Sierra was like every other active kid, loved riding her bike, walking the dogs, camping, swimming, and gymnastics. All until a few weeks before she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. Treatment for this type of Leukaemia involves 2.5 years of multiple cocktails of chemotherapy and high dose steroids. In the first 4 weeks of her treatment we watched her fit and active body morph into what looked like a 38 week pregnant lady in the frame of a 5 year old.
She suffered immense back pain, stomach pains, and steroid-induced diabetes. Sierra became almost bedridden and later we discovered she had a fracture in her spine (a side effect of the steroid treatment is bone and muscle weakness).
Five months into treatment, all her muscle tone and strength had practically disappeared. Like any mother would, I struggled to watch the deterioration and feared long term physical issues as I have lived with lower back pain since I was 15. Back pain was a huge part of my life; waking in pain, living in pain and sleeping in pain. I didn’t find much relief until a myotherapist put me on to Pilates, and after a year of strengthening I no longer needed weekly therapies to support my back injuries.
Thus, while Sierra was at her worst on the ward I asked for a physiotherapist. They were great with supplying games and exercises in the hospital room. But what Sierra really needed was fresh air, a garden to explore, and grass to play on. We became quite good at advocating for time off the IV pole and sneaking out to the staff garden. Even if it was only for 5 minutes, it was enough to shift her fatigue and lift her spirits.
As soon as we were home and when it was safe for Sierra, I took her to our osteopath. She was a wealth of information, from diet to exercise, and ways to decrease back pain without resorting to opioids (since ibuprofen is not allowed and paracetamol is restricted due to its ability to mask fever and hide infection).
Sierra is now 8 years old and 10 months post treatment. She still struggles with fatigue, sporadic back pain, and anxiety, but she is always moving and has slowly built up her muscle strength and tone. We encourage high impact exercise which will help strengthen her bones, and stretching for flexibility and posture.
I believe kids should be moving throughout their cancer journeys, exercising in whatever way possible to energize their body, mind, and spirit.
Little Big Steps would like to extend our sincere thanks to Trish, Sierra’s mother, for allowing us to share her story, and helping spread the word about the power of exercise medicine.