Light at the end of the tunnel
Anyone who didn’t know what was happening could have mistaken Chelsea Caines as a visitor to the Janeway’s oncology unit on Dec. 30, 2013.
© Danette Dooley photo
Ms. Caines with her parents -Torina and Corey Caines.
The sixteen-year-old from Rencontre East sat in a recliner, dressed in jeans and a pink zipped-up hoodie. The only indication that she may have been doing more than having a chat with a nurse who’d entered the room was a tiny portion of white gauze bandage visible above the t-shirt that she wore under her hoodie.
However, if you looked closer you’d see that Chelsea was also hooked up to an IV pole that delivered medicine directly into her body.
The scenario isn’t new to Chelsea. She’s been undergoing chemotherapy at the Janeway for over two years.
Her treatment on Dec. 30 was her final round of chemotherapy which explains why doctors, nurses and other health professionals were coming into the room to wish her well and congratulate her on her lengthy battle with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).
Chelsea’s parents Torina and Corey Caines are also with their daughter.
Mrs. Caines has rarely left Chelsea’s bedside. During her daughter’s time in the Janeway, she slept on a bed in Chelsea’s room.
“I bought my own cot to put in her room. I never left her,” Mrs. Caines said.
Chelsea was admitted to the Janeway in August 2011 with severe back and stomach pain. Her parents and other family members were devastated when doctors diagnosed Chelsea with ALL and explained to them about the long road ahead.
“They told us she would need six-to-eight months of intense (chemotherapy) treatment and that it would get a little bit easier after that. That really knocked the wind out of me. And coming from so far away, I had no way of knowing how it was all going to work out. I knew I had to leave the rest of the family behind. Chelsea would have to miss school. Her life as a teenager just went bottom up,” Mrs. Caines said.
Chelsea spent the majority of her time over the next year undergoing chemotherapy at the Janeway.
She missed the 2011-12 school year but returned to school the following year while continuing on a treatment of maintenance chemotherapy.
When asked how it’s been fighting to get well, the quiet-spoken teen showed maturity beyond her years.
“It’s been a long road. I really missed being home and going around with my friends and just being a normal person,” she sighs.
“I’m glad to be at the end.”
Chelsea had to come to terms with many of the side effects of the toxic drugs used to fight cancer – everything from shingles to pneumonia.
She ended up in intensive care twice with borderline septic shock.
But for Chelsea, losing her hair was the hardest part of chemotherapy.
That’s behind her now and her hair has grown back with a hint of curl.
Cancer in children and youth robs young people of their childhood.
Chelsea is no exception.
She missed out on many things that young teens take for granted like staying out after curfew and breaking a few other family rules.
Cancer also robs siblings of their brother or sister who is battling the disease. And, in many cases, of a parent who must leave home to be with their sick child.
The Caines have three other children. Corey (Jr.) is now 22. Kaitlyn is 18 and Hayley is 14.
“I found it bad enough going through this mentally and leaving the other kids at home but Chelsea had to go through it all mentally and physically. But we got through it,” Mrs. Caines said.
It’s devastating to watch your child go through the trauma of cancer, Mrs. Caines said. She drew her strength from Chelsea.
“I don’t know where Chelsea got her strength from. She was never angry. We’d watch movies and we’d play games when she was feeling up to it. And we’d chat with the other families.”
Mr. Caines says the nurses and other staff at the Janeway became their second family.
“We’ll never forget what they’ve all done for us here,” he said.
“And the cancer support group in Harbour Breton has been giving Chelsea money to come to the Janeway every month. She just got her last one the other day,” adds Mrs. Caines.
Even through their daughter’s battle, the Caines family has been giving back – holding fundraisers for the cancer support group that has been there for Chelsea.
While the family has had the support of the Janeway and family and friends back home in Rencontre East and surrounding communities, Mrs. Caines admits there were days when it was difficult to look at things positively.
“People would say ‘there is light at the end of the tunnel.’ But there were days when I thought if someone says that once more, I’m going to scream my head off. But everybody was right, there is light at the end of the tunnel. And Chelsea has finally gotten there.”
Chelsea also found comfort in a small dog that came into their lives early into her journey. Layla Jane is named after the Janeway.
“Our friend Valerie Geary found the dog for Chelsea. She found her way into our hearts very quickly. She sleeps with Chelsea. She’s done so much for our family,” Mrs. Caines said.
Mr. Caines says watching his daughter fight the fight of her life has been heartbreaking.
He’s also had to deal with the death of his father, Reginald Caines, during his daughter’s treatment.
“We think Dad died of a broken heart. A massive heart attack. He died in his sleep. We put our lives on hold for two years and we feel so bad that Dad isn’t getting to see that Chelsea is finally at the end of her chemotherapy.”
Cancer changes everyone it touches, Mr. Caines said.
“Things that used to bother me before, I just let them slide now.”
Chelsea will remain on medication for about six months. She’ll be followed at the Janeway for the next ten years.
“She needs to be seen every month for the first year. She’s 16 now and she’ll be 26 before she’s done with it all,” Mrs. Caines said.
While cancer took much of Chelsea’s early teen years, it didn’t stop her from listening to her favourite singer Josh Ramsay - lead singer in Marianas Trench.
It also gave her time to hone her creative talents. Shortly after her diagnosis, Chelsea put her thoughts and feelings about cancer into a song.
“I was nervous for what was coming.
But I felt I had to stay strong
For everyone else.”
“I have to believe in the strength I have, trust my instincts.
Don’t give up, have faith, believe in myself.”
When asked about the song just minutes before finishing her final chemotherapy treatment, Chelsea smiles, nods, and talks about something that not even cancer could take from her.
“I always had hope,” she says.