NEAR TO ERIN
By: Herman Watson
A few years ago we were a young family of 5. My wife, me, and the three children were full of excitement with the Christmas season. Two of the children were boys, the oldest was 7 years old, and the youngest was 1 1⁄2 years old. In the middle was my special daughter Erin. Her birthday was in June, so she was 4 1⁄2 years old.
Erin had an incredible personality plus a sweet sense of humor. She loved her whole family so much, but I believe she loved me with a special gifted love. She used to call me her “Big Guy”.
It was December 18th , exactly one week before Christmas. We were all very busy in the middle of preparing for Christmas. The oldest son was in school, and Erin and her little brother were at home full time with my wife who had sacrificed to be a stay-at-home mom.
That evening Erin was being given a bath by her mother. I was sitting watching the evening news at that same time . My wife came out and asked for me to go back to the bedroom and look at Erin. She was lying on the bed in her pajamas after her bath. There was something my wife wanted me to look at.
I went back and Erin was laying on her back in the bed. I looked at her tummy and there was like a bump sticking out. I pressed it and it felt hard. I asked her does this hurt when I press? She said no.
Then I pressed on it some more and could feel like there was definitely something hard in her tummy so I asked my wife did she think it was constipation?
Mom said it was not that. Mom said everything was fine. What did not go away was this thing that was sticking out underneath inside her tummy. It was firm and hard. I felt it pressing on her again. I again asked Erin if she could feel anything or any discomfort. Again she replied no. I had to go back, sit down, and watch the news again because I had already reached my input overload at that point.
After the bath time I was still concerned. Mom and I talked when Erin was in bed. The size of the thing was big enough that we were both worried. I have been around medicine my whole life so I understand that there's usually not anything big that sticks up from inside of the tummy.
Ultimately, we decided to take her over to Baptist Emergency Center and have her looked at to make sure that there's nothing bad going on inside of her.
So we drive to Baptist Hospital, go inside, and I am standing at the admission window describing that my daughter has some kind of an abdominal mass. I explained that we are concerned and would like to know and make sure that she's okay.
At 10 p.m., we were sitting in the emergency room with my little girl waiting on someone to take a look at her.
Eventually, someone did come and took her to have an x-ray. We went back with her and she stood in front of the machine just like she was told. They took an x-ray picture of her tummy. We were all then asked to go back into the waiting area.
About a half-hour later her pediatrician showed up. He asked that we go back and sit and to talk with him in a private room.
He looked bothered. He was gray and had no blood in his face.
We sat down with him. He began talking and told us that she had some type of a tumor in her stomach. Tumor? He said he was not sure what type it is. He did tell us we should go over to Miami Children's Hospital that night. He explained it was important to quickly have her diagnosed to try to respond as rapidly as we could to what condition would be found.
It was around midnight when we loaded her up. We took her in the car over to Miami Children's Hospital where she was admitted. They took us up to a room around 3:00 am.
The next morning they came in and did tests all morning including a CAT scan. Eventually they told us that she had what was called a Wilm’s tumor. It grew from one of her kidneys and was a fairly large size and need to be removed as quickly as possible.
Everyone was assuring us that Wilm’s tumors are highly treatable and successfully cured. In fact the cure rate was at 95% for these types of tumor.
We were relieved to hear that there is definitely something that can be done and that treatments are successful. Discussions the rest of that day centered around having the tumor removed which would also remove one of the kidneys.
What the heck, we were told that the people live everyday with a single kidney and have no problem functioning at all.
The time pressure was on to have surgery done as quickly as possible. With a tumor the longer that is untreated the more it can spread, so the concern was to have the whole tumor and kidney removed as quickly as possible.
The surgery was scheduled for the next day which is now the 20th of December, 5 days before Christmas. It was scheduled in the middle of the afternoon and that morning an angel came in the room. His name was Brian.
Brian’s job was patient-parent relations. He had a little doll that he used to explain to my daughter what was going to happen to her. This includes how she would be opened up and the lazy tumor would be removed.
She, and all of us fell in love with Brian. His mission and the way that he worked with both the child and the parents was absolutely gifted.
