Teen undergoes bone marrow transplant after second relapse

Patient's Name: Jackie L.
Parent's Name: Tanya L.
Home Town: Houston, TX
Current Age: 15
Date of Diagnosis: May 2017 (12 years old)
Diagnosis: Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

How did you find out Jackie had cancer?

We were in Corpus Christi for a Ballet Folklórico competition. I saw her wobble and she said she felt like she was going to pass out. But it went away and we didn’t think anything of it, sent her to school as usual the next week. Then I got a call saying she passed out in gym class. We took her to the doctor and got her some blood tests.

The doctor called the next day and said I need to tell you something very bad. The results show that Jackie has leukemia. I couldn’t believe it. I started screaming. I don’t remember much. My sister had to come and drive me home. She had to call my husband and tell him. We went to go get Jackie and we drove to the Texas Children’s ER. And they admitted her right away. I was in shock. My sister stayed with me the whole week and helped me deal with it.

Tell me about Jackie’s journey so far.

We did the standard chemotherapy regimen. We’d be here a week or so, and then we’d be outpatient for three weeks, back and forth. She went into maintenance, but then she relapsed for the first time. She had blasts behind her eye and was losing her vision. They treated her for that and she went into remission again. And then this summer, just when we’re about to finish everything and ring the bell, she relapsed again. It was in her bone marrow again. So she had to have a bone marrow transplant. They didn’t want to risk it – didn’t want to do more regular chemo. Relapsing again and again, it’s not good. So far, she’s been doing really well following the transplant. We are hopeful that this will be the end finally.

pic How did she handle finding out about the latest relapse?

It hit her really hard, being just one month away from ringing the bell and going back to school. She was down, not herself. And that worried me a lot because they say your spirits have a lot to do with how you respond. Being 14 isn’t easy, no matter what, and having this to deal with on top of it is …. I just wish that there was a cure. Kids don’t deserve, as little as they are, to experience so much suffering.

And you?

I was not at all excited about the bone marrow transplant. It’s scary, but we didn’t have a choice, so we just got through it. And her response has been great. We are very blessed. I feel very different about BMTs now that I’m on this side of it. Like maybe this is just what she needed to kick it once and for all.

What is the worst thing about your child having cancer?

I mean, as a parent, I can’t think of a single positive thing to say about cancer. Not a single thing.

But I guess the very worst part is being worried about death all the time. Knowing that your child is worried about death. She became really close with a patient who passed away, and she asked me, ‘Mom, what if that happens to me?’ I tried to tell her, ‘Not everybody is the same. Their bodies are different. You have to think positive and tell yourself you’re going to beat this.’ It’s not like it’s easy for me to be positive. But, if they see us weak, they’ll get weaker themselves.

What will you always remember about this experience?

I’ll always remember the attention we got here at Texas Children’s. The way they are with the kids; they go so far above and beyond. I’ve never seen a hospital that cares so much. She and her sister went to Camp Periwinkle and they had so much fun. They came back so happy.

What amazes me about her is that she’s never given up. I’ve seen other kids get really weak and not respond well to treatment, but Jackie always has. When she was first diagnosed in 2017, the blasts – how bad they looked – they gave us the impression that she might not make it. But she responded far better to the chemo than they ever thought she would. She’s really strong and I’m proud of her.

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