“They assured us it wasn’t something from another world, the medicine,” said her mother Belkys Haché. “Thanks to God, they took very good care with her, a lot of check-ups.”
Nurses and other staff at Holtz take care to support the patient and their family. They recently started a parent advisory council. Two members are moms whose children have had cancer.
“Their job is to make sure the families make it through this as well as they can,” said Karen Strauss, director of patient care services at Holtz Children’s Hospital at University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center. That includes simple things like refrigerators in rooms and making sure parents and siblings have time to ask doctors and nurses questions as a family.
Said Susan Roberts, nurse educator for pediatric hermitage oncology at Holtz: “Studies have shown if families are more aware of what’s going on, they’re better able to interact with their children and make their child more relaxed and comfortable.”
Last September, a doctor from The University of Texas MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital in Houston came to Miami Children’s Hospital, just outside Coral Gables. Together doctors from both hospitals performed a type of chemotherapy — hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) or “heated chemotherapy” — on a child for the first time in South Florida.
The 8-year-old girl had a rare type of cancer in her abdomen. She was treated and then it came back about a year later. So her doctors tried the heated chemo. They opened up her tummy and gave her a chemo bath, putting the poison directly in contact with microscopic cancer cells. Traditionally, chemo is given through an IV or orally.
“Here we applied the chemotherapy to the cells themselves. You irrigate or bathe the abdominal cavity with the chemo. It’s a direct hit to the tumor,” said Dr. Cathy Burnweit, chief of pediatric surgery at Miami Children’s. She helped perform the surgery.
It’s an outside-the-box treatment that has been used more for adults.
Another advance in pediatric oncology has been tailoring treatments by distinguishing subcategories of tumors. Burnweit said doctors can now look at the DNA of some cancers to see if it’s more aggressive or less aggressive.
“We can tailor the therapy to the exact tumor the child has,” she said.
No matter what kind of cancer, or what kind of treatment a child has, a positive attitude and support from friends can go a long way.
“Part of the battle is in your attitude,” said Cauff. “Josh has had a great attitude. That has allowed him to keep going at a faster rate than some.”
His surgeon found the perfect place to install the port where he will continue to receive chemo: near his ribs, where his football pads will protect it during football practice. The return to football marks a major milestone for Josh and his family.
“It means he’s a normal kid. That’s really what it means, life is normal because it was abnormal for a year,” said his mom.