Cancer and Blood Disorders

All Articles in the Category ‘Cancer and Blood Disorders’

I Was Not Ready to Die: How Seattle Children’s Immunotherapy Saved My Life

Aaron (left) poses with Dr. Mike Jensen, director of the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research, at the Strong Against Cancer CELLebration fundraising event.

Seattle Children’s doctors and researchers are leading efforts to better treat cancer in children, adolescents and young adults by boosting the immune system with T-cell immunotherapy. Patients who cannot be cured with standard therapies are benefiting from clinical trials developed at the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research, and supported by the Strong Against Cancer initiative. 

One of these patients is Aaron. When he feared he might be out of treatment options, Aaron found hope at Seattle Children’s. Now, he shares his story.

Cancer is such an ugly word. On the internet, it has become normal for people to use it to describe things, ideas or people they don’t like. But for me, that word only brings back painful memories of fighting a disease I would not wish on my worst enemies.

I was first diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in January 2013. I was 19 years old, living in Vancouver, Canada, and studying computer science at Simon Fraser University.

I became suddenly ill while on a cruise vacation with my family. I had a fever that wouldn’t go away; nausea for no reason; and extreme fatigue. I needed to sleep all the time. I could barely walk. Climbing a flight of stairs felt like trying to climb Mount Everest.

We knew something was very wrong, so my family took me to the Emergency Department at Vancouver General Hospital.

I still remember lying on the hospital bed after the doctor delivered the bad news — I had leukemia. I couldn’t believe it. I asked the nurse as he was putting in my IV, “How long do you think it’ll take before I get better?”

He replied, “My friend, I’m afraid this is just the beginning of a long and difficult journey for you.”

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Matched to the Perfect Target, Drug Dramatically Shrinks Tumors in All Ages, Multiple Cancers

Ashton Leeds, 8, was treated with larotrectinib at Seattle Children’s for thyroid cancer that had spread to his lungs and lymph nodes.

Dr. Doug Hawkins, division chief of Hematology and Oncology at Seattle Children’s, remembers matching one of the first pediatric cancer patients to an experimental drug that targets a specific set of genetic alterations associated with soft tissue tumors. The drug, larotrectinib, is designed to selectively stop the resulting abnormal tropomyosin receptor kinase (TRK) fusion proteins from promoting cancer cell growth.

“I was so excited to share the test results with the family and present them with the option of enrolling in a clinical trial for this new medication,” Hawkins said. “At the time, I had a pretty good inkling the drug was going to work, but there was very limited evidence of its effectiveness in children. It’s incredibly special that families were willing to take a chance on this drug early on.”

Today, the promising evidence in support of larotrectinib is building. A paper published in The New England Journal of Medicine documents the drug’s effectiveness in treating TRK fusion-positive cancers regardless of patient age or tumor type. The paper includes data from 55 patients, ages 4 months to 76 years and representing 17 different TRK fusion-positive tumor types, treated with larotrectinib. Overall, 75% of patients responded to the treatment and at one year, 71% experienced no disease progression since starting treatment. Read full post »

Discover the Seattle Children’s Stories You Might Have Missed in 2017

With 2018 in full effect, On the Pulse is taking a moment to hit rewind to share five stories that might have floated beneath the flurry of headlines in 2017.

We invite you to take a look back at some of last year’s stories that inspired us and gave us hope.

1. A Mother’s Intuition Leads to Picture-Perfect Treatment of Eye Cancer

Courtesy of Amanda De Vos Photography

Amanda De Vos, a professional photographer, was reviewing shots she took of her 15-month-old identical twin daughters, Julia and Jemma, when a photo of Julia caught her attention.

De Vos would learn that the photo she took of Julia would help to identify a rare eye cancer, retinoblastoma, that was stopped in its tracks with an innovative treatment at Seattle Children’s.

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Seahawks Visit Seattle Children’s, Spread Cheer to 12s in the Hospital

Nico, 15, got a surprise visit from the Seahawks and Sea Gals.

Today, rounds of a different kind were made. Instead of doctors in white coats, the Seattle Seahawks and members of the Sea Gals, dressed in blue and green, made their way through the hospital to visit patients and families at Seattle Children’s. They couldn’t have picked a better day to bring cheer to 12s in the hospital: Dec. 12 (12/12).

“Today brought us a lot of joy, even if it was just for a minute,” said Alberto Tobias, father of Nico Tobias, a patient at Seattle Children’s. “It was really fun. We were so happy to see the players walk into our room.”

The Captain’s Blitz is an annual tradition that brightens the day for Seahawks fans big and small at Seattle Children’s. Read full post »

Erin Celebrates Major Milestones After One Year in Remission

For the first time in her life, 7-year-old Erin Cross was healthy enough to go trick-or-treating.

This Halloween marked a monumental milestone for 7-year-old Erin Cross. For the first time in Erin’s life, she was healthy enough to go trick-or-treating. And her costume of choice – an old woman – held a special meaning for her family.

