“I didn’t think I could get any closer to my mom,” jokes the handsome college freshman moments before receiving her transplanted bone marrow to rebuild his broken immune system.
Diagnosed with leukemia three years ago and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in March, Anthony's cancer fight celebrates today's infusion of stem cells with his dad, Tony, singing “Happy New Birthday to You” while mom, Lisa, joins them via video chat. “We haven’t done cancer by ourselves,” Tony says of his son’s clinicians at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and family and friends at home.
With Benjamin Oshrine, M.D., and other members of Anthony’s care team looking on, registered nurses Shandie Smith and Jessica Mejia hang the first of four bags on the IV pole beside Anthony’s bed and start the flow of his mom’s donated healthy cells into his bloodstream. COVID-19 visitation restrictions stymied her physical attendance, but not this family’s emotional togetherness.
“Even when you feel bad, you never show it,” Lisa tells her son while periodically falling off the tiny smartphone screen to wipe away tears. “We’re so proud of you. You are our everything,” she assures him before asking him what he’s eaten today and if he wants her to bring him chicken soup.
Around the arm holding the phone are eight cancer awareness wristbands with the names of fellow patients he has met at Johns Hopkins All Children’s. “A lot of these kids are not as lucky as me,” Anthony says.
“People usually say ‘why me’ when they get their diagnosis. But cancer is never convenient. It doesn’t discriminate. So why not me,” he proclaims. His resolve to fight cancer doesn’t stop there. He’s eager to return home to Clearwater and see his girlfriend before returning to the University of Florida to pursue a career defying the wretched disease. “This experience gave me my study track,” says the straight-A student throughout Countryside High School despite enduring chemotherapy along the way. “I want to be a pediatric oncologist.”
As the vaccine comes to the frontline workers, a world of possibilities begins to open up.
For Gavin, the hospital isn’t all about challenges and adversity. It’s about giving joy to others.
The holidays she has altered to care for kids are too many to count, but as she retires, she leaves much for patients and colleagues to be thankful.
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