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Patt Cottingham

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Everyone Needs a Dottie in Their Corner

Posted: 01/09/12 07:53 PM ET

While getting a physical to see if my son Renan could begin a job at Whole Foods, the doctor noticed a lump on the left side of my son's neck. We went for various ultra sounds, chest X-rays and blood tests. In Sept. 2011, after a biopsy, our son Renan was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. In meeting with the doctors we learned that this would mean four cycles of chemotherapy.

In each cycle, which amounted to three consecutive days beginning on Wednesdays and ending on Fridays, the first was the worst because he got a toxic cocktail of Cytoxan, Doxorubicin, Bleomycin, Vincristine, Etoposide and Prednisone. Thursdays he got Doxorubicin and Etoposide again, and on Fridays he got another dose of Etoposide. Of course there was a great deal of nausea that followed each of the cycles because of the amount of toxicity in these chemotherapy doses. Renan had to go home with an hydration backpack to flush all the toxicity out of his system. Boy, how he hated the sound of the pump as it ran all night, flushing fluids through his body. In between chemo cycles, he had to have Neupogen shots to make sure his white blood cell count didn't go too low. Each one of the cycles ended the following week on Wednesday with doses of Bleomycin and Vincristine.

However, as providence would have it, we were given a gift when the perfect angel showed up on our doorstep one evening named Dottie. Dottie was the nurse from Home Solutions. She helped to attach the line for the second hydration pack that Renan needed to continue to flush out the toxic effects of all the chemo treatments. I was overwhelmed and relieved to be able to relinquish this responsibility of flushing the line and setting up the hydration pack to Dottie. She never judged me, she just said, "I am happy to come any time you need me." When you are duking out cancer in the ring, it helps to have an angel like Dottie hovering in your corner.

Dottie was an angel large in heart and humor. When she came through the door she always said, "Hey, Dad, how are you doing?" To my son Renan, she always said "Hey handsome, how did it go today? You know all of those things that you learn in high school? Trigonometry, ya never use," she said laughing. "Renan, don't get old, your brains turn to c--p." Our dog Cody would always sit under the table when she came in. "Hey pup, you being the protector?"

She always left us laughing, which lightened the mood immediately. But the best thing about Dottie was her honesty about the situation. She was an unconventional straight-shooter. We found this out on her first visit where she whizzed us through all the questions she was supposed to ask, as if they were the least important thing. She could see that we were tired and stressed out, so she just said "Don't worry about all of these questions, I'll handle it." Dottie has the kindest eyes and an impish grin. She has a large dose of irreverent Irish humor, which she used to whittle down to size all things that she considered to unimportant given the challenges of teenagers fighting cancer. On the way out of the house she would always call out to Renan, "Okay my love, have a good week." I remember one discussion we had one night when she said, "Teenagers have the hardest time with cancer. Hormones and chemotherapy do not mix well. Just anticipating chemo can trigger nausea; after all, teenagers are supposed to be hanging out with friends, dating and thinking about junior proms, SATs and what college they want to go to." Everything goes on hold when you go through four rounds of chemotherapy.

Dottie doesn't follow rules. She is a renegade angel road warrior. Her car is her transporter where she goes from home to home filling each space with love and non-judgment. On her last time with us she sat in traffic on Route 4 in New Jersey because of all the congestion from holiday shopping. Dottie was late trying to get to a family whose child needed chemotherapy. When she finally arrived on our doorstep, she walked in laughing, saying, "I was swearing all the way -- let's just say the swear word I was saying rhymed with 'duck.'" When your life goes on hold because of a child going through cancer, you are blessed when an irreverent angel like Dottie miraculously appears. We have no doubt we were visited by an angel in physical form. I told her I was writing a piece about her and I hope that she laughs when she reads it. The last thing that Dottie told me while giving me a hug was: "Mom you're doing a great job." Thank you Dottie -- we will never forget how divine it was to know you!

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