Six-year-old Conner just had an MRI at Children’s Hospital Colorado, and his mom, Cristie, is nervous.
“I didn’t sleep last night,” she says.
Just over two years ago, Conner was diagnosed with Ewings sarcoma – a rare and highly aggressive form of bone cancer. Following a difficult battle that included 17 rounds of chemotherapy, 12 blood transfusions and four surgeries, Conner was declared cancer-free in 2013. However, he has to return to Children’s Colorado every three months for scans to ensure that his cancer hasn’t returned.
Today’s visit marks the fifth time that Conner has been tested since his initial cancer victory. But this time, his parents are especially worried. Conner has developed a persistent cough, and a recent chest X-ray revealed a shadowy streak near his heart. The scans at Children’s Colorado will provide more information, but the family won’t have the results until later in the day.
When Conner was first diagnosed, his family was preparing to move from Texas to the Air Force base in Colorado Springs. The day the movers came, Conner’s parents took him to urgent care for what they thought was a respiratory infection. But further testing revealed something far more serious. Conner had a tumor in his upper chest wall.
“At first we thought it couldn’t possibly be cancer,” says Conner’s father, Eric. “He seemed so young and so healthy.”
The family drove through the night from Texas to Colorado and began treatment at Children’s Colorado the following morning. For 10 months, Conner underwent a rigorous course of chemotherapy. Halfway through, doctors performed an intricate surgery on his chest wall to remove what remained of the tumor. To fully remove the mass, they also had to remove several of Conner’s ribs. It was a low point for the family.
“He recently told me there were times when he thought he was going to die,” says Cristie.
As difficult as his cancer battle was, there was one thing that Conner always looked forward to at Children’s Colorado.
“They have Xbox with WiFi,” explains Eric. “Every chemo session, he’d download a new game. It sounds so simple, but it was really important to him – especially during the times when he was doing chemotherapy eight hours a day, several days a week.”
Now that Conner has been deemed cancer-free, the family tries to stay focused on the future. But Conner’s quarterly scans are always a painful reminder of what they’ve been through.
“It’s almost like we have to go to a parole hearing every three months,” says Cristie. “Do we get to continue to live and be healthy and be free? Or do we have to go back to ‘jail’ and start over again?”
Later that day, the family got the test results. Conner’s scans are clear. The streak on the X-ray was determined to be scar tissue. And that means that Conner’s chances at a healthy future are looking good.
“Perseverance has always been a cornerstone of our family,” says Eric. “It’s what gets us through the tough times.”