When Cancer Hits Home...We Are Here
The Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children's Hospital at Erlanger:
- The region's only comprehensive Cancer & Blood Disorders Center, with over 3,500 patient visits each year.
- There are more than 50 children in our region diagnosed with cancer each year, 95% of them will receive the latest treatments at Children’s Hospital.
- On average, 70 childhood cancer patients are seen in the Center each week, and 7 childhood cancer patients are inpatient at Children’s Hospital.
- Children’s Hospital is a part of the Children’s Oncology Group (COG)—an international research organization which designs protocols for all cancer treatments. This means the children treated in Chattanooga will receive the same treatments locally as they would any other large pediatric cancer center.
- Children’s Hospital utilizes multidisciplinary care including surgeons, radiation oncologists, critical care physicians, nurses, child life specialists & social workers.
About Childhood Cancer
- Cancer is the number one disease killer of children in the U.S.
- Approximately 12,400 are diagnosed with cancer each year.
- About one in 300 boys and one in 333 girls will develop cancer before the age of 20.
- Over the last 40 years, the cure rate has risen from almost zero to well over 75% for children with cancer.
- In 1998, about 2,500 children died of cancer.
LEARN MORE ABOUT HOW CANCER HITS HOME—FOUR AMAZING CHILDREN
One of the best days of my life was in November of 1996 when, my daughter, Ashya was born. It was in February 2009 when I realized I could lose her to cancer. As any mother would be, I found myself worrying about every element of what she would go through, even how she would deal with losing her hair. Little did I know, but her hair, or lack of hair, would be a source of strength in her life.
When Ashya first lost her hair, she was self-conscious. Whereas, she would not wear a wig at home, she would rarely go without it in public or at school. But one day at school, she decided to go to the principal’s office and remove her wig. Afterwards, she told me that all of the middle school kids were surprised to see her without it. As she walked down the hall, they were calling her names. My daughter looked ahead and continued walking to her class. I asked her why she did it and she told me that she finally had enough self confidence to do so.
This trial Ashya has endured has become her triumph. It showed her she can overcome any situation she is faced with. Those that knew her before she was diagnosed with bone cancer would say she is loving, kind, and outgoing. But it is through her chemotherapy and treatment that I found new words to describe Ashya; she is a strong, courageous leader. Ashya is truly a CANCER SURVIVOR and I am proud to be her mother.
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Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
On October 28, 2009, our lives changed forever. That was the day the doctors told us our baby had cancer. How do you process that? Emotions bounced between stark terror and a white hot rage. How could our little Mattie, who had done nothing except exude joy and love, have cancer? While tragic, when an adult gets cancer you can rationalize it…not enough exercise, bad diet, exposure to carcinogens, or even just plain old bad karma. But, when a little child like Mattie has cancer, questions and doubts about everything you ever held sacred begin to gnaw at your mind. However, emotions needed to be put aside and we needed to figure out how to start the journey that would bring Mattie back to health and happiness. One of our first thoughts was where do we go and when do we leave? But, after talking to Dr. Keates and Dr. Gratias, our pediatrician, Dr. Susan McLean, and St. Jude’s, we felt that we were exactly where we needed to be to get Mattie the best care possible. Ten months have passed and that decision has been validated time and time again. Mattie recently entered into the maintenance phase of her treatment protocol and is doing very well.
We are gradually getting back the little girl that she was prior to the onset of leukemia. That is, a bubbly, bright, beautiful, fun loving kid with an amazingly sharp wit. Mattie has the “it” factor as much as any child I’ve ever seen. Ever since she could walk and talk, Mattie has had a personal magnetism that has never ceased to surprise and amaze. People, adults and children alike, are drawn to her, plain and simple. She just draws people into her orbit and they are always happy to be there.
While this has been a very difficult journey, in many ways we have been blessed. Blessed to see the kindness in the everyday person who just wants to do something to help, blessed to learn what true courage is by watching Mattie, and the other kids, face adversity and beat it back with a smile, and blessed to see how Mattie’s battle for her life has so profoundly touched so many lives. She is, quite simply, our little “steel magnolia.”
Luanne and Jeff Ballentine
Mattie's Mother and Father
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Last fall, chronic headaches and severe weight loss forced Darius to miss both school and football practice. When his pain continued to worsen, I took Darius into Children’s Hospital where they ran a series of tests. That’s when we were told Darius had a cancerous brain tumor. Since craniotomies are one of the few procedures the team at Children’s Hospital does not perform, the doctors immediately sent us to Vanderbilt Children's Hospital for Darius to have the invasive surgery. Instead of spending time with friends and dressing out for practice, Darius spent the fall football season undergoing two cycles of chemotherapy and twenty sessions of radiation therapy at Children’s Hospital.
Through it all, everyone we have met here at Children’s Hospital has been so kind and caring to my family; from doctors, nurses, child life specialists to social workers! Darius is doing well, and he is excited about returning to school. Although he can never play football again, due to his brain surgery, he is the water boy for his former football team and continues to play baseball. Because of the team at Children’s Hospital, Darius is still a part of the team and I’m his biggest fan.
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Sarah was an awesome, spectacular child who brightened the world with her presence for eleven years, six months, and nineteen days. She loved all animals, salty foods, best friends, family, and anyone who loved her back. Her dislikes were vegetables, chores, long division, rude people, and cancer.
After numerous doctor visits for pain complaints for six months, Sarah was diagnosed with Stage IV Neuroblastoma on February 22, 2005, at Children’s Hospital. She began a journey that would include so many doses of chemo, so many blood transfusions, so many operations, so many hospitalizations, that we all lost count. But in the in-between times, when she had periods where her disease was diminished to next to nothing, she lived out loud. She loved looking for bugs with her friend Julianna, loved spending the night at Cayla’s house and eating chocolate chip cookies. Her favorite places were pools and cabins, where she could be a kid, and cancer didn’t win.
On June 23, 2010, Sarah was discharged from the hospital on hospice. As we drove away from the hospital, I knew that it was the last time, that Sarah would never be admitted again. It was a bittersweet moment, as we had spent way too many nights in hospitals over the past five years. But the third floor had become and extended part of our family. We always knew that Sarah mattered, and was not just a room number. And the pediatric oncology clinic had become part of our home. And that night, Sarah kissed her dog Ariel good night and went to sleep. And then she went to heaven.
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