Ask Questions and Be Positive
Hank was 7 years old when he was diagnosed with a stage IV Wilms’ tumor last year.
The tumor started in his left kidney – all Wilms’ tumors begin in one of the kidneys – and by the time it was found, it was the size of his head and had spread to his abdomen and both lungs.
“His first lung CT scan looked like Swiss cheese from all of the growths,” said his mom, Christine.
The whole family was scared, including Hank.
“It was shocking,” said the third grader. “The first thought that raced through my head was, ‘Am I going to live?’”
Treatment was extensive and included 33 weeks of chemotherapy, two rounds of radiation and a big change in routine. Hank was forced to leave school for almost a year, but while he was out, he kept up with all the same work as his twin sister.
Hank found ways to not be intimidated by his diagnosis. Although he is young, he knows about and understands exactly what is going on with his diagnosis and treatment. Being informed helps Hank feel more comfortable.
“I ask a lot of questions because I like to know what’s going to happen to me,” said Hank.
“For him, fear of the unknown has been harder than reality,” added his mom.
He also did his best to maintain a positive attitude, no matter the circumstance.
“I think there’s one main thing that helps, and it’s basically, just be positive,” he said. “I wasn’t always good at that, but I think it helps.”
He battled the boredom that sometimes accompanied treatment by reading a great deal, including the biography of fellow cancer survivor Mike Lowell, a Boston Red Sox player who was named Most Valuable Player of the 2007 World Series.
When Hank returned to his school, some things went back to normal, but there were still challenges. As he walked around school, he often found other students looking at him.
“When I walked the halls, I usually got a lot of stares from other students, because I was bald,” he said.
Enduring the looks wasn’t easy, but he leaned on his friends for support, especially his best friend, whose mom is also a cancer survivor. Having a friend who understood what having cancer really meant – from losing his hair to the severity of the situation – made Hank feel more comfortable.
His hair has since grown back, but the young patient is not out of the woods just yet.
Wilms’ tumors have a high rate of recurrence, especially in areas like the lungs, and while Hank has finished treatment, it will be five years without a recurrence until he has achieved remission and 10 years until he’s considered cured of the disease. The elementary school student will be a high school graduate before that day comes.
Hank is already looking beyond that time and thinking about what he might like to be when he grows up. For the time being, he’s considering being a librarian or a law professor, like his parents.
Despite the long road Hank and his family must endure to get to that time, having Roswell Park as his partner in this fight has given him strength and hope.
“I think that Carly’s Club, which is devoted to helping kids with cancer, was a great help. I wasn’t bored and I had something to take my mind off of being scared,” he said. “I think I was very lucky to have such a great team of doctors and nurses.”
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Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.