Relapse catches Rio Grande Valley family off guard

Patient's Name: Christopher R.
Parent's Name: Blanca R.
Home Town: Santa Rosa, TX
Current Age: 10
Date of Diagnosis: June 2015 (5 years old)
Date of Relapse: July 5, 2019
Diagnosis: Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Tell me about Christopher’s first diagnosis.

We figured something was going on with him because he got sick all of a sudden. He had a lot of vomiting and nausea, and one night he was throwing up nonstop, so we took him to an ER. They said there was something going on with his blood, but they didn’t know what. We were referred to the Vannie Cook Clinic in McAllen, a clinic created through a joint effort of the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Cancer Foundation, Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers. I had given birth to Christopher’s brother four days before. I was barely out of the hospital and found out my 5 year old had cancer.

He did all his treatment there at Vannie Cook, had the standard chemo regimen. It was kind of rough on him; he had sores that made it hard to eat. He got really, really skinny. But then it got into maintenance and it was easier. We were still doing chemo pills and regular blood checks, but he had no evidence of cancer for three and a half years. I felt like it was behind us.

How did you find out about the relapse?

In early July, Christopher had a normal checkup and blood test. We had been doing this for so long these appointments were no longer a big deal. I didn’t even go; Christopher’s stepdad took him. When he called me later, I expected a quick ‘Everything still looks good’ but instead he said, ‘I have something to tell you.’ He did not want to tell me, but of course I kept asking. He said, ‘They found something. The labs might show his leukemia came back.’ I was shocked. It came out of nowhere.

How did you handle the news this time?

To me it was worse because you don’t expect it to come back. You just don’t think they’re going to tell you that. And when you hear it it’s kind of like your worst fears come true. At the same time, you kind of know the deal now, the lifestyle is not as big of a shock. You already know, ‘Okay, as a family, we can handle this, whatever we gotta do, we will do.’ In that sense, I guess it’s a little easier.

pic How is his treatment different this time?

We still go through pretty much the same treatment, but this time it’s more aggressive. They’re actually trying to get him in an immunotherapy study. It’s medicine that works with your body, your natural cells, to attack the cancer. The only way for him to qualify for that program is to be here in Houston. So I told them, that’s fine, we will do it in Houston. I may have to split the family up. I may even have to quit my job. But I will do whatever it takes to help his chances of getting in this trial. So far I haven’t had to quit; they’ve been very supportive. My husband is keeping the two youngest boys at home and I have the two oldest boys and the baby here with me. When we found out about the relapse, I had just had my fifth child, and my first girl. Once again I got a newborn and a cancer diagnosis at the same time.

How has Christopher handled news of the relapse?

He was adjusting well to be back in school. He thought being home schooled was too boring. He’s always been into books, legos, science and stuff, but he was just beginning to get interested in sports and throwing the football around with his stepdad when this relapse hit. So, yeah, it was hard for him. But, recently, we were driving around in the car and we asked him, ‘Are you scared?’ And he said, ‘No, I’m not scared.’ My husband said, ‘How can you not be scared?’ And he goes, ‘I beat it before. If I did it before, I can do it again. It’s okay, you guys don’t have to worry about it.’ And that moment will always stick with me. It made me realise that even as little kids, they’re a lot stronger than us as adults. Kids have to teach us what they can handle, that they’re stronger than we ever new.

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