Cancer Kids & Elephants

Lab facilities at the zoo…

Being a cancer kid – it’s not all bad.
There are perks, and this is a good thing…
Greg left the hospital on Sunday which meant Dr. Schiffman wasn’t able to get his blood draw.  In order to entice us back to Salt Lake City to share our Li Fraumeni blood, he arranged for us to meet at the Hogle Zoo and have our blood drawn simultaneously with the a couple of elephants.   Yes, elephants… we would get to feed them and he would get three samples of blood because giving blood with an elephant sounded worthwhile for Jackie and David as well.

Jackie and Bella

Humans have two p53 genes… one from each parent.  Elephants have FORTY p53 genes!  We use our genes to fight mutated (cancerous) cells.  We either repair those cells or just get rid of them.  Elephants simply get rid of them… and they don’t get cancer.   Elephants also have so many more genes than we have – it would seem likely that they would have a much higher incidence of cancer, but they don’t… what does it mean for all of us?  I don’t really know, but Dr. Schiffman is going to find out – and we will all benefit.
Dog, by the way, have an abnormally high rate of cancer – he is studying that as well.

Bribing David with peanuts…
it worked for the elephants!

We arrived at the zoo just before it opened and were taken into the elephants holding area.  The blood needs to be drawn and tested within the hour, so the phlebotomist, Bella, set up a “clean area” for my kids – they found a little step ladder for them to sit on.  The elephant handler drew the blood from the animals.  Most spectacular? – when he opened up a little door in the cage and the elephant came right over and stuck her ear out through the crack.  The blood is drawn from the back of the ear, and the animal is fed constantly throughout the experience.

Backstage at the elephant cage…

Elephants – this is always my answer when I have to respond to the “what’s your favorite animal?” question.  I don’t know a lot about them, but I like to see them at the zoo.  Being just a few feet closer… whoa… we were pretty impressed by their size.  At first there was just one elephant in a relatively small enclosure.  She wasn’t too happy and was banging around… yes, we were intimidated!  She was huge, powerful and surprisingly agile.  They said she was upset because her baby wasn’t there.  When the baby came in she trumpeted… yikes!  So loud, so cool!
We all had a chance to come to the cage and feed the elephant.  She would reach out her trunk and grab the carrots and bananas from us just as quickly as we could take them out of the bucket.  The trunk grabbed them just like a hand, and felt like a sea anemone.  It was better than I thought it would be.. and when we left we were feeling brave… well, not really brave because we had been so awed by the size of the beasts and glad that there were strong bars between us.  We decided to extend the animal experience and contacted our friendly reptile whisperer, Nathan’s best friend Shanna.  She agreed to take us behind the scenes at the Bean Museum at BYU and show us the reptiles.

The zoo asked us not to
photograph the elephants
so we found this one at
the Bean Museum instead.

We had done this before, and proven ourselves to be pretty wimpy – but this time we had been touched by an elephant and were ready to face the tarantulas and snakes.  Last time I touched them, this time I held them.  Nathan wasn’t too thrilled to see Mom with the tarantula… this meant he would have to do it too – Greg was quick to hold everything first – winning the courage award once again.

Our new friend the Python.
They all had names that
I cannot remember.

His surgeon is also thinking of giving him some sort of courage/positive attitude award also – she asked where I found him… such an upbeat guy!  I told her how his nurses used to fight over who would get to care for him each shift and she said it was already happening at her clinic as well.  When her team saw Greg on the schedule there were several who offered to see him, but she’s the boss and she took the slot.  As we checked in – both Friday and last week before surgery – I had been impressed that several staff members stopped to greet him and ask after him.  He is a new patient at the Hunstman Institute, but he has already made friends.  His smile, positive outlook and friendly demeanor make all the difference.  Not only does he brighten the day for others, I am positive that it affects his recovery as well.
Our news from yesterday:


Greg’s cancer is called adenocarcinoma – the most common type of colon cancer.  How refreshing to not have something rare and unusual.  It is stage three and Greg will be having six months of chemotherapy treatments – two days every two weeks.  It doesn’t sound too bad after what he has already experienced… super easy in fact; except that chemotherapy is not ever easy.  There are two different drugs – one will infuse in clinic and one will go home with him in a syringe-pump which he will carry around in a fanny pack.  Cisplatin was the worst chemo of the three he had last time… this time he has a mild cousin to Cisplatin… such-and-such-platin.  We used to carry around a mini-pharmacy and know all the names and when to use what… mercifully that has all been blocked rom our memory.  Now we begin again.

Shanna, Nathan & the Boa

In two weeks Greg will have a surgical procedure to implant a port.  Two weeks after that he will begin treatments.  In the meantime he is going to be eating some high calorie foods (I hope) and spend some time trying to get ahead in his classes.  I arrived home last night, but he texted me today – happy to be grocery shopping and moving back into his apartment.  We are both glad to be home.  How strange the past two weeks have been.  Greg sees that July will be the end of the chemotherapy treatment and knows that time will continue to move on, this will pass and life will resume.  Those are my words; I know that Greg would remind me that life won’t need to resume, life will continue – maybe just slow down a bit.
My life has certainly slowed way down… it started four years ago and continues to slow – I really think that I have given up every “un-needful” thing.  How interesting when you are forced to do this, to look around and see just how rich and full your life really is.  I wish that I could communicate this to all of those busy-busy-busy people that I see – but it seems to not be in our nature, at least not in our society.  I guess it is one of those perks of being a cancer-mom – it’s not all bad.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s