Amazing Kids, Amazing Stories: Kaitlin and Kylie's Story
In some ways, Kaitlin and Kylie Drechsel are just like typical 3-year-old girls. They ride tricycles, draw with colored chalk, shop and watch "Doodlebops" on Playhouse Disney. And, like any pair of siblings, they can occasionally be a handful for their mom and dad, Lynn and Jim of Greenville, Wisconsin.
What makes the Drechsels' handful overflow at times, however, is that their identical twin girls have cancer. Yes, both of them. Kaitlin was 2 when she was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) in October 2006. Kylie was about to turn 3 when she received the same diagnosis just nine months later.
One can only begin to imagine how full this family's plate has been over the past 21 months. Since Kaitlin’s diagnosis, it has been a seemingly endless string of hospitalizations, doctor visits, chemotherapy infusions, spinal taps, prescriptions and two-hour drives between their Appleton-area home and the American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison.
Kaitlin and Kylie are Lynn's first babies - Jim has three older children from a previous marriage - and she understandably went through her share of "Why me?" moments.
Since then, however, Lynn and Jim have amazed their friends, family, doctors and nurses by tackling all that needs to be done with keen focus and organizational skill.
"You will be amazed what you can do for your child when this happens - even if it is to both twins," Lynn says. "You just change your routine and focus your energy on the child that happens to need it most."
Carol Diamond, MD, Kaitlin and Kylie's pediatric oncologist and a mother of twins herself, cannot say enough about how thoroughly and graciously Lynn and Jim have managed the non-stop demands of a child - let alone two - with leukemia.
"When Kaitlin was diagnosed, the Drechsels immediately understood that Kylie would be at a higher risk of getting leukemia, since they shared a blood supply before birth," Diamond says. "To be proactive, we did routine surveillance and ultimately that was how we diagnosed Kylie. As devastating as that was, Lynn and Jim had the advantage of 'knowing the drill,' and that has made a difference. It also is something to see Kaitlin almost mentor Kylie during the treatment schedule. They are incredibly sweet to each other."
American Family Children's pediatric nurse practitioner Kristin Casey finds this family extraordinarily fulfilling on a personal level.
"Families like the Drechsels amaze me," Casey says. "They have taken this whole cancer experience in stride and have really managed the stress it places on a family very well. Lynn has even commented on occasion that Kylie and Kaitlin are so lucky because they could have it so much worse off."
While juggling all that goes with caring for two kids with cancer - not to mention running the family printing business - Lynn and Jim take things one day at a time. The prognosis is very favorable for both girls, so mom and dad anxiously await the scheduled treatment completion dates for Kaitlin (December 2008) and Kylie (September 2009.)
The Drechsels also feel quite blessed by the quality of care their girls have received.
"We're so fortunate to have the doctors and nurses we have here in Appleton and in Madison," she says.
Kelly Meyer, DO, an Affinity Medical Group physician based in Neenah, Wisconsin, and the Drechsels' regular pediatrician, looks forward to resuming the twins' care once their cancer treatment is completed.
"Dr. Diamond keeps me informed every step of the way," Meyer says. "These girls are doing great and I can’t wait to see them again once they are off treatment."