A family’s experience with childhood cancer

Watching Rylan Morris zoom around on a tricycle, he looks like any other 4-year-old boy.

Watching Rylan Morris zoom around on a tricycle, he looks like any other 4-year-old boy. What makes him different, though, is many times he is riding a tricycle around the hallways of the Addison Jo Blair Cancer Care Center at Norton Children’s Hospital.

In February of 2012, Dawn and Chad Morris began noticing strange bruises on their son. For an active 3-year-old, that didn’t seem out of the ordinary to his parents. However, the bruises were on his face, back, belly and even the insides of his thighs. A talk with his day care staff yielded no clues. Then Rylan spiked a high fever.

“We moved up our regular appointment with the pediatrician and she did some blood work,” Dawn said. “She said it looked like leukemia. I was in shock. I said to myself, ‘What did she just say?’”

Rylan was admitted to Norton Children’s Hospital, where he underwent a bone marrow biopsy, chest X-rays and other tests to determine what he was up against. A port was inserted and chemotherapy was started immediately for what was diagnosed as acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL.

“We were numb,” Chad said. “The hardest phone call I had to make was to my parents because my sister is a childhood leukemia survivor.”

“With ALL, there are too many cells in the blood that become leukemia cells,” said Ashok B. Raj, M.D., pediatric hematologist/oncologist and professor of pediatrics, University of Louisville School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics.

“These cells are not able to fight infection well. As they increase in numbers, they allow less room for healthy cells, leading to infections, anemia and bleeding.”

The Addison Jo Blair Cancer Care Center has a higher rate of survival for ALL than the national average.

The Morrises’ lives have changed into a series of doctor visits, chemotherapy, hospitalizations and tests. To take care of Rylan, Dawn had to leave her job in the banking industry. Chad, fortunately, is director of environmental services at Norton Children’s Hospital, so when Rylan is there, he is close by.

“It’s strange to see things from a different side now — as a parent,” Chad said. “I now have a better understanding of how important each person’s role is at the hospital — from environmental services to food and nutrition to nursing.

“Since we have to go through this, I’m glad we can be here. I think people don’t always realize the expertise we have right here at Norton Children’s Hospital.” Rylan is now on a maintenance dose of chemotherapy, meaning his treatments are just once a month instead of weekly. Hopefully by spring his bike riding will only be outdoors, where it should be.

Life shouldn’t stop for cancer

The Children’s Hospital Foundation has started an initiative to raise $15 million for the Addison Jo Blair Cancer Care Center and pediatric oncology initiatives at Norton Children’s Hospital. The goal is to help the hospital recruit key clinical and research leaders, expand important regional patient care research, construct additional outpatient facilities and enhance specialty areas to better serve pediatric oncology patients and their families.

“Our oncology services are among the best in the nation,” said Lynnie Meyer, MSN, R.N., CFRE, executive director of the Children’s Hospital Foundation. “We know that we can make them even better, and it’s going to require support from the entire community to realize our vision.”

Kentucky has the third highest overall cancer incidence rate in the nation, and counties surrounding Norton Children’s Hospital have pediatric cancer rates higher than the national average. Each year more than 650 children are in active treatment for pediatric cancers at Norton Children’s Hospital.

The hospital’s specialists are able to provide some of the most advanced treatments so that cancer survival rates remain higher than the national average.



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