That afternoon they took my daughter into surgery. Four hours later she was brought to recovery with the kidney and tumor removed. After about a half hour she began to wake up. She had tubes all over her body from her nose, down her throat, drain tubes from her tummy, and IV’s everywhere.
It was a very hard sight to deal with.
She had a one day recovery time in the Intensive Care Unit and then two days in a step-down unit.
The doctor discharged her allowing her to come home on Christmas Eve. That way we were able to have the Christmas eve celebration at our house with Santa Claus coming that night. Everything was ‘normal’ again after a horribly traumatic week.
She was weak, but did not complain and acted like she was really not that uncomfortable. At least she didn't complain.
Christmas was a wonderful time. All of the grandparents and aunts and uncles came over and we celebrated a wonderful time together.
The next episode in the story was the middle of January when she was scheduled to receive chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy was still very crude at the time. Infusion ports were not available yet, so the treatments had to go in through the veins.
Picture my 4 1⁄2 year old girl being poked with IV’s in the arm or the leg or wherever they could find a vein to have the chemotherapy and shots.
The first treatment made us very apprehensive. We had heard horrible things about chemotherapy. Erin’s grandmother had also had chemotherapy. We went to the hospital, admitting her so she could receive the treatment.
The doctor essentially made us wait 12 hours until the treatment was finally administered. This was in the evening after the whole day wait to calm us down.
After she was given the treatment she had nausea and was uncomfortable through the whole night. We did make it through the experience though.
We were optimistic that the chemotherapy would be very effective. Besides the chemotherapy was being given as an extra precautionary measure. It was considered that the surgery alone removing the tumor was the actual cure.
The chemotherapy treatments were done every two weeks. After a couple of weeks, the treatments eventually made all her hair fall out. She lost all her hair by the beginning or middle of February.
We had to go shopping for a wig. Finding a wig for a four-and-a-half-year-old girl is not the easiest thing to do. The Cancer Society today has wigs available by mail order which are very inexpensive, but at this time that is not an option. We had to go shopping at different local wig shops.
We did purchase a wig. The wig was given a haircut attempting to make it fit her as close as possible. It was uncomfortable and scratchy. The only time she really wore it was when we would go out where other people would see her. Normally around the house she was my bald headed little girl.
The beginning of March we went in for a routine check-up. Part of the checkup was a chest x- ray which showed that the cancer had spread to the lungs. We had to tell our other children and family that she had ‘spots’ in her lungs.
My boss was a physician. When I told him, all he could say was “I'm sorry”.
Since the disease was considered 95% curable, radiation therapy was a positive treatment for when the cancer had spread to the lungs.
We signed up for and began radiation therapy at a hospital 27 miles away.
Twice a week we would drive to the hospital. My daughter would lie under the machine with her favorite blanket, alone, and receive treatments. The treatments came from a big giant machine that would rotate around her and shine lights on her. Even Mom and I would have to leave the room during her 5 minute treatment. She was alone.
At this time she was approaching five years of age. She had become very,very mature because of all the experiences she had been having.
After the radiation treatments had been finished plus a couple of other different types of chemotherapy, the doctors had a consultation with us telling us they had run out of ideas on how to treat Erin's cancer. They said they had tried everything and had nothing else they could do.
Her birthday was in June and she loved so much swimming in the pool. We invited all of her friends and the cousins and the aunts and uncles to come over for her birthday party. Everyone came and the kids swim all afternoon and had the most wonderful time running, swimming, and playing with each other while splashing in the water. That time was a real blessing.
We had decided that we were completely normal when we were in our environment at our house with our family. This is even though she was not receiving chemotherapy treatments. The only time we had to deal with illness, was when we had to go to the hospital. This would be the situation for either additional tests or some other type of examination.
As I noted earlier the chemotherapies had stopped, but we continued to live and hope that maybe God would provide some type of a cure for her. It may seem simple minded at this hindsight point to discuss that type of a philosophy, but when there is no alternative, God is still there. Even when there may not be hope or a chance of having your own wishes and desires fulfilled who else is there to turn to? Where else do you go? He gave us a solid foundation and helped us not go crashing over the edge.
