Loving Parents Share their Child's Leukemia Story
- Nash Wynette, 9, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2018 after his parents took him to see a doctor because he was slow on the hockey rink and bruising on his hips and legs. He underwent two and a half years of treatment, but completed it in July 2020. Today, he’s cancer-free.
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, is a type of leukemia where the bone marrow makes too many immature lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. It is an aggressive cancer and requires aggressive treatment.
- Childhood cancer research is lacking, but one of our experts says targeted treatments and different immunotherapies that have been studied in adults and have now moved into clinical trials for children. This means that doctors may have more treatment options for childhood cancer patients in the future.
Nash Wynette, now 9, who loves school, his friends and sports. But just a few years ago, at age 5, he was facing a battle that no one ever wants their kids to face: childhood cancer.Read More
“He was lethargic at hockey, didn’t have energy, had a nap during the school day, hadn’t participated in recess — all because he was tired,” the parents told Healthing. “During one of his hockey games, he was usually one of the zippiest ones out there, but he was just standing around that centre ice. ”
Then, Nash came in from playing on a spring day saying he was “too big for the swing now” because his hips were hurting.
“He was growing so fast at the time, so we chalked it up to growing pains,” Julie and Kyle said. “But then the bruises appeared on his hips, his legs. We took him into the hospital.”
From there, everything happened so fast. It was right before Easter weekend and the Canadian family was rushed to London, Ontario, to meet an oncologist.
“[The oncologist] told us, ‘This is what’s going on, I don’t have a lot of time to explain it. You just have to trust me. We want to get his port put in before the weekend and move things along quickly,'” the parents said. “Those first 48 hours were a blur.”
The very next day, Nash was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. What followed was two and a half years of Nash being in and out of the hospital for treatment. Eventually, though, he recovered. He finished treatment in July 2020, and Nash is back to living life more like a kid should with his little brother by his side.
“He lives a pretty social life and he’s a happy, healthy boy,” Julie and Kyle said. “After the first year post-treatment, it was into the clinic for bloodwork and a meeting with the oncologist once a month. Then it was every two months and now we’ve been moved to every three months, so this is the longest we’ve gone without going in for bloodwork, which is getting easier. There’s always a little bit of anxiety when you’re waiting for the results and especially this time of year — March, the change in weather — it brings up memories.”
Now, in the hopes of raising awareness of childhood cancer, the Wynette family is sharing their story.
“All in all, going through something like this puts everything into perspective,” they said. “Coming out of it, it’s as if nothing else matters. Only friends, family and health. Only the happiness of your kids.
“It was absolutely a nightmare at the time, but we’re always reminded that it could have been worse.”
And Julie and Kyle’s advice to others going through a similar situation is simple: Take it “minute by minute.”
“You’ve got to take it not even day by day, but minute by minute and just keep moving forward,” they said. “Just keep moving forward.”
What Is Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia?
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, is a type of leukemia where the bone marrow makes too many immature lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. It is also called acute lymphocytic leukemia.
The American Cancer Society estimates that about 6,660 new cases of ALL will be diagnosed in the United States in 2022. The ACS also reports that the risk for developing ALL is highest in children younger than 5 years of age, with a slow decline in risk until the mid-20s. Then, the risk slowly rises again after age 50.
Dr. Olalekan Oluwole, a hematologist with Vanderbilt University Medical Center, previously talked with SurvivorNet about ALL’s effect on the body and the type of treatments that work to fight it.
“ALL is a type of cancer that is very aggressive,” Dr. Oluwole told SurvivorNet. “It grows very fast. Within a few weeks, a few months, the person will start to feel very sick. And that’s why we will have to give it an equally aggressive type of treatment to break that cycle.”
Dr. Oluwole also says the leukemia often resides in the bone marrow, and because it is an abnormal growth, it just keeps dividing.
“It doesn’t follow rules, and it doesn’t stop,” he told SurvivorNet. “Not only that, because this is part of the immune system, the immune system is sorta like the police of the body. So those abnormal cells that have now become cancer, they have the ability to go to many places. They go into the blood, and they often go into the tissue or the lining around the brain.”
Understanding Childhood Cancer
Treatment advances in recent decades have lead to 84 percent of children with cancer now surviving five years or more, according to the American Cancer Society. This is up from 58 percent from the mid-1970s.
But according to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, more than 95 percent of childhood cancer survivors have significant health-related issues because of the current treatment options, and only 4 percent of the billions of dollars spent each year on cancer research and treatments are directed towards treating childhood cancer in the United States. Since 1980, fewer than 10 drugs have been developed for use in children with cancer while hundreds of drugs have been created exclusively for adults.
Dr. Elizabeth Raetz, director of pediatric hematology and oncology at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, reminded us in a previous interview that there is still reason for hope.
“There are also targeted treatments and different immunotherapies that have been studied in adults and have now moved into clinical trials for children and there has been a great deal of excitement in the community about that,” Dr. Elizabeth Raetz told SurvivorNet.
Still, navigating a child’s cancer diagnosis can be tricky.
Jayne Wexler’s son battled acute lymphoblastic leukemia and now deals with heart disease as a side effect of chemotherapy. In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Wexler explained that in addition to regular parent worries – having a child with cancer means living with a whole new world of anxieties.
“My husband and I will always have fear,” she said. “I don’t think we can ever let go of that. Just when he was OK, then he relapsed, and then he had the bone marrow transplant … so there’s always some sort of worry.”
Wexler admits she tries to live for each and every day, but it’s understandable that this does not always come easy.
“And I do try – you hear people say this – we do have to live each day and be thankful for what we have,” Wexler said. “And it’s hard to remember that when you’re caught up … it’s very hard to just sort of enjoy the moment, because we just don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.”