Boy & Girl of the Year
Washington/Alaska's 2016 Boy & Girl of the Year
Boy of the Year
As the spring of 2014 turned into summer, we notice a change in our happy-go-lucky son, Harlan. While other kids were full of energy and enthusiasm, excited for the break from school, Harlan slowed way down. Finally, school started. Harlan loves school and was very eager to begin his 2nd grade year. He cam home tired from his first day and ended up getting sick. First thing in the morning, I got on the phone and scheduled an appointment for the late afternoon. The doctor recognized right away how sick Harlan was. The doctor hugged me and the reality of how serious it was hit. We left with orders to go directly to the ER. Our little family waited in the ER for a few hours, not yet knowing the life-changing news that we'd receive in just a matter of time. Finally, the ER doctor pulled Harlan's dad and I into a consultation room and told us the news ever parent dreads to hear. They found extra cells in his bloodwork. Cancer cells.
The news was crushing and the situation felt surreal, we both kept waiting to be shaken awake from the nightmare. We broke the news to Harlan as calmly as possible, and he began to cry. I think that was the only time he cried about being diagnosed with cancer. Immediately, Harlan was moved into a room and given what was to be the first of many blood and platelet transfusions. That morning we met with his oncologist and Harlan was officially diagnosed with ALL Leukemia and began chemotherapy treatment. We stayed in the hospital almost a month while Harlan went through intense treatment until he was healthy enough to come home. He was in remission by the time we left, but our sweet 7-year-old still had 3 years of chemo to undergo. It has been two years since that September day our lives took such a drastic turn. Harlan has never once complained of his situation or even felt sorry for himself. His maturity and acceptance of his cancer diagnosis is admirable and his attitude throughout this whole process has been incredible. Through all the transfusions, the chemo, the pokes, the pills, the missed school, the fear - Harlan's courage and smile and sunny outlook has never wavered or broken. His dad and I are in constant awe of the person he is and his bravery in the face of the unknown. He is our hero and our heart, and truly a special human being.
--Gwen Lewandoski, Harlan's mother
Girl of the Year
In February 2012, our daughter Rachael was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). Because her leukemic cells did not respond to the chemotherapy as quickly as hoped, she was categorized as High Risk and within four months of her initial diagnosis, she received a stem cell transplant. Nine months later we learned that her leukemic cells had returned. The stem cell transplant failed. Devastated.
For the first time in our daughter's cancer journey, we were frightened for her life. You see, with each recurrence the chance of survival lessens, the odds of infection increases, and the long term side effects become more prevalent. Rachael's body was tired and beat down from months of intense chemotherapy and radiation already, how could she/we do this again? But here is the thing with cancer, one never gives up. Our battle was NOT over; it was time to reach out for help and think outside the box. Rejuvenated.
Our search uncovered a phase-one trial at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. CART-19, now called CTL019, was a new approach to fighting leukemia. Simply put, one's own T-cells are reengineered to recognize and fight cancer cells from within. In July of 2013, Rachael became the 16th child in the world to participate in the CART-19 trial. Hope.
Today, Rachael remains cancer free! She has returned to school, choreographs music videos with her friends in her spare time, and aspires to be the doctor who cures cancer. Blessed.
Each time we tell our daughter's cancer story, we are reminded once again of how fortunate we are and how many people we still need to thank. You are one of those people...THANK YOU! Not only do your generous donations to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society help support cancer research, like CTL019, your donations help support the patient education programs like First Connection and the Back to School Program for Children with Cancer. Your generous donations support the Co-Pay Assistance program to help alleviate the financial burden of those diagnosed with blood cancer. Grateful.
Angelique and Craig Weinstein