Guest blogger Christopher Falzone looks back on his son’s leukemia diagnosis and reflects on how the family made it through the past three years.
Three (now seemingly very long) years ago on Columbus Day weekend of 2012, our family’s lives changed forever. Just a week after the 4th birthday of my son, Alex, he became extremely lethargic with severe hip pain and a fever that wouldn't subside.
At the time, we had no reason to think he was battling anything other than the flu, a virus or, at worst, a bone infection. But, going on a mother’s instinct that, in hindsight, was spot on, my wife, Lynn, asked me to take him to the emergency room at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. Over the course of the next 24 hours, a battery of tests ensued that culminated in our living a parent’s worst nightmare – we were told our child had cancer.
Having no previous experience with the disease or any concrete understanding as to its treatment, a sense of shock and panic washed over us upon first hearing the diagnosis. Lynn’s legs gave out requiring me to catch her before she hit the floor and I blurted out: “What does this mean … is this a death sentence?
David Weinstock, M.D., Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, is looking to identify new targets for therapies for patients with leukemia and lymphoma. His latest research, funded through a Specialized Center of Research grant from The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, focuses on T-cell lymphomas.
An associate professor at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, Weinstock received a grant in 2002 through LLS’s Career Development Program designed to help young scientists. That early work explored abnormal cell growth and chromosome translocations that can progress to blood cancer. Then last year he received a scholar award to study how gene mutations promote the growth of follicular lymphoma.
“That support has played a significant role in my career development,” Weinstock said. “LLS funding gives researchers the flexibility to expand their research into innovative areas for which there might otherwise be limited financial resources.”
He’s since moved on to lead a prestigious $5 million Specialized Center of Research (SCOR) grant, LLS’s most ambitious funding program. The five-year project will enable he and his colleagues from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Weill Cornell Medical Center and Brigham and Women’s Hospital to test different targeted approaches for treating patients with T-cell lymphomas, for which there are currently very few good options.
Recently, Weinstock took some time to answer a few questions about his current research.
Just the thought of chemotherapy can be enough to make one feel sick. Toxic drugs powerful enough to kill or damage cancer cells also take their toll on healthy cells. While everyone tends to respond differently, most agree the treatments come with unpleasant side effects.
Get some “chemowear.” Treat yourself to something that is comfortable and makes you feel good about yourself. You want to be able to just reach in your closet and grab something soft and loose-fitting. No thinking required.
Pack a ready-to-go travel bag and keep it near the door. Be sure to include books and magazines; a laptop or e-reader; some ginger chews and ginger pills (for nausea); lip balm and lotion (the air in treatment centers can get very dry); cozy socks; a bottle of water; and some healthy snacks. And don’t forget a fleece blanket! It can get cold in those chemo rooms. Change up the items as needed.
Prepare to stay awhile. Chemo sessions can take several hours. Plan out something to do. Set up a playlist for your iPhone, get a new book series, or grab a pillow for a nap.
Make sure you have good food to come home to. Gingersnaps, ginger ale, crackers, bananas, peanut butter, popsicles and angel food cake are easy to digest. Whipping up a smoothie can be a good idea also.