LOGAN – It’s one of those things no parent ever wants to hear, but sometimes it’s inevitable.
“This couldn’t possibly be happening to my child,” is exactly what Katie Richards was thinking when the doctor told her her son had cancer.
Aug. 29 is a day the Richards family will never forget because that's when their three-year-old son Gage was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Katie’s mother noticed months before Gage’s diagnosis and noted something didn’t seem right with her grandson. He was pale, complained of leg aches and sometimes appeared lethargic.
“We took him to his doctor and they did blood work and stated they would get in touch with us in a couple of days or so,” Katie recalled. “However, within two hours they were calling and telling us we needed to return to the office. I knew then something serious was wrong.”
Once Katie and her husband Josh returned to the doctor’s office, the nurse was already making preparations for Gage to be taken to Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
“I think I was in shock,” she said. “I didn’t cry until I got outside and then I broke down. A million things were going through my head. Is this something I have to worry about with [my other son] Bo? Is this curable? What’s going to happen? It just went on and on.”
Gage spent 12 days in children’s hospital and had two surgeries. One surgery was to put a subcutaneous infusion port in his chest for his chemotherapy and the other was a spinal tap to test his spinal fluids.
His hemoglobin count was 4.8, which is considerably low compared to a normal reading of nine to 12.
The child who once ran around all day long keeping his mother on her toes now lies on the couch and watches television most of the day.
“It’s hard to see him like this,” Katie said. “This is not him at all and the steroids make him mean and grumpy and that’s definitely not him. He was always such a happy boy – always smiling and playing outside.”
Due to his weak immune system, Gage can no longer play in the dirt, help his father cut up a deer, go fishing or any of the other activities he enjoyed with his father.
“It’s sad,” Katie remarked. “He loved being out with his dad and now he can’t do that.”
Gage will endure more than three years of chemotherapy treatments and has had four rounds in his port and two in his spinal fluids.
“I’ve never had any experience with cancer,” Katie added. “I know no one with the disease, so I had no clue what to expect. Gage has always been so outgoing and to see him like this is heart-breaking.”
Every three minutes, a parent is told their child has cancer. In 1964, children diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia had a survival rate of three percent. Today the survival rate is approximately 90 percent.
ALL is a fast-growing cancer of the white blood cells and is the most common type of cancer in children.
Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that the body uses to fight infections. In ALL, the bone marrow makes a lot of unformed cells called blasts that normally develop into lymphocytes. However, the blasts are abnormal and do not develop and cannot ward off infections.
The number of abnormal cells, or leukemia cells, grow quickly and crowd out the normal red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets that the body needs. There are approximately 4,000 new cases of ALL in the country each year that attack children younger than 10-years-old.
Gage is participating in the Children’s Oncology Group, a research group used all over the world to help children who are stricken with leukemia.
“Our lives have changed so much,” Katie said. “What seemed important before is not important any more. Children are so precious and love for a child is like nothing else. We need to cherish them, for we never know what is around the next corner.”
While Gage is still in the early stages of treatment, he is looking forward to going to Disney World when his immune system improves.
Katie and Josh also have an 11-month-old son, Bo. Katie said she and her husband worry that Bo may someday be afflicted by another type of cancer. “You just never know what’s going to happen,” she remarked. “It’s a constant worry now.”