Just a few days before the Thanksgiving holiday in 2012, Alexander came to his Mom, Denise, and showed her a large lump that was forming beneath his arm. Unable to imagine the worst, Denise and her husband Paul decided to get it checked out by their family doctor. Denise recalls, “We just wanted to rule out anything serious. We knew that it wouldn't actually be cancer. Except that it was.”
Alexander was only 11 years old when he was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a rare form of cancer. For Alex, this meant checking in at Children’s Hospital and immediately beginning chemotherapy. For Denise and Paul, it was a parent’s worst nightmare.
“We had to figure out how to manage his care, administer his many medications and monitor him for signs that he might have fever and neutropenia - what was that again? What do you mean I have to put on gloves to handle medicine that I am going to give to my child to ingest? There were lots of tears, his and mine.”
The next few months, their family was in and out of the hospital. Alexander had to drop out of the activities that most 11 year olds take for granted- sports, clubs and play dates with friends became impossible, as his chest port made him fragile and treatments exhausted him.
In March of 2013, only four months after Alexander’s cancer diagnosis, he attended the Aspen Winter Games with Shining Stars Foundation.
Denise explains the impact the week had on her son, “At first he was a bit scared. This time, overcoming his fear led to great fun, rather than tolerating another painful procedure. It gave him the chance to get away from everything and do something that made him feel powerful and exhilarated. The one-on-one ski instruction let him learn at his own pace. He met other kids going through the same things.”
After Alexander returned from Winter Games, their entire family was invited to all subsequent Shining Stars events and activities. Like so many of our families, Denise explains the value of these programs. “This was wonderful because I didn't have to plan anything and we didn't have to find extra money to pay for it. We were up to our necks in medical bills - even with insurance.”
Alexander’s family has continued to attend Shining Stars events, including the Grand County Family Adventure, where they were able to connect with other families who understood what they had been through. “It was helpful to know other families who were going through the same things. To know people at every stage of the cancer journey made us thankful for our blessings and helped us to understand what was coming next. It gave us hope to meet families who have survived treatment and were on the other side,” said Denise.
Thankfully, Alexander is now 20 months off treatment, but they are still grateful for the support network and time out that Shining Stars provides. “Everything is seemingly back to normal, but it feels so different. You feel forever changed by the experience and you are a different person than you were when you embarked on the journey. This can feel lonely and it is helpful to be able to talk to others who have also been through it.”
Unfortunately, Alexander’s story is not unique. For many of the families we serve, the trauma of the cancer experience remains with them long after treatment is complete. Shining Stars Foundation is there for these families from the very beginning until they no longer need us. We provide HOPE and HEALING. We make sure that no child or family has to face and fight their illness alone. YOU make it possible.