Two years ago, Erin’s family was facing the devastating reality that they may never see her grow up. But today, she’s in remission thanks to a groundbreaking immunotherapy clinical trial at Seattle Children’s. Her family finally has the chance to envision her long life ahead, a life filled with normal things, like trick-or-treating and playing with other kids.

“Erin has been so incredibly brave,” said her mother, Sarah Cross. “For us, normal was being in the hospital. Today, she’s cancer-free and getting back to normal life.” Read full post »

Transforming Care for Children With High-Risk Leukemia

Dr. Todd Cooper leads Seattle Children’s High-Risk Leukemia Program.

Seattle Children’s is getting set to launch a program that will redefine how we care for children with “high-risk” leukemia – or leukemia that doesn’t respond well to standard treatments and/or has relapsed after therapy.

Unfortunately, less than 40% of children with high-risk leukemia will live for more than four years after they’re diagnosed. Our new High-Risk Leukemia Program aims to cure more of these children by uniting their doctors onto one team, and by using state-of-the-art diagnostic tests to match kids with the latest treatments and clinical trials. The program will also partner with researchers to pursue new treatments and cures.

The first-of-its-kind program is expected to attract patients and families from across the country, and it’s being led by Dr. Todd Cooper as part of his lifelong mission to improve care for children with high-risk leukemia. On the Pulse sat down with Cooper to learn about how the new program will transform care and bring new hope to children and families. Read full post »

Promising Drug Combination Silences the Rage of Graft-Versus-Host Disease

London Bowater fought for her life for nearly 180 days in the hospital when she developed severe GVHD after a cord blood transplant.

To pass the nearly 180 days she was a patient in Seattle Children’s Cancer Unit with graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), London Bowater took orders from her doctors, nurses and other patients and families for friendship bracelets that she would braid from her hospital bed.

While her handicraft would help fill the time between treatments, it did little to help ease the severe GVHD she developed after a cord blood transplant for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

“Her hair was falling out and her intestines were hemorrhaging blood, yet somehow my little ray of sunshine still managed to stay positive and touch all the amazing doctors and nurses with her kindness,” said Nicholas Bowater of his then 8-year-old daughter. “At one point the hemorrhaging was so bad, I melted.  I went into the empty room next door and lost it. I knew we would need a miracle.” Read full post »

A Month of Hope for the Gwilliam Family

Atticus Gwilliam was diagnosed with a brain tumor in August 2016.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. But What does ‘awareness’ really mean?

To become aware? To obtain new knowledge? To gain a new perspective? To become informed? To become concerned or even empathetic to an unfamiliar situation?

The concept of awareness can take on many faces, and its perception can change depending on the person you talk to. To the mother who spends her days at a children’s hospital, it’s a sense of defeat and desperation about the path that life has taken her. To the father who lost his son, a harrowing and solemn reminder of a fierce battle once fought. To the general social media patron, it may be a month of raw images that they don’t fully understand.

This was the crossroad we found ourselves in as we entered the doors at Seattle Children’s Hospital 12 long months ago. The world of childhood cancer was not something that was on my radar as a mother of three (with one on the way), let alone with regards to one of my own children. Read full post »

Wyatt’s Creativity Cruises Onto Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 Race Car

The design 9-year-old cancer patient Wyatt Zender created for Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 race car.

In just three days, 9-year-old Wyatt Zender and his family will see his artwork come to life on the Chicagoland Speedway.

Wyatt, a cancer patient at Seattle Children’s, was the lucky winner of a coloring contest presented by Great Clips to design the paint scheme for Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 Great Clips Strong Against Cancer Chevrolet SS, which Kahne will drive at the first playoff race of the NASCAR Cup Series, The Tales of the Turtles 400, on Sept. 17.

“Our family is so excited to see Wyatt’s colorful design speed down the racetrack,” said Wyatt’s mom, Heather Zender. “This has been a great opportunity to give Wyatt the chance to do something fun and share his story as well.”

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Stepping Out of the Shadow of Cancer

This August, my kids and I were among the millions of people watching the solar eclipse with awe. At the apex, in that moment of relative cold and darkness, I tried to lighten the mood with a bad mom joke: “It must be hard for the sun to feel so powerless today, huh?”

But rather than laugh or roll his eyes, my 10-year-old son replied with innocent wisdom.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” he said. “It will pass. All shadows do.”

He’s right. One thing I’ve learned from working with families facing childhood and adolescent cancer is that the shadow of cancer – that loss of control, that fear, that stress – does eventually lift. In fact, the history of human experience includes a myriad of examples of overcoming adversity. Think of the wars, natural disasters and other serious illnesses humans constantly encounter. In general, we recover, and ultimately learn from the experiences.

How do we do it? The answer is “resilience” and it is what I study. Allow me to share some of what I have learned through my conversations with patients and families. Read full post »