Harrison is on the cutting edge of cancer research. How? He is on a drug called Gleevec, a targeted therapy that put his leukemia into remission in three days after 6 weeks of traditional multi-agent chemotherapy failed to work.
Unfortunately, because he is the only child ever treated with Gleevec for his type of refractory leukemia, doctors cannot treat him with this drug alone (multi-agent treatment).
I say “unfortunately” because it is possible that Harrison would be in remission even without all of the other drugs he takes every day. These terrible toxins taken by mouth or injection are part of the “proven” treatment for childhood leukemia. Over 70% of children who endure the barbaric treatment currently established for childhood cancer survive. But they do so with severe, life-long consequences.
Harrison wishes the doctors would stop his treatment. He hates everything associated with chemotherapy And I hate it, too. But the doctors continue to tell him, “We can’t just not give you chemo.” And Harrison always replies, “But I don’t need it, I’m on Gleevec.”
And Harrison may be more right than he, or any of us, knows.
But the only way to be sure would be to stop the treatment that doctors know result in remission in 70% of children.
That day may be coming. Of course, I don’t know how a doctor tells a family, “We think this one pill will save your child’s life, but we don’t know for sure. We’d like to test our hypothesis on your child.” What parent will say, “Sure, try that out of my daughter.”
Someday researchers will be able to try single-agent, targeted treatment on children. And I believe, because of Harrison’s response to Gleevec, that day may be soon. We could be just one generation for a cure for at least one type of pediatric leukemia that would involve simply taking a few pills daily. Less than what children with diabetes endure.
And that my son may well be on the front lines of the fight is inspirational. When I tell my students at the beginning of each semester about my kids, I always end by saying, “And Harrison, he is the chosen one. The force is strong with him.”
Never did I think his place in this world would be in helping cure kids’ cancer. It may not happen in my lifetime, or his, but I believe it is coming.
I have a dream… where parents will never fear the words, “We start chemo tomorrow.”
Targeted therapies, as they are called, are aimed at specific pathways that tumor cells use to thrive, blocking them in the same way that monkeying with a cars ignition, or its fuel intake, can keep it from running properly. The advantage of such precise strategies is that they leave healthy cells alone, which for patients means fewer side effects and complications.