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Dear Military: Thank You For My Cancer Free Child

My seven-year old daughter is cancer free. It is amazing that these words are coming out of my mouth. If you would have told me this three years ago, I would have never believed you.

Many are shocked by the words “daughter” and “cancer” in the same sentence. Yet this has become dinner table talk for our family and friends. Our daughter Abby talks about procedures, medicines, experiences, the hospital, as if this is just another topic-- like cars or dolls.

She has experienced more in the past 33 months than most of us will in a lifetime. It is real. It is our life. We have so many to thank. At the top of our list are the St. Baldrick’s Foundation—and the military.

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When Abby was 4 ½ years old, she was sick during flu season just like many other kids her age. Then it quickly it became apparent that this wasn’t just the flu. Abby was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth fighting for her life.

Our baby had cancer. My active duty Navy husband Joe and I would not leave her side. When it was our time to go home and rest, we couldn’t bear to leave, just in case. This is something that I do not wish on any parent. Death is really real and unfortunately cancer takes approximately seven children a day.

Immediately, we had so much support from family and friends. Many offered us their research and ideas on top-of-the-line hospitals that Abby could go to.

As that day went on, Abby wasn’t stable enough to move. Honestly, Joe and I couldn’t think of a better place that she could be. She was In the hands of the extremely capable, well-trained, well-led staff at Naval Medical Portsmouth Pediatric Oncology---PICU doctors, nurses, coremen, social workers. The staff quickly became our family.

When Abby was diagnosed, she was treated with a chemotherapy protocol to treat her initial diagnosis of Pre-B Cell ALL (Leukemia). Approximately ten days later, we were told that she had one of the rare anomalies in leukemia. She had the Philadelphia Chromosome.

Within that one conversation, Abby’s long term approximate survival rate went from 90% to 20% which was labeled a “poor prognosis.” The treatment plan for this was different and beyond what military hospitals could provide: Abby needed a bone marrow transplant.

Tricare allowed us to choose any transplant hospital that we wanted. Being five months pregnant with baby #3, we decided that Abby and I needed to be closer to family. So we were approved to move to Chicago.

When we talked on the phone to a Pediatric Oncologist at a major children’s hospital in Chicago, she recommended that Abby begin a chemotherapy pill that was currently in a trial for kids with PH+ALL. And to start that pill THAT day, Day 15 into Abby’s treatment.

This pill is called Dasatinib. Little did we know that this pill would save Abby’s life or that she would take over 900 doses!

One Dasatinb pill costs about $166 per pill. With our Portsmouth docs on board, this pill was made available to Abby that day at the Portsmouth pharmacy, no questions asked. From there, paperwork was complete and Tricare sent us on our way, covering all of our expenses.  We were fully supported.

Even my husband was supported. Abby’s treatment often involved hospital stays, followed by more hospital stays both in Chicago and in Virginia. Joe was able to continue work throughout all of this. His command was so very supportive. Any time off he needed was given, no questions asked.

Joe was able to sleep at the hospital and go to work once I arrived in the morning. When Abby and I were moved to Chicago, the Navy offered him the ability to transfer somewhere closer if need be.

Because of the military, Abby and our entire family were given a chance at life. The military made Dasatinib available to her and provided her stellar health care that covered her need for a bone marrow transplant.

After three months in Chicago, we got news that because the pill Dasatinib, along with other chemotherapy, was working so well keeping Abby in remission, Abby could continue the rest of her treatment with chemotherapy back in Virginia. No transplant necessary!

Without a doubt, even after being provided amazing care at one of the country’s leading children’s hospitals, we knew exactly where we wanted her to be-- back a Naval Medical Portsmouth.

Fast forward to today, Abby is currently at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Bethesda, (we moved due to husband’s orders) receiving after treatment care.  She is doing great, getting amazing care and is CANCER FREE!!!

As we move into the Thanksgiving season, I am so thankful for the military and foundations like St. Baldrick’s Foundation, that made her treatment available. Without either, Abby and our family would not be where we are today.

We have HOPE. Hope for Abby, those currently waiting for new treatments, those seven children that will be diagnosed today, and those that haven’t been diagnosed yet.

Patty Furco is a Navy wife and the mother of three healthy children currently living in the Washington, DC area.

 

 

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