphlet available to download for free. The pamphlet covers the most common childhood illnesses you may experience during the winter and how to prepare your family for them. For parents of preemies, World Prematurity Day is a great time to download, read, and prepare for cold and flu season.
Full-term, preemie, or immune-compromised—our babies are going to get sick and we're going to worry. It's a fact of life, welcome to parenthood! Being prepared by using the info above and feeling well-informed can take a lot of the stress out of it for parents.
She was younger than I was when she received her first diagnosis.
She was 35 years old.
By the time she received her diagnosis, the breast cancer had already begun to spread. The ugly cells had multiplied and had started the process of invading her body. They are sneaky, those cancer cells. They don’t stay put. They hide themselves very easily. By the age of 35, those sneaky, ugly cells had already begun to invade the muscles in her back and were trying their best to find their way through the rest of her body. Those ugly cells wanted her dead.
She was 35 years old.
She was a mother of seven.
I often wonder what went through her mind when the doctor told her that she might die.
Was she afraid? Did she cry? Did her mind race wondering who would take care of her children? Did she not even entertain the idea of dying?
She didn’t die. Not then.
I am two years older than my grandmother was when she received her first diagnosis. I am a mother. The thought of receiving a cancer diagnosis terrifies me.
Breast cancer runs in my family. Great aunts, grandmothers, and cousins have all lost their battles to the disease.
That's why when I found my first lump at age 19, the fear took my breath away. My hand slid across the tiny hard lump while I was in the shower, and I poked and pushed at it, hoping that it would dissappear. When I brought it to my doctor, I was sure he was going to tell me that it was nothing to worry about. That at 19, I was too young to even think about breast cancer. Instead, he sent me for an ultrasound and a biopsy. I could feel the lump burning inside my left breast, day and night, until I received the results of those tests. I was secretly mad at my grandmother for potentially passing this gene onto me. Of all the things she could have given me, this is what I got?
My test came back days later: benign.
In the years since I have discovered a few lumps, each time bringing it to my doctors attention, each time going through a barrage of tests: ultrasounds, mammograms, or biopsies. Every single time I hold my breath until I hear the word "benign." I have been lucky that every test has come back benign, yet I still find myself holding my breath, praying that I don't hear the word "cancer."
The issue of genetic testing came up years ago, before I had children. My own mother decided against the test. The question now runs through my mind; should I be proactive and find out if I have the gene, or should I be proactive with regular self-checks and doctor visits?
I wish I could ask my grandmother what choice she would make. If she could go back in time and know what the future held, would she make the choice to have surgery to remove her breasts in anticipation of the terrible disease that would wind its way into the fabric of her life? I wish I could ask her if she ever worried how her breast cancer would impact her children or the legacy it would leave for her grandchildren.
My grandmother received her second diagnosis of breast cancer just over 20 years after the first. In between these diagnoses, she battled uterine cancer and throat cancer. Cancer became like an unwelcome guest in her life, one that always shows up at the most inopportune moments.
Her second diagnosis of breast cancer took her slowly. For years, those cancer cells slowly made their way up her body, finding a home in her brain.
In the end, breast cancer won the last round. Her battle started at age 35, and ended before she even saw 70. She fought it long and she fought it hard.
I can only hope that my children will never have to see me suffer. I can only hope that all the research will continue to help women who are diagnosed or who carry the gene.
Let’s keep the conversation going. Let’s keep encouraging each other to get regular check-ups.
Let’s keep supporting those that we know and love who are battling this disease.