Twelve-year-old Carter had something priceless and irreplaceable stolen from him: his childhood.
Diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia in second grade, Carter began radiation and three and a half years of chemotherapy at Children’s Hospital Colorado when he was just 8 years old.
The side effects of his treatment caused him a lot of pain and fatigue, keeping him in the hospital or home from school for weeks or months at a time. He went from being one of the fastest kids in his class to barely being able to walk.
To pass the hours during treatment, Carter built elaborate Lego creations, did woodworking projects with his dad, Monty, and watched the television show “Chopped” on the Food Network Channel, which helped make him hungry when he felt nauseated from chemotherapy.
“He missed field trips, being active and typical kid experiences,” said his mom, Kelly. “It’s tough when you think about what cancer has robbed from him.”
cancer stole his childhood, research gave him hope
After so many years of treatment, Carter can rattle off almost every single medication he has taken. Vincristine. Cytoxan. Nelarabine.
There are a lot of words kids shouldn’t know. The names of drugs to treat cancer are chief among them.
One of the medications Carter lists is a chemotherapy drug that he took as part of a clinical trial. Typically, it’s given to young cancer patients when they relapse with the aggressive kind of cancer that Carter had. The clinical trial aimed to see if giving it sooner in the treatment cycle might prevent relapse altogether. The early findings of the study are showing positive signs.
Dr. Joanne Hilden, Carter’s pediatric oncologist, said that childhood cancer survival rates are currently the highest they’ve ever been for two key reasons: basic research to discover new drugs and clinical trials that test the efficacy of these medications.
Philanthropy is playing an indispensable role in both of these areas.
“The clinical trial Carter was part of would not have been possible without the drug being developed in the first place by a basic researcher,” said Dr. Hilden. “In this era of dwindling government grant funding, philanthropic support for research will only become more critical. We need to keep funding our basic researchers’ work, so that years from now, the next generation of kids won’t have these same worries.”
where caregivers become family
With Carter’s difficult diagnosis and the long journey back to health, he missed out on a lot, but he has also gained several things: the desire to give back, a strong interest in oncology and a new perspective on life.
“Attitude is everything,” said Carter. “That’s my motto.”
Kelly said that Carter’s doctors, nurses, physical therapists and pain specialists at Children’s Colorado have truly become a part of their family — especially Dr. Hilden, who has been by Carter’s side since his first night in the hospital.
“It’s difficult to describe the feeling you have toward people who saved your child’s life,” she said. “Not only did they save his life, but they helped us get through it in a way that was positive and supportive. They were always there for us.”
One day, Carter hopes to become an oncology nurse, so he can help other young cancer patients.
dreams of a cure
Carter also dreams of finding the cure for cancer. In a mock lab set up in his backyard treehouse – a special gift he received as part of a “Make a Wish” request – Carter can often be found tinkering with beakers, pipettes, glass slides and a microscope.
Carter has also started raising funds for the hospital by selling arts and crafts that he and his friends make through their “Crafts for Cancer” project. The group donates 100 percent of their proceeds to Children’s Colorado researchers studying Carter’s type of cancer.
Not long ago, these budding philanthropists got to tour the cancer lab to see the impact that their donations are having on research. They discovered that a plaque on one of the pieces of lab equipment reads “Crafts for Cancer in honor of Carter.”
“The nitrogen freezer is named after us,” Carter said, beaming with pride.
For a vivacious young boy who has missed out on so much of his youth, this symbol of a cancer-free future couldn’t be a more fitting tribute.