Tanya Iatrides was just back to work after maternity leave when her family came down with the stomach flu. Tanya and her husband Peter recovered quickly, but their 14-month old daughter, Mary, did not. Tanya also noticed that Mary bruised easily, more than a typical baby learning to crawl and walk.
Their doctor ordered blood tests and told Tanya to take Mary to the Nanaimo Hospital. 'I feared right away that it was cancer because of what we saw with Mary's grandmother,' says Tanya. In 2001, Peter's mother, after whom Mary was named, passed away from acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) just nine months after showing symptoms of strange bruising.
Doctors at the hospital confirmed their worst fears and ordered an ambulance to take Mary to BC Children's Hospital immediately. 'I didn't even have time to go home, as we were leaving right away,' admits Tanya.
Tanya went with Mary by air ambulance while Peter raced home to pack a few bags and make the next ferry to Vancouver. When Mary and Tanya arrived at emergency, a team of specialists awaited them. Mary did, indeed, have the same diagnosis as her grandmother ' AML. While Tanya and Peter had a 'healthy fear' of AML and expected the worst, they were relieved to find out the prognosis for childhood AML was more positive. But Mary still had a battle ahead of her.
The Iatrides' first few days at Children's were a blur: blood tests, bone marrow biopsies, a hospital room that would become their new home. They also had to digest the fact that their daughter was about to endure six months of aggressive chemotherapy to save her life.
Over the course of treatment, Mary was often in isolation fighting infections and was not able to go to the hospital playrooms. Doctors and nurses came by to play with her and child life specialists brought clean toys and new books to help give Tanya and Peter breaks. Tanya says that 'a big part of keeping Mary entertained was through music, and she loved to dance with anyone that would hold her.'
While in the hospital, Mary's caregivers became like a second family to the Iatrides. 'We knew all their names and can't say enough about how wonderful they were. They put our minds at ease. We never doubted that they had our child's best interests at heart.'
After six months of treatment, Mary was finally able to go home. She still has to return regularly for tests, but she's easing into a more regular life at home. Tanya and Peter are hopeful about Mary's future and know that each day they have with her is precious. 'Every day, I thank God she is still here,' says Tanya.