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Dealing with Relapse - Faith, Community, and Positive Thinking

The news hit Evan’s family like a sucker punch.

Some 4 years after Evan, now 20, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, the family returned to the hospital in 2017 for another follow-up visit. Previous checkups had revealed no evidence of cancer. But at this visit they learned the cancer had relapsed (returned), this time in Evan’s lungs. He also had developed a second cancer, acute myeloid leukemia.

Patient sitting on a couch wearing a white shirt, black tie, and black pants.

As devastating as the news of cancer was the first time, the words cut deeper the second time the family heard them.

“When you hear your child has cancer, it’s like a kick in the gut,” said Evan’s father, Tim. “When you hear it a second time, it’s the same emotions all over again. The second time is hardest.”

Evan was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in his left leg in May 2012. He was 13. He underwent chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. Surgeons then removed the remaining tumor from his leg, a procedure known as limb-sparing surgery. He went on to graduate high school. He began college with plans to pursue a career in nursing.

When cancer returned, Evan responded with the most powerful defense he could think of – a positive attitude.

Patient on the left with a bald head, standing next to a friend.

“Being positive is the biggest weapon,” Evans said. “I had been through it once. I knew what I was up against. At the same time, it’s not as hard. The first time I didn’t know anybody. The second time I knew the staff. Some of the same families were still around. We had a support system in place.”

The second time around he had chemotherapy followed by a hematopoietic cell transplant (also known as a bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplant.) This treatment requires several weeks in the hospital and a lengthy recovery period after being discharged.

For Cindy, Evan’s mother, the prospect of facing cancer again was daunting.

“You take a deep breath after 4 years,” Cindy said. “And then ‘boom’ not only is the osteosarcoma back, but he has leukemia and needs a transplant. All of the emotions that you feel like had subsided come back. Learning your child has cancer is the absolute worst thing you can hear about your child. To hear it once is bad. To hear it twice, I don’t know if there are words that can describe it.”

At first she wanted to keep to herself and avoid making new friends at the hospital. She thought it would be easier.

Patient and family, four people total, wearing purple t-shirts that say "Faith Over Fear."

But Cindy soon learned that she found strength through her faith and in her connections to others. The family’s church and pastor provided much needed support. People sent care packages, which meant a lot. She cherished the friendships the family made with care team members and other families going through similar experiences.

“You form bonds, relationships, and support,” Cindy said. “Don’t close yourself off.”

Evan recommends always looking for the good in each situation.

“No matter what the day holds,” Evan said. “Choose to find something positive.”


Reviewed: October 2018