Author: Linda Watts

Teaghan swims through leukemia treatment


Holding hands, 3-year-old Teaghan Bresnahan and her mom run the length of the lake-front dock. At the dock’s end, Teaghan lets go — and gleefully leaps into the air to land in the water with a satisfying splash.

It may seem a typical summer scene. But for Teaghan, who has been in treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia for over a year, it’s particularly poignant. This type of leukemia usually requires two years of treatment. With the first year of more intense therapy now behind her, Teaghan is feeling better and getting a bit more swim time this summer.

Teaghan had always been healthy — in her first two years, her only sickness was a single ear infection. That’s why her parents, Mandy and James, were surprised at her two-year annual check-up to learn her blood levels were off. A second blood test three days later found her levels had worsened. Her pediatrician suspected a virus. That Sunday, however, Teaghan developed petechiae (small red spots caused by bleeding into the skin) and a fever. Teaghan’s doctor sent them straight to the emergency room. That night, May 3, 2015, Teaghan was diagnosed with leukemia. Treatment at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center started immediately.

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Carter is more than you see


More than 50 feet above ground, a wire rope extends from one tree to another. High in the trees, seven-year-old Carter Mock fearlessly steps off a platform and places first one foot, then the other, onto the wire. Holding tight to hanging ropes for balance, he navigates across the wire to the next tree.

It’s an impressive feat for anyone, but for Carter it’s extra special. Just weeks earlier, he completed treatment for osteosarcoma (a bone cancer), and he now has a prosthetic bottom left leg and foot.

Carter says navigating the wire rope is tricky, because he can’t feel the pressure of the rope below his prosthetic leg as distinctly as he can with his other leg. But that doesn’t deter him. On this warm August day, he expertly completes all four levels of an aerial rope course at Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire with remarkable speed and agility.

Two weeks after school had started in fall 2015, Carter started to complain of a strange knee pain, and he developed a slight limp. After a whirlwind of subsequent doctor visits — and an X-ray, MRI and then biopsy — his family received his diagnosis: osteosarcoma.

Carter would need months of treatment, which would include chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. He had two options for surgery. One was rotationplasty, an unusual procedure that preserves the lower leg, attaches it to the thighbone, then uses the ankle as a knee joint. After surgery, he’d be fitted with a prosthetic lower leg. Once healed, he could resume all types of physical activity again, even high-impact sports. Another option was limb-sparing surgery, which would maintain the normal appearance of the leg. But the leg would never have the strength it had before, and Carter wouldn’t be able to ski, skate or run again.

It was an easy choice for Carter. He had no plans to give up skiing, skating, baseball or activities like the aerial course challenge — so he chose rotationplasty. After interviewing many surgeons at many cancer centers, Carter’s parents chose Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s. They were impressed by surgeon Dr. Mark Gephardt’s experience — and even more convinced when a rotationplasty surgeon at another high-profile center told them outright: If it were my child, I’d go to Dr. Gephardt.

Carter received his first of many ongoing chemotherapy infusions in October 2015. His surgery was in January, and physical therapy started just days later. In April, he received his prosthesis. In June, he had his final chemotherapy infusion, and his doctors cleared him to resume medium-impact activities, including the aerial rope course. He hopes to get full clearance for all sports — including skiing and hockey in January.

osteosarcoma rotationplasty

Sometimes, Carter notices people stare at his prosthetic leg, and when he still was in treatment some people gazed at his bald head. But here’s what Carter really wants people to see in him: He is active and athletic. He can complete the aerial course at Mount Sunapee without fear or difficulty. And soon, he will ski and play hockey again.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month — and this month, Carter and other children at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s are sharing this message: We are more than you see. Don’t focus on the side effects of our treatment — see who we really are.

Learn more, see more stories, and join the campaign at DanaFarberBostonChildrens.org/MoreThanYouSee.

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Dylan discovers a new sport during cancer treatment

Balloons of various colors are taped in a row across the wall. Twenty yards away, 8-year-old Dylan Berio announces “yellow,” pulls back the string of his bow, then releases — smiling as he hears the pop. His arrow successfully pierced the yellow balloon.

