“You just end up doing what you have to do to make it through. You ensure that everyone is taken care of and you love to the best of your ability” - Marcel’s Mother, Brandy

Everyday 43 children are diagnosed with pediatric cancer in the United States. On April 14, 2017, three year old Marcel was one of those children. Marcel was an active little boy, but then he started suffering from what doctors called “growing pains”. One Tuesday morning, Marcel’s pain was severe and he was unable to put weight on his legs to walk. His mother, Brandy, called the pediatrician and the next morning before the appointment, Marcel’s eyes were swollen and his lips had turned blue. The doctor immediately ordered blood tests. The next morning the doctor requested the family to come to the office. Brandy was surprised by this requested and during the visit the doctor requested additional testing of Marcel’s blood and bone marrow. Brandy asked if Marcel had cancer and the doctor teared up and responded yes. They rushed Marcel to the hospital for blood transfusions and additional testing. Marcel endured x-rays, EKG, and a bone marrow biopsy to find out what type of cancer. Marcel ended up having six blood transfusions to bring his blood levels back to normal during this time. The oncologist confirmed that Marcel’s blood was 70% leukemia and his bone marrow showed 95% leukemia. Marcel quickly started chemotherapy and had surgery to insert his PICC line, peripherally inserted central catheter, which is how Marcel receives his treatments. Marcel suffered through multiple IVs from each hospital he visited and had severe swelling in his arms from the fluids. Through all of this, Brandy says Marcel had a huge smile on his face and wanted to paint in the playroom as much as possible. He just wanted to be a kid.

Marcel was diagnosed with B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. From diagnosis to the first day back home, the family spent 21 days in the hospital. This was extremely hard for Marcel being away from his twin brother and his two older sisters. Being home was short lived because Marcel suffered from multiple seizures and neuropathy from his treatment. He was consistently in and out of the hospital. He also developed night terrors, PTSD, and Henoch-Schonlein Purpura, a childhood vasculitis disorder that has no cure and the treatment is chemotherapy. This disorder causes inflammation and bleeding in the small blood vessels causing symptoms like reddish-purple spots on the lower extremities, swollen and sore joints, abdominal pain, and/or bloody urine. Since Marcel was going through chemotherapy when he developed this disorder, the doctors do not believe he will not get better from it. Marcel was already having side effects from the cancer treatment and now he had to go through this as well. Marcel receives occupational and physical therapy twice a week, behavioral therapy once a week, along with many appointments for dermatology, neurology, nutrition, and gastrointestinal visits. Marcel is actively in standard risk treatment and currently is going through his 3rd phase of maintenance with daily oral chemo's, monthly IV chemo, and IV chemo every 3 months. He has been in treatment for a year and four months, but still has two years and two months left of active treatment.

One of the biggest challenges Brandy faced through all of this was trying to answer all of Marcel’s questions on why he cannot do what other children are doing or why he was always so sick. The average three year old asks 144 questions a day. Most of those questions start with “Why?” For the longest time Marcel was unable to do what “healthy” three year old were doing. He was not allowed outside for risk of infection or illness. He could not start school with his twin brother last year because of treatment. He was not able to go to the beach or go to other activities because he was ill. He constantly questioned why he was taking medicine, why he could not play with other children, or why he was in pain and vomiting. It is hard enough on any parent to answer their toddler’s questions, but for a mother with a child going through cancer, the answers are not always easy to find. Brandy offered advice for other mothers battling this horrible disease, she says, “You just end up doing what you have to do to make it through. You ensure that everyone is taken care of and you love to the best of your ability.”

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, also called ALL, is the most common type of cancer in children. This type of cancer affects the bloodstream and bone marrow. It can quickly get worse if not treated. Children with ALL are often divided into risk groups; standard, high or very high. B-cell ALL, Marcel’s diagnosis, makes the child more likely to get infections because they do not have the protection of those B cells in their blood. More intensive treatment is given to those in the higher risk groups and they have a higher chance of relapse. Relapse risk can be predicted by early response to therapy, clinical and Pharmacogenetic features of the host, and genetic characteristics of leukemic cells. Other factors that determine which group include, age of the child and their initial blood cell count at diagnosis.

Runway to Hope is very excited for Marcel starting school this year and his only complaint so far is that he does not like taking naps. Marcel does enjoy cooking, singing and dancing, anything Halloween related and art! His favorite color is blue and he loves the movie the Nightmare before Christmas! Through Marcel’s journey he acquired the nickname Mighty Marcel. Brandy says, “He got this nickname for always being strong and brave. He continues to smile and make others laugh no matter the situation, loves his family dearly and does not give up! Truly being Mighty!” Marcel is now four years old and is loving life. The Runway to Hope team was elated to hear Marcel requested to walk the runway every day for a month after the event. Our team hopes to have Marcel walk the runway again next year and we look forward to spending more time with him!

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