Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Relapsed Neuroblastoma Survivor...

January 26, 2011 Braden and I were in Philadelphia for scans.

His relapsed neuroblastoma had continued to defy a cure although scans every 3 months had shown that at times it was shrinking a little or at least staying stable.

The chemo he was currently on was wreaking havoc on his system and once again our oncologist in Kansas City was telling me that we needed to abandon this therapy he had been on for 8 months. The oncologist said that it was time to stop because the therapy was just too hard on his body. We were trying to qualify for another therapy but his platelets remained too low and he couldn't so we convinced our KC oncologist to reduce his chemo by 50% and we doubled the time interval between his doses in the hope of continuing the therapy and keeping his cancer at least stable.

We had several times before this that our KC oncologist had told us that we were at the end and we needed to accept our reality. And every time I had argued, advocated and powered through it, but this time I was beginning to wonder if he was right. However, I was able to buy enough time with him to get him to concede to one more round before Braden's scans on January 26.

We knew that the this scan was critical, to be honest, every scan is critical. If scans show that the cancer is stable, that's a win. If scans show that the cancer is getting smaller it's a victory but if it's growing, it's a different game entirely. And it's never a good thing.

Braden was six. 

We went in for scans and then headed to clinic to see Dr. Mosse. She is our oncologist in Philadelphia. 

We were experiencing "CHOP time" and had about an hour delay in trying to get in to get the results from scans. To top it off, the first person we saw in the waiting room was Dr. Mosse who came out to tell us hello. That never happens! She is always in the back and we don't see her until result time. She commented that he looked great which helped me a little bit. Surely, she would not have said that if things were worse.

We were eventually called back to the examination room and Dr. Mosse was with the fellow who was working with her. She smiled and said, "I'm just thrilled to be able to tell you that Braden's MIBG scan is completely normal". 

I just sat there and all I could eek out was, "I'm going to need for you to say that again." She did and then the tears started.

For his cancer that had not been cured in 18 months of the therapies post relapse to suddenly be cured with half the dose and double the time interval between his latest chemo cocktail (that he had been on for 8 months) to suddenly get it was remarkable.

Our conversation didn't end with advice to go home and enjoy our victory, instead I pressed for us to try to get antibody therapy for Braden now. I wanted to make sure we cleaned up any left over cells. I firmly believe that we need to treat neuroblastoma like a chronic disease because the cure rate is so low. We think we have it beat, but we don't so follow up therapies are critical when you have it "down". 

We were trying to get it for Braden enrolled in antibody therapy when we found the relapse which meant he couldn't receive it. However, because he was in cue, we were able to get a unique exception for him to receive it. At that time, it was not standard care for all children with neuroblastoma as it is currently. It is a therapy that can go in and clean up leftover cells that scans cannot see and I wanted it, badly.  Dr. Mosse made calls to the NIH and gained us the exception and we would start it a few weeks later. 

When Braden's neuroblastoma relapsed there was no known cure. Five years later, there is still no known cure and less than a 10% chance for five year survival.

Somehow, we have been blessed with those five years and today we can say Braden is a neuroblastoma survivor.  He still has 3 years left to go before he is a secondary leukemia survivor but we are going to celebrate today. 

We left the hospital and headed to the airport in Philly, but it had been snowing and the forecast called for a major storm. Because of that, I had kept our hotel room in the event we didn't get out that night. 90% of the time, we don't get home the same day we think we will when we travel to and from Philly...it's always something and the forecast was enough for me to think we were probably not going to make it out that night. 

The airport ended up closing about 30 minutes before our flight was scheduled to depart because of thundersnow. The unhappy travelers were most certainly just that, unhappy. But we kept smiling. Someone commented about how we sure seemed happy with the bad news and I, rather loudly, explained why and that no travel plan changes could change our happy faces that night. I heard far less grumbling after that, at least no grumbling close to us. 

We were lucky enough to be on the last shuttle that left the airport to the hotel where we watched the most beautiful snowstorm. Snow is one of Braden's most favorite things in the world and I'm still pretty sure that it was no coincidence that we got nearly two feet that same day. 

We have been blessed and lucky. No other child has traveled the therapy journey that Braden has traveled, he is completely unique.  I still don't know how or why and there is a great deal of guilt that comes from being able to kiss my son every day when so many mommies cannot.

Thank you all for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers along this journey. We still have bridges to cross and miles to travel and we will keep doing that, one step at a time.

With HOPE!