Voices of Childhood Cancer: A Pandemic, Cancer & Dating… It’s Complicated
Written by Rachel Wood, Director of Marketing
Listen to the voices of childhood cancer this month. Every experience is different. These stories of hope and healing start with your compassion and generosity. Your donation helps us reach farther and move faster to develop improved treatments and promising cures for kids with rare cancers. Be childhood cancer aware. Take action. [Presented by Atrium Health Levine Children’s]
- Patient: Zack, 17 years old
- Cancer: Stage 2 Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma
- Diagnosed: March 2021
- Treated at: Atrium Health Levine Children’s
Zack was juggling academics, baseball, friends, dating, and a pandemic during his junior year of high school when, one day in November 2020, he noticed a bump on his left hand. Over a couple of months, the bump grew and was causing irritation while playing baseball. At first, it was diagnosed as a ganglion cyst and it wasn’t until after the lump was surgically removed that it was discovered Zack had stage 2 Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma at 16 years old. Fortunately, it was localized to his hand.
Being a teenager and dating can be tough enough, but then throw a pandemic and cancer on top of that… and well, it’s complicated. Zack’s long-term girlfriend, Jessica, has been by his side every step of the way. Unfortunately, Due to restrictions, she can’t go to the hospital to support him during treatment and appointments, giving her the feeling of being on the sidelines as he fights this battle. So she has gotten creative in how she supports him with fundraisers and community encouragement. Jessica has also had to be very diligent in keeping a much smaller group of friends in an effort to limit Zack to exposure to COVID.
“Not only was it very shocking going through a pandemic but also finding out my boyfriend has cancer was very surprising and scary. I feel every emotion. I feel scared because not only does Zack have cancer but if he gets COVID it could be life-threatening. We all have to be very careful to ensure he doesn’t get exposed so I try my best to have a super small friend group. I feel hopeful because I know that Zack is strong and can get through this. I feel sad because I know he is missing out on not only seeing his friends and playing sports but his senior year of high school. I also feel useless because of this pandemic I am unable to be there in the hospital with Zack while he is going through his treatments. But I also do feel happy in a way because this whole process has only brought me and Zack closer and built a stronger connection/relationship that most people will never get to say they have.
“I felt like just being there wasn’t enough, especially since I can’t go to the hospital. Even though just being there is all Zack wants, I decided to help raise money to help out. Since we are going through a pandemic face masks are a great way to help him and other people from getting covid which in Zack’s case could be life-threatening. I helped support Zack by starting a small business/fundraiser and selling face masks as well as designed t-shirts. Not only to raise money for his family but to show Zack that people in the community support him and are there for him.”
It’s been very surprising to see how cancer has impacted every aspect of his day-to-day life. But people should know that childhood cancer affects more than just the child and their family. Most people can overlook the fact that childhood cancer affects their friends, significant others, and the community in general.” -Jessica, Zack’s Girlfriend
Zack is halfway through his 42 weeks of aggressive chemotherapy and has completed 4 weeks of radiation to his hand. During his treatments, Zack has been fortunate to not have to endure any inpatient hospital stays. But his body is most definitely feeling the effects of the chemotherapy. Zack is still recovering from a pulmonary embolism, kidney stones, and neuropathy in his hands. There is concern he won’t be able to play baseball due to the long-term chemotherapy effects, but he remains hopeful.
Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma is a rare and extremely aggressive form of soft-tissue cancer usually found in the arms, legs, or torso. Because of rhabdomyosarcomas’ fast-growing nature and high rate of re-occurrence, Zack’s treatment is just as intense. He will have scans at the end of October to monitor his body’s response to treatment.
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VOICES OF CHILDHOOD CANCER