Honored Kid

Zoe Wagner

Age 25
Zoe Wagner Kid Photo


Columbia, MO, US


Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)

Date of Diagnosis

April 2014



Treated At

MU Women's and Children's Hospital

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My Story

2014 - It was the last Saturday in April, the first warm & sunny spring weekend. Zoe (age 15) and our family was out of town for her younger brother's soccer tournament. Saturday night, getting ready to go out with the team for pizza, Zoe said, drying off from the shower, "wow, look at all of these spots on my legs." The spots didn't hurt, or itch. They were little. The red flecks were pinprick sized, sort of like freckles, yet under the skin. And red. As her mom, I sort of dismissed them. (Allergic reaction to hotel fabric softener? To the the soap? All afternoon she'd been sitting in the grass, that could be it, right?) I didn't give those little red dots another thought. Until Monday. Zoe sent a text Monday afternoon, from high school (she was a freshman) asking if I could make an appointment for her to see the doctor. It's not that she felt bad, it's that she'd researched (thanks Google) and thought those red spots might be petechiae. Piecing together a few other slightly abnormal things (gums bleeding when brushing; very tired; bumps transforming into bruises, very heavy monthly flow that no hormonal/birth control pill treatment seemed to get under control; some unexpected weight loss) Zoe proposed (again, all via text) that she had a PLATELET issue and that we should not wait to get it checked out. As her mom, trying to make sense of it all, I texted a few follow up questions; Zoe's argument convinced me. And amazingly and thankfully, our local doctor's office had an opening in just a few hours. I picked Zoe up from school and off we went. The doctor quickly confirmed that the red dots were petechiae but said "let's not worry; this can be from a variety of causes. We'll have the lab draw blood to see what we can learn; and go from there." It was almost 6pm by the time her blood was drawn. Then we had a regular, homework-filled kind of evening. Around 10pm the phone rang with the person on the line requesting that Zoe be taken immediately to the ER of Women's and Children's Hospital. "Right now?" I asked in disbelief, "Can we just come first thing tomorrow morning?" "No," explained the man on the line, "you need to come now." His next words are every parent's nightmare: "the pediatric oncologist will meet you there." By 2AM (less than 12 hours after Zoe sent the "we should see a doctor" text), the oncologist was using the word leukemia. We learned more over the next 8 hours as fluid and was drawn from her spine and bone marrow extracted. Zoe was diagnosed with AML, and we were told to expect treatment to feel like a marathon, not a sprint. She would stay in the hospital the next 3-4 weeks, maybe longer, and spend most of the summer and maybe much of the coming year, in the hospital. AML chemo treatment is very intense and it is in-house. We felt scared, but we felt loved. So many people were supporting Zoe, letting her know how much she was missed at school; and that they were standing with her in this fight. Social media kept her connected. Friends made t-shirts and organized cancer walks. They made posters and sent cards and even brought slushies to the hospital when Zoe felt up to company. Unexpected kindness and support poured in from every direction toward Zoe, toward our whole family. The next four months were a blur. There were scary times. The rounds of chemo were very painful and difficult for Zoe to endure and the rest of us to watch. She seemed to be shrinking, getting smaller and smaller, moving less and less. She wanted less noise, less light, less interaction. In some ways it felt like the chemo was literally killing her but as her doctor said, "This is our only option; without this treatment, we can, with certainty, predict the result." Zoe experienced major infections between chemo rounds. At one point, she had a fever of 106, and it hit almost 108 by the time she was moved down a floor to the ICU. Scary times, yet the lab reports made it clear -- the chemotherapy was doing its job. August 15th (far earlier than we had the audacity to hope) will go down in family history as one of the best days of our lives. Zoe's oncologist walked into the ICU and with a smile said "I have very good news." And good news it was! The second cytogenetic report had arrived -- cytogenetic reports come from "typing" and investigating their DNA. Zoe's DNA was first examined from the bone marrow extracted when she was admitted to the hospital in April. That original report (they take a few agonizing weeks to get back after the bone marrow extraction) showed a genetic mutation -- a translocation known as (t8, 21) -- this is thought to be the cause of the kind of cancer Zoe had. It's a mutation in the DNA that starts the whole string of events. In August, after 3 rounds of chemo, Zoe's bone marrow extraction was "typed" once again. The reason that this was such a good day was that the second DNA report no longer showed signs of the mutation. It's as if her DNA had been "re-set" -- it's the best news we could have hoped for. She was in the middle of the 4th round of chemo when the report arrived. She needed to finish that round and return to health. She finished this final round of chemo on August 19th- Zoe's official cancer free date. The next couple of months involved healing, but at the start of the 2015 spring semester, Zoe returned to HS, not just a survivor, but a THRIVER -- and for this, we are thanking our lucky stars. Research matters. In Zoe's dad's words: How long have humans inhabited the earth? However long that is, for all but about the last 40 years, all children with AML died. They were all loved, and cherished, and fiercely prayed for. Endlessly, I'm sure. But the AML killed them all. All of them. Cruelly. Love, and care, and prayer has been the same, but AML is no longer a death sentence. And that is because of science. Cancer research has made all the difference. Medical research is the way to reduce the number of cancer victims. That's why the dollars matter. That's why your support of the St. Baldrick's Foundation makes such a difference.

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