Childhood Cancer Awareness Month: Meet Alexis and Holden
Two different pediatric cancer journeys – two individuals ready to take on the world. In recognition of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we caught up with two patients who have been through cancer treatment at CHoR to find out how it impacted them and what lies ahead.
Unexpected cancer diagnoses
Alexis Quance had been in and out of urgent cares and emergency rooms every few days for about two months before she was transferred to CHoR. Test results kept coming back inconclusive, so the only option remaining was a bone marrow biopsy. These results were certain, and startling, showing that the majority of her blood was cancerous. It was December 14, 2012 when Dr. India Sisler sat on the edge of then 17-year-old Alexis’ bed and said, “You have leukemia.” That was a Friday night – chemo began Monday morning.
Holden Harris was only 1 on March 6, 2019 when he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in the CHoR emergency department. He was referred to us from an urgent care center where he had blood drawn because his stuffy nose and low-grade fever just wouldn’t go away. Though blood cancer ran in the family, hearing the words came as a shock to the Harrises as they held their baby boy. Holden was promptly admitted to the hospital, where he stayed for the next 30 days – then on and off for six months.
Fighting cancer with family and friends, old and new
“My family and best friends supported me most during my treatment. I honestly don’t know if I would have been able to handle it all and make it through without them,” said Alexis.
Alexis also noted a fellow patient and his dad, whom she met during treatment, that “brought so much light to situations that were darker than anyone should experience.” Doctors and nurses treated her like family – and Ms. Monica’s trademark “Good morning, baby!” put a smile on Alexis’ face every time the food and nutrition team member entered the room to provide a meal or snack.
Early in Holden’s treatment – which included surgeries, chemotherapies and daily consultations – his mom, Jessica, quit her job and stayed by his side as much as possible. Most of her socialization was with nurses, care partners, doctors and child life specialists.
“They were so kind to our entire family, including my then 3-year-old daughter who didn't understand any of what was going on and just knew she was getting way less time with her whole family together,” said Jessica.
Catered lunches from Connor's Heroes and CJ's Thumbs Up Foundation were the highlight of many weeks. Child life provided toys and activities for Holden and his sister when Mom and Dad were physically and emotionally drained. Talks with nurse practitioner Carrie Sitterson, who would check in and answer questions, and the representative from Ronald McDonald House Charities in the morning while getting coffee and pastries in the family lounge were also high points among many lows.
Cancer’s impact on a child and family
For years, every aspect of Alexis’ life revolved around cancer – from diagnosis, to undergoing treatments, then identifying first and foremost as a cancer survivor and dealing with its long-term effects.
“It has been the most impactful and defining thing I’ve been through in my entire life,” said Alexis. “Going through a cancer diagnosis and the treatment that diagnosis entailed has made me value my health, my time and my relationships far more than ever before. And, although I am now at a point where I have the ability to begin discovering who I am aside from cancer, being a cancer survivor will always define me to an extent.”
Holden had his last treatment when he wasn’t quite a year and a half old. While he recalls very little – aside from the “pokes” – about his cancer journey, Mom and Dad will forever remember the tears and pain.
“Once you have been through this sort of event it does change you. I feel it has made us value life more. Just the novelty of my children being together outside in my backyard has a new beauty. It has also given me a new empathy and compassion for so many parents who have to endure diagnosis and treatment of their children,” added Jessica.
Life after pediatric cancer
Alexis went off to college right after finishing treatment to earn her bachelor’s degree in cellular, molecular and physiological biology. She worked full-time for a year as a clinical assistant at a doctor’s office before going to George Mason University and getting her master’s degree in clinical social work with a specialization in youth and families. This past June, she began her career as a dialysis social worker.
Outside of work, Alexis dedicates a significant amount of time to volunteering with organizations whose purpose is to improve the lives of people impacted by cancer. She’s organized Relay for Life events, spoken at events and on panels, and mentored other young people facing cancer diagnoses. She’s also in a wonderful relationship and loves spending time with her friends and family. As for the future?
“The possibilities are truly endless… I want to have a family and a successful career, and, hopefully, improve my health. As for my bucket list, I want to visit all 50 states and continue to travel the world. The world has so many beautiful, inspiring and wonderful places, cultures and opportunities – and I want to experience it all.”
Aside from regular appointments to monitor for possible chemo side effects, Holden is a typical 3-year-old these days. He did gymnastics over the summer and started preschool this fall. He loves to play outside with his sister, splash in the ocean and point out every "excabader" (as he calls them) he sees at construction sites. His plans may change, but if you ask him today, he’ll tell you he wants to go to a zoo and be a backhoe when he grows up. Also on his list – trying all the ice cream he can!
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