Sometimes it starts with a stomach ache.
Cade, 15, was always tired, but his parents chalked it up to stress from school and baseball tryouts for both high school and travel teams.
But when he asked his mom, Nina, one day if his stomach looked bloated, she started thinking they might be dealing with a kidney infection.
She took Cade to an emergency center near their home in Seminole, but they sent him home. She pushed harder and had the pediatrician do some additional blood work, still thinking something was going on with his kidneys. Then they got the call: Take him to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital immediately.
Still not sure what was going on, the family arrived at the hospital to a team waiting to take him immediately to 7 South—the cancer unit.
“We had been thinking he was taking supplements for tryouts … maybe,” Nina recalls. “You don’t know, but you aren’t yet ready to accept the worst option. I was scared, but I didn’t want Cade to see that.”
Cade was scared too.
Burkitt’s lymphoma is a very fast-growing form of B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “It was practically doubling in size every 24 hours,” she recalls.
Aggressive. Stage 3. Lymph node near lung.
“There is no doubt this is an aggressive cancer. Cade was very sick,” recalls Peter Shaw, M.D., deputy director of the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Cancer & Blood Disorders Institute. “But Cade took it all in stride. He handled it with a great attitude. The two of us bonded over sports so we had some good talks.”
The Burkitt’s caused enough damage in its brief life that Cade’s kidneys were failing and he needed dialysis for a short time before he could even begin treatment for the cancer itself.
He had five rounds of chemotherapy, spending nearly six months in the hospital, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. But it wasn’t all bad. His baseball teammates visited him regularly and called to share details on their wins. He was even invited to appear on Fox Sports Sun at a Rays game during Cancer Survivor Day. Cade kept up with school through the Pinellas County Schools Homebound program, which brought his subjects to him.
It wasn’t easy and it helped to have other kids around him in the same situation.
Outgoing Cade easily made friends with other kids on his floor. He saw opportunities to share some of what he’d learned during his long-term stay. He liked the idea of being able to say, “I got through this, and you’re going to get through it too.”
Nina is proud that Cade took the role of mentor. It was an opportunity for both mother and son to find the positive in this difficult situation. “That meant a lot to me. I thought it was really an important part of this process for Cade,” Nina explains.
These days Cade, now 17, is back to baseball—including regional quarterfinals—and heading for his senior year.
Burkitt’s lymphoma wasn’t ever on his class syllabus, but for now, let’s just say he aced it.