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Kids with Cancer

Goodbye Cancer. Hello 3rd Grade.

by Suzanne Hunter
August 29, 2012
The doctors told us not to worry. “Growing pains,” they said.

Zoe was four at the time, and had started limping. My animated, lively daughter, who once turned hallways into runways, was hardly moving. It was a complete, dramatic shift – something I knew was more than just growing pains.

And it was. In 2008, my sweet girl was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common form of childhood cancer. “She has good odds,” they told us. Survival rates are high for this type of cancer and she should be able to continue most of her normal activities during treatment. We were shocked, but full of hope.

Eight days later, we received a second set of news. And this time, it was worse.

Zoe still had cancer, but they discovered that her cancer was actually a very rare subtype called Philadelphia chromosome positive ALL. “The odds are not good,” they said. Survival rates are low and her treatment will be brutal.

A long and brutal 3 ½ years it was. The first year was awful, spending the better part of 10 months in the hospital with much of that time in isolation. Zoe endured high dose chemotherapy, countless shots, lumbar punctures, many complications and even a few close calls. Thankfully, the next two years were a little better and we were able to spend more time at home.

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I have truly seen that research advancements saved Zoe’s life, and although her treatment was hard, it could have been harder. Had she been diagnosed a few years prior, Zoe would have undergone the typical treatment at the time – a bone marrow transplant. Close to 20% of patients do not survive the transplant, and for those who do, they are forever changed with life-long complications. Instead, Zoe was put on a newer treatment plan that required her to take a targeted chemotherapy pill (Gleevec) each day. She has had very few side effects and lives a fairly normal life. We have experienced, first hand, the impact childhood cancer research can have on a kid’s life. Without it, Zoe may not have survived.

Today, Zoe is doing great and just finished 2nd grade! She was out sick quite a few days because her body was not used to being around so many kids (and so many germs), but I think she held her own pretty well. This summer she visited the Grand Canyon, attended her first sleepover camp (she was away for 7 days – I think I freaked out more than she did), started art camp, and attended a surf and paddleboard camp. We may have gone a little over-the-top this summer, but for the first time, Zoe was able to enjoy being a kid again and has loved every minute of it.

Each day I see Zoe run around, being an average 8-year-old, I can’t help but think of all the people who participate with St. Baldrick’s and work so hard to raise money for research, of all the people who donate, and of all the researchers, doctors, nurses and staff who dedicate their lives to saving my daughter and kids just like her. To all of these people, I am forever indebted.

Read more Childhood Cancer Awareness Month stories or get involved with a St. Baldrick’s event near you!