“I didn’t know anyone who had survived after battling cancer,” Stephanie said. “But I found out the first night at Children’s that advances in treatment through research would give Cameron an 85 percent chance of overcoming it. By the time I left his hospital room, I felt hope.”
Only a week earlier, Stephanie and her family splashed in the waves in Orlando. But one day 8-year-old Cameron seemed out of sorts.
“He was tired with a low-grade fever and not into the theme park anymore,” Stephanie said. “I thought he had the flu.”
Once they arrived home, Cameron’s bloody gums were a red flag for Stephanie. A trip to the pediatrician revealed abnormal blood work. A couple of hours later, Stephanie found herself at Children’s Medical Center at Legacy where the doctor confirmed a diagnosis of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
“I never imagined it could be that serious,” Stephanie said. “I knew it would be a long journey, but being at Children’s made me feel like it was a battle my son wouldn’t lose.”
Treatment began the next day with surgery to insert a port in his chest for chemotherapy access. Child life specialist Michelle McLemore began teaching Cameron about his diagnosis in terms he could understand.
“Cameron trusts me and knows I’m not there to poke him but to help him cope with the pokes and procedures,” Michelle said.
Cameron’s treatment plan is three and a half years and has included intense chemotherapy for the first six months as well as spinal taps, blood draws, clinic visits and inpatient stays. After the six-month mark, Cameron received chemotherapy every two weeks at Children’s. He is now in the maintenance phase and visits the hospital every month for chemotherapy as well as every three months for spinal taps.
Throughout treatment, medication through a breathing device in a special booth proved to be an anxiety-ridden time for Cameron. Michelle taught him distraction techniques and said his family was the best support system.
“Cameron’s brother would offer to wash the dishes and do other chores for him if he finished the treatment,” Michelle said. “It was neat to see a younger brother motivating an older one and acknowledging the importance of it.”
Over time, Cameron’s breathing treatments became easier as he gained confidence.
“Cameron has grown a lot. At first he was shy and introverted, having a hard time with therapies,” said Jill Freitas, RN, pediatric oncology nurse at Children’s. “He is a completely different child now and is awesome to take care of.”
For Cameron, the toughest part of his diagnosis was missing out on normal, everyday life as a kid. Immunosuppression caused him to be stuck in the house for the first year. When it was time to head back to school, he worried about looking different.
Michelle helped the fifth grader reintegrate back into school by talking to the entire grade. A video about cancer, a doll with a port and a question-and-answer session eased Cameron’s anxieties and provided his classmates with a clear picture of his condition.
Michelle, Jill and other staff members have been a constant motivating factor for Cameron and his family.
“We couldn’t have made it without them,” Stephanie said. “You know you’re at a place you love when you don’t want to leave on discharge day. They are like family to us.”
With his can-do attitude, Cameron doesn’t let leukemia hold him back. He stays active and even plays basketball. As the 10-year-old pushes forward, he has his sights set on a trip of a lifetime. The summer before seventh grade will give him freedom to travel, and he dreams about stepping foot on a Disney cruise.
Stephanie continues to be inspired by Cameron’s outlook and reflects on the positive aspects.
“We joined this club we never wanted to be in, but because of it, we have made lifetime friends.”
And the hope that Stephanie felt that first night at Children’s lives on.