No One Fights Alone – Treatment for Leukemia Close to Home Keeps Rio Grande Valley Family Together

No One Fights Alone – Treatment for Leukemia Close to Home Keeps Rio Grande Valley Family Together

Jason Rivera has a lot on his plate. The 15-year-old gives back to his community as a food bank volunteer, while balancing his rigorous academic schedule as a collegiate high school student earning dual credit courses, and actively participating in multiple extracurricular activities including chess, martial arts, and playing the drums. So, it was no surprise to his mom, Dixie, when he seemed fatigued before heading off to school one morning last February.

Later that day, the school nurse sent him home with an upset stomach and a headache. His parents decided to take him to the doctor as he complained of abdominal pain. Dixie figured the long days of school and activities coupled with late nights finishing his homework were catching up to Jason, or that perhaps he had a virus. She never imagined her son might have cancer.

The doctor ordered blood work, and the results showed a slight increase in his white blood cell count; however, it was not particularly concerning. A follow-up blood test showed a further increase in the blood count and some abnormal cell counts, so Jason was referred to Dr. Juan Carlos Bernini, a Texas Children’s Cancer Center pediatric hematology/oncology specialist, who oversees the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Children’s Cancer and Hematology Clinic in McAllen, Texas, for further evaluation. Further testing showed that Jason had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a type of blood cancer and the most common type of cancer in children.

“We were all in shock I think, to go from a normal day to then finding out your child has cancer,” said his mom, Dixie. “It was scary to say the least. But Jason, he is just so mature for his age, and he really put things into perspective for us.”

After learning he had cancer, Jason’s first instinct was to comfort his family. He told them he knew God had a purpose for his life and that he was going to fight, not only for himself, but also for other children battling cancer.

“He’s the one going through this, dealing with chemo and all of the unpleasant side effects from treatment and yet here he is with such a strong, brave attitude,” Dixie said. “I’m just so very proud to be his mom.”

Jason’s family is incredibly grateful to be receiving care from one of the largest and most comprehensive pediatric leukemia treatment clinics in the country at Texas Children’s Hospital’s Vannie E. Cook Jr. Children’s Cancer and Hematology Clinic, without having to drive six hours away from their home in the Rio Grande Valley.

“We love the team at the Vannie Cook Clinic, and it is a blessing having a place where he can receive treatment so close to us,” said Dixie.

Because the Vannie Cook Clinic is just a short drive away, Jason’s whole family can support him, including his grandparents who often accompany him to his clinic visits for chemotherapy.

Dr. Bernini is committed to ensuring the ongoing success of the Vannie Cook Clinic, as it allows families to remain together. Without the Vannie Cook Clinic, children like Jason would have to travel many hours to receive their care.

“To be able to provide this level of care locally and give children with cancer the best chance at a cure without having to leave home to seek treatment elsewhere is what keeps me in this role,” said Dr. Bernini.  “I’m so proud that our clinic staff can become almost an extension of the family for our patients.”

Currently, Jason is about to complete the interim maintenance phase of his treatment plan. Every other week for two months, he must be admitted to the hospital for four days to receive a chemotherapy infusion.

Dixie continues to ground herself in her faith and leans into the positivity her son displays despite his cancer battle.

“Vannie Cook and Texas Children’s have provided all the experts and information that we needed during this time of uncertainty,” she said. “For other parents walking this path, even though it’s hard and our emotions sometimes overpower us, it’s so important to try and stay as positive as possible. Enjoy the good moments, even when the days are difficult.”

Learn more about the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Children’s Cancer and Hematology Clinic.

 

Source: Texas Children's Hospital

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