Erin turned 5 in the middle of June. That was the birthday party in the pool. The priest had suggested that she go ahead and receive her First Communion. Even though she was just beginning kindergarten when she went back to school he encouraged us to have that for her. We followed his suggestion and had a beautiful First Communion ceremony for her at the church with all the family present.
In August and September she started to lose weight. Even though she was getting taller she did not gain any additional weight. Her diet and her appetite was still good and she was still able to play and do what she wanted at the time. As we approached Halloween she had gotten thinner and weaker.
She wanted to be a kitty-cat for Halloween, so Mom made (sewed) an outfit for her. She looked so pretty and cute. The challenge was that she wasn't able to walk around the block to go trick-or-treating. Dad held her in his arms and went from house to house in the neighborhood. She would ring the doorbell, greeting the people who came to the door, and yell “Trick or Treat”. She had so much fun. She was very pleased to wear her costume that her mom had made.
During the course of her wellness we were probably in the hospital almost every other week. When we went to the hospital her two brothers would go to the aunt and uncle's house to spend the night time there.
When she was in the hospital, either mom or dad would always stay with her. The other would come home, get the boys, and come back to the house trying to be as normal as could be. After school, the boys would go back to the aunt or uncle’s house until either mom or dad came to pick them up again at the end of the evening.
It was November 18th. Erin was sitting on her bean bag chair watching cartoons and breathing very rapidly. It was a struggle for her to keep breathing, so we decided it was time to go to the hospital and see what they could do for her.
We entered through the emergency room. They took her straight to a hospital room. The admissions were short circuited and it was a quick welcome and placement in her room.
Later that evening, she began to lose consciousness because she wasn't able to get enough oxygen to her brain. She slowly begun to lose consciousness.
Later on she was really not aware at all about us or the room, but she kept calling out “Daddy, Daddy”.
Obviously because as her father and being a man, I felt terrible. Any parent wants to provide for their child. I wanted to do for my daughter. I wanted to prevent any trauma for my little girl. There was nothing that I could do. That night I had to let her slip from being our little daughter to being a child with Jesus.
I am convinced in hindsight that she was not crying it out in anguish or despair for her father. She in fact saw Jesus in her mind. He probably looked a lot like her daddy. She was calling out to greet him and be with him.
We had a funeral, and everyone came to sing songs. We all prayed and gave praise and worship. All the family, close friends, neighbors, work associates, and almost anyone that knew us came to the funeral. We had the burial ceremony at the graveyard. There was an additional service and prayer before she was interred.
While all that happened people gave hugs and expressed their condolences. Everyone tried to share their empathy with us, but none of it would console me or her mom.
After the dust settled, I used to go to the graveyard and sit by her marker. I would take a folding chair and fresh flowers and sit there and wait.
You know what? No matter how long I waited, there was no sign, communication, or any response other than the one in my heart.
I experienced all the different stages of grief, but my dissatisfaction was expressed through my work. My wife and I came closer together. We would sit and talk, and share, and cry, and be together.
One evening when I was asleep, I had a dream. In that dream I saw Jesus standing there in front of me, and behind him was a playground with little children playing with toys. They were having much fun together.
I saw my daughter Erin on that playground. She was playing with the other children, running around, and laughing, being very happy.
Jesus came over to me and gave me a big hug without saying a word. At that point I knew that she was alive, and happy.
I have no question that when I die I will see an incredibly beautiful woman, full grown, who is my daughter. She will be very happy to be reunited with me again and ultimately, my whole family will be together for an eternal time.
My younger son was 2 1⁄2 years old when Erin died. The first night Mom and I were at home together he came in the bedroom and asked “Where is my sister?”
Years later in a school writing assignment maybe in the 4th grade he wrote the following. “My ghost is my sister. She died when she was five. She was the second oldest. We used to be good friends. She died of cancer. She was in my dream once. She appeared to me on a stage.
She talked to me and then she went away. I hope she comes in another dream. That's how it happened.”