Kayden’s Story – Fighting Leukemia

Five-year-old Kayden looks so small in the turquoise green infusion chair in the oncology office. A nurse on a rolling stool scoots up to him and, as gently as she can, accesses Kayden’s port - a small device that has been surgically placed under the skin on his chest. This is where the needle goes that gives Kayden his cancer treatments. It would be an unpleasant procedure for most adults, but Kayden stays calm, sometimes by playing Roblox or watching videos of garbage collectors on his iPad. He’s had his port accessed plenty of times during his over two years of treatment for leukemia.

For Kayden, the first sign of cancer was a limp - the back of his left knee was hurting, so his mom, Adrienne, took him to the doctor. The doctor couldn’t find an obvious cause and told Adrienne it was likely growing pains.

“He said to give it two weeks and see if it got better,” Adrienne said. “I wish I’d asked for lab work at that point.”

Kayden’s Diagnosis

Two more times, Kayden’s parents took him to the emergency room for pain and unexplained bruising. Finally, one of the emergency room doctors called an oncologist, who ran a test that showed Kayden had signs of leukemia. They needed to wait until the next day to do a bone marrow biopsy to confirm what kind of leukemia, so they sent Kayden home to get some rest in his own bed before returning to the hospital. Adrienne remembers the scary drive home from receiving the news.

“Kayden was in a lot of pain - I remember we were in the parking lot and Kayden was in his car seat and just going over a bump hurt him because he was in so much pain.” The doctors gave Kayden a prescription of oxycodone to get some relief - the drug had to be in liquid form, because Kayden was too young to swallow pills.

The next morning, Kayden’s bone marrow biopsy showed that over half of the cells in his bone marrow were leukemia cells. Leukemia cells were also present in his blood. This meant that his disease was aggressive, and it was already spreading.

Cancer Treatments Weren’t Made for Kids

The world of cancer treatment wasn’t made for kids - but Kayden was suddenly a part of it. Sitting in infusion chairs that were too big, undergoing treatments that were too harsh on his little body, taking steroids and chemotherapy shots that made him too tired, too hungry or too cranky.

This is because many of today’s cancer treatments weren’t created for kids - they don’t take into account the decades of life kids have ahead of them, or the fact that their brains and bodies still have so much growing and developing to do. But Kayden and his family were a part of this world now - pushing IV poles down hospital hallways, making friends with doctors and nurses at the clinic.

Kayden with his dad in the hospital

Kayden with his dad in the hospital

Thankfully, Kayden’s treatments put him in remission one month into treatment. But it hasn’t been easy - during the first and most intense phase of chemotherapy, called “induction,” Kayden was constantly nauseated and exhausted. Once this phase was over, Kayden’s parents had to give him frequent shots at home - not what any kid wants. They also had to be vigilant about everyday viruses - because chemotherapy weakened Kayden’s immune system, a normal virus could mean an inpatient hospital stay. Every fever means an immediate emergency room visit. Kayden is now in the “maintenance phase” of treatment, which will continue until February 2025. During this phase, he goes to the clinic to receive chemotherapy every three months, and takes daily chemotherapy medication at home, which he will do until the end of treatment.

Even when he’s not feeling well, Kayden is friendly and outgoing - he loves to give hugs, and he’s adored by the staff at the hospital and the oncology office he attends. Adrienne says his outgoing nature is one of her favorite things about Kayden.

“He’s very sweet, and he wants to learn about the world. He loves watching YouTube videos of landscapers and garbage workers - he’s really interested in those jobs and how people work and make a living. He likes to give garbage workers bottled water when he sees them. He’s an empathetic kid.”

A Patchwork of Support

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it takes the whole family to fight it. For Kayden, his parents and grandparents pieced together summer breaks, vacation days, sick days and more. Adrienne, a teacher, could spend the summer at home with Kayden, and during the school year, she used sick days to stay home with Kayden two days per week. Kayden’s dad worked from home one day a week, and Kayden’s grandparents, who live nearby, covered the other two weekdays.

 Jackson with his family

Kayden with his family

Adrienne says the help and love she’s received, from family, acquaintances and even strangers like Great Cycle Challenge riders, has helped her keep a positive outlook.

“We are so grateful for all the support from our family,” Adrienne said. “It is so nice to know that there are people out there who don’t know us and are willing to help take care of our family in any way possible.”

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