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Kids with cancer: Part I: Families facing devastating diagnosis need support

Nate Lowell, 11, receives treatment at Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital for ALCL, a rare and aggressive form of lymphoma.

Nate Lowell, 11, receives treatment at Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital for ALCL, a rare and aggressive form of lymphoma.

— The workup involves a full physical. Depending on the type of cancer suspected, it may also involve a blood smear, bone marrow test or needle biopsy, in which a needle is inserted into a suspected tumor and cells are drawn out and biopsied.

Usually, Cherrick said a firm diagnosis can be made fairly quickly.

“Generally, if it’s leukemia, if they come in in the morning, we’ll know by that afternoon and we’ll start therapy immediately,” she said. “For solid tumors, it takes a little longer, but generally we know within 24 hours, 72 hours at the most. Then we’ll start therapy when we feel it’s most appropriate. If they’ve just had a big surgery, we let them heal for a while before we start the other therapy.”

Obviously, the diagnosis alone is traumatic enough. In Nate’s case, to help him breathe, a tube was inserted in his trachea, and he was in a medically-induced coma for six days. He doesn’t remember those first weeks in the hospital, but his parents do.

“My husband was a mess. I didn’t have a choice but to pull it together,” Melissa said. “Just a few days before, Jimmy was telling Nate, ‘Tough guys don’t cry.’ This was when we thought he had pneumonia. So he’s telling Nate to be tough and not cry, ‘you’ll be okay.’ All of a sudden the doctor said he had to go to Upstate, and we hear someone crying. Nate and I are looking around, and it’s Jimmy. So he just kept crying, and I took charge. I was kind of glad he did, because otherwise, I don’t know what I would have done.”

Someone in their corner

Fortunately, the Lowells didn’t have to face the diagnosis alone. Golisano provides an entire team of specialists to assist families through the process.

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