Archery requires focus and precision — something Dylan has in ample quantities. That would be impressive in its own right, but it’s even more remarkable given that he’s been on and off chemotherapy since age 3 ½ to treat pilocytic astrocytomas (brain tumors). As a result of the tumors, he lost most of the vision in one eye, and he needs glasses for both eyes. Nevertheless, when Dylan stands with instructor Chris Reedy at the archery range, he is engaged and on target.

Dylan was diagnosed with brain tumors in 2011. He had two surgeries and receives chemotherapy. To monitor potential changes, Dylan has an MRI every three months. Currently, Dylan’s tumors are stable, but an MRI last January had revealed progression in the tumors.

When Dylan’s mom, Dawn, shared that news on Dylan’s Facebook page, Chris Reedy, owner of Reedy’s Archery in Middleborough, Massachusetts, immediately reached out. He suggested Dylan stop by his archery range and learn to shoot arrows. He thought it might prove therapeutic.

Dylan took to archery right away. After a few sessions of borrowing equipment, Dylan received a gift from Reedy — a bow and arrows of his own. Dylan chose a black bow with a green string and arrows with orange and white flights (feathers).

childhood-cancer-dylan

On a day in late July, Reedy sits beside Dylan to coach him along. But when Dylan shoots the arrow, it’s his own muscle and focus that direct the arrow into the balloons. “He has his good days and his bad days,” says Reedy. “But I can tell when he’s focused.”

Sometimes, Dylan sees people stare at his bald (or near-bald) head or the scars on the back of his head, and he doesn’t like it. That’s because Dylan wants people to see him as he sees himself: He is active and playful. He can shoot an arrow with the precision needed to pop a balloon 20 yards away. He also loves Legos toys, Matchbox cars — and to ride a kid-sized, 4×4 off-road vehicle with a friend outside the archery shop.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month — and this month, Dylan and other children at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s are sharing this message: We are more than you see. Don’t focus on the side effects of our treatment — see who we really are. Learn more, see more stories, and join the campaign at DanaFarberBostonChildrens.org/MoreThanYouSee.

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Cancer or no cancer — Carlie will sing!

Her voice at first sings softly, then gradually gains intensity and rises to a crescendo as she belts out the refrain of a tune she and her dad co-wrote: “You’re not standing alone!”

Fifteen-year-old Carlie Gonzalez has been singing and making music for as long as she can remember. But these days singing has new meaning. After eight months of intensive treatment for Ewing sarcoma, a type of bone cancer, her powerful voice is also a symbol of her physical and emotional strength.

Three weeks after school started in September 2015, Carlie began to feel a pain in her collarbone. Since she also played volleyball, when an X-ray showed nothing, the doctor suggested the pain was likely something minor, caused by sport. Carlie’s mom, Julie, wasn’t convinced. They sought a second opinion at another hospital, and this time discovered Carlie had a tumor in her clavicle (collarbone).

They immediately sought care at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s. On Oct. 12, Carlie began a grueling chemotherapy regimen — infusions five times a week for a week, followed by a week off — a cycle that continued for eight months. She also had surgery Jan. 8. Finally, on May 21, she received her last chemotherapy infusion.

“I used to sing for literally hours at a time,” notes Carlie. And not quiet tunes either — but truly powerful songs ranging from pop/rock to gospel. “Right now my voice isn’t quite as strong,” Carlie claims. “But it’s coming back.” On this late-July day, her voice sounds remarkably robust.

In fact, throughout treatment, Carlie never stopped singing. She had plenty of tired days, when she couldn’t muster energy to belt out tunes. But on the good days, she’d be back on the keyboard and testing her voice again. And throughout treatment she continued live performances, singing at church, fundraisers and other live events.

Throughout this journey, she hasn’t hidden the visible effects of her treatment. She always bared her bald head proudly. And these days, she often chooses outfits that show off her dual scars — one on her collar bone from the surgery and the other on her upper chest from the port (a central line used for chemotherapy infusions, blood transfusions and more).

ewing sarcoma

Carlie was never too bothered when people gazed at her bald head or scars. And yet, she also always has wanted people to look beyond that — to know that she’s much more than her cancer diagnosis. Here’s what Carlie would like people to see in her: She is a singer and a musician; music is a fundamental part of her life and always will be.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month — and this month, Carlie and other children at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s are sharing this message: We are more than you see. Don’t focus on the side effects of our treatment — see who we really are.

Learn more, see more stories, and join the campaign at DanaFarberBostonChildrens.org/MoreThanYouSee.

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