A Hero Named Holden

Another guest blogger, Enjoy

The word “cancer” sends chills of fear down the spines of just about anyone – but it might be most terrifying for a parent who hears the diagnosis for his or her child.

That was the case for the Harless family. An MRI at the Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health revealed their worst fears: the source of the back pain that their two-year-old son, Holden, had been complaining of was a spine tumor, not constipation as one doctor wrongfully diagnosed it.

But today, Holden runs around the family farm with the energetic abandon of a healthy eight-year-old.  He’s a heroic survivor and an example of the many triumphs being celebrated at the Riley Hospital for Children Cancer Center, the only such facility in Indiana and a recognized national leader in clinical care and research in cancers that affect children.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), fewer than two American children out of every 10,000 under age 15 develop cancer. While relatively rare for children, cancer is still the second leading cause of death for Americans 1 to 14 years of age, after accidents. The American Cancer Society reports that in 2007, about 10,400 American children under age 15 were diagnosed with cancer and that about 1,545 children die from the disease each year.

Cancers of the central nervous system (CNS)—the brain, brain stem and spinal cord—are the second most frequent malignancy affecting children, and are more common in those under 7, like Holden. And the prognosis for children diagnosed with CNS cancer is less favorable than for other forms of childhood cancer, such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Understandably, “terrifying” is the word Holden’s mother uses to describe the moment she heard his diagnosis. Even more frightening was the choice she faced: allow Holden to undergo surgery, or expect that in six months, without surgery, her son could be paralyzed and never walk again.

That the Harless family encountered such a grim prospect is unbelievable. That is, it’s unbelievable when you see Holden today, brimming with energy and the picture of health. That’s because the Harless family chose surgery, after discussing the options at Riley with pediatric neurosurgeon Jodi Smith, M.D.

Survival rates of children with cancer are on the upswing, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Childhood leukemia death rates fell by 3% a year, from 1990 to 2004, the study found, compared to 1% a year for childhood brain and other nervous system cancers. The CDC says improved treatment of childhood cancers is the likely reason for this.

All Mrs. Harless knows, and is thankful for, is that after Holden's surgery, “Dr. Jodi said Holden had done great and that it went better than she could have hoped for. All the doctors were great there. The physical therapists, the neurosurgeons, everyone was phenomenal. I can't thank Riley enough for what they did for Holden. They gave us our family and basically his life."

About the Author:  Jon Dawson is an attorney and professional writer in Indianapolis. He has first-hand experience with pediatric cancer as he lost his sister to the disease. Jon writes on behalf of IUHealth and also contributes to several blogs including www.DoseOfMyOwn.com.


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