Dec 30, 2022, 10:43:15 AM CST
Molly sat in the emergency room at Children’s Health in Dallas, holding her then-2-year-old son on her lap.
In the middle of the night, her mind raced as she tried to process a shocking cancer diagnosis she’d just received for Hank. And while most people were home in bed, she met her toddler’s oncologist.
“She told me, ‘We’re going to do everything we can to help him,’” Molly said. “And I remember asking, ‘Why did you choose this? Why did you choose oncology?’ And she said, ‘Because of the relationship we’re going to have.’
I didn't know it then because I wasn't expecting to become great friends with a doctor at that moment, but she was so right. She became just such an important part of our family.”
For more than two years, Dr. Chelsee Greer, Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist in the Pauline Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Health and Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center, has guided Hank and his family through a cancer journey full of twists and turns.
Diagnosed in July 2020 with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare type of cancer that forms in soft tissue, Hank (who goes by Hanky) had developed a softball-sized tumor in his abdomen that was pushing on other organs.
Because of the location, surgery wasn’t a viable option. And his chemotherapy treatment wasn’t routine, involving other specialties including gastroenterology and urology to help with side effects from the therapy that began to hurt his liver and cause his stomach to swell.
A fellow pediatric cancer survivor, Dr. Greer was determined to find a solution as Hank’s body developed uncommon reactions to the treatment.
“She was always honest with me when it was bad news, but she also always had a plan. And that made me feel confident in her and Children’s Health,” Molly said.
A leader in patient care, treatment, research and training in pediatric oncology and hematology, the Gill Center brings national and international expertise through its affiliation with UT Southwestern and the Harold C. Simmons Cancer Center, setting it apart from other sites for pediatric cancer care in the region.
From common blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia, to the rarest forms of cancer such as Hank’s, the Gill Center continues to offer comprehensive evaluations, innovative treatments, long-term care and access to the latest clinical trials.
“With a cancer diagnosis, you automatically wonder, ‘Are we in the best place?’ This particular cancer was not an easy one to fight, but we felt confident in the team,” Molly said. “There are times you start questioning yourself, but I never doubted them.”
For about a year, Molly and Hank lived at the Gill Center, forming relationships with team members and celebrating holidays with them in their hospital room.
In the winter, volunteers hung festive wreaths down the hallways. Child Life team members set up a Christmas store, where Molly could “shop” for presents donated by community members for Hank and his older sister, Hannah. On Valentine’s Day, donors sent Hank virtual cards to let him know how much they cared. And on Halloween, a Child Life specialist surprised him with a pilot costume that he wore for a month.
"After that, costumes in the hospital, particularly superhero ones, became his thing. Everyone was telling him that he was strong and tough, and he really latched onto that. He wore a superhero costume almost every day,” Molly said. “He would cruise the hospital hallways in his costume and say, ‘I’m going to see my girls,’ which were his nurses.”
Patients, like Hank, and their families continue to receive incredible psychosocial support through dedicated programs like child life, social work, spiritual care, language interpretation and more, made possible thanks to philanthropic support.
These programs -- which provide coping strategies and help make life easier for those experiencing the unthinkable -- come at no cost to our families. And that’s because of philanthropic efforts that sustain and grow these special programs.
Philanthropic gifts and resources have been and will continue to be crucial to the advancement of the Gill Center, supporting clinical and research excellence, along with top-notch support programs for our patients and families.
“We couldn’t have done this journey without our nurses and Child Life team members. The people in the Gill Center are special humans. They did so many things for us that were beyond their job descriptions,” Molly said. “They were always there to help and answer your questions. Hank developed very special relationships with the people there.”
More than a year ago, Hank finished his last round of chemotherapy. Team members celebrated the milestone with a Spiderman-themed party full of superhero costumes and a banner that read “Peace Out Chemo.”
Now, Hank has a head of brown hair and continues to regularly visit the Gill Center for check-ups with Dr. Greer.
His journey even inspired others like his aunt, Mandy Austin, Dallas Market President for Bank of Texas, to fundraise for Children’s Health and help kids like him.
For many years – even before Hank’s diagnosis -- Mandy and Bank of Texas have been supporters of the hospital system, including several years as the presenting sponsor for Cape Day, which launched in 2018.
“After living the experience firsthand, I see the critical importance of financial support to ensure Children’s Health continues helping families going through some of the scariest moments in their lives,” Mandy said.
This year, Hank started pre-school, and on the first day, he ran into the room -- unafraid and full of excitement.
The room -- with small tables, tiny chairs and colorful toys -- reminded him of the hospital playroom. His home away from home, where he blew bubbles and shot his web like Spiderman with Children’s Health team members.
“Because that's what he thought of as the greatest place ever -- the hospital playroom,” Molly said.