Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia: Shawn's Story

Shawn, 6, loves trains and baseball and hugging his mom and dad. He enjoys being silly but is also a good listener. He’ll start first grade in the fall, with so much to look forward to.

But just a year-and-a-half ago, he and his parents faced a terrible obstacle.

shawn One day in March 2012, Shawn seemed extremely fatigued and the lymph nodes in his neck became swollen. His parents, Colleen and Michael, fearing meningitis, took him to the emergency room of the local hospital. After a blood test, doctors called for an ambulance to take Shawn to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). The next day, on Shawn’s fifth birthday, doctors at CHOP told his parents the news they feared. Their son had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common form of cancer in children.

Shawn was admitted to the oncology floor at CHOP and began the first phase of chemotherapy, called induction. He spent two weeks in the hospital, and then came home. Shawn’s spirits stayed high, and he was still able to play with his brother and two sisters.

Shawn’s induction was successful, and his cancer was driven into remission. A month after diagnosis, he began outpatient chemotherapy approximately once a week at the CHOP Care Network King of Prussia Specialty Care Center, close to the family’s Bucks County home. There the oncology team, including Shawn’s primary oncologist, Julie Stern, MD, became what Colleen describes as “a second family.”

“The team at King of Prussia became people whose opinion you completely trusted,” she says. “The confidence I have in them, what they’re doing, what they recommend, is unlimited. They looked out for the whole child, not just the cancer. They treat cancer, but they also treated the kid and took into account the dynamics of who he is and how the family is built around him to try to make it as positive an experience as it could be.”

Just four decades ago, children didn’t survive leukemia. Today ALL in children has a cure rate of approximately 90 percent.

Establishing the treatment protocols that have so boosted cure rates for childhood cancers required years of research and hard work, and oncologists and scientists at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have been among the leaders in these efforts. The Four Seasons Parkway Run & Walk provides crucial funding for their research. As a Parkway Run Ambassador, Shawn, along with his family and team of walkers and runners, will fuel work that may help even more children to survive cancer.

Shawn is now in what’s called the maintenance phase of leukemia treatment: He’ll have outpatient chemotherapy once a month until 2015. His hair has grown back and he’s feeling great. His parents are enjoying watching him play baseball. They feel immensely lucky to have a son like Shawn. “He is very silly, he’s outgoing, he loves to be around his friends,” Colleen says. “He has an obsession with trains. And he is very loving.”

They also feel lucky to live so close to one of the best children’s hospitals in the world. When she takes Shawn to the King of Prussia Specialty Care Center, for their visits with the oncology team, his mom finds hope and optimism where it might not be expected: in a waiting room filled with children in various stages of treatment for cancer. “I always find it amazing. We walk in there and kids are laughing, smiling,” she says. “Kids are enjoying life.”

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