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Our Champion

Wesley, 4 was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare type of cancer that forms in the soft tissue in December 2023.

Turning lemons into LemonAid

By Alissa Poole | Young at Heart

Last Christmas, while many kids were enjoying holiday treats, Jade and Roland Haskins were doing their best to limit their son Wesley’s intake of cookies, popsicles and other sugary treats. Their efforts weren’t part of an early New Year’s resolution or attempt at a healthier lifestyle but rather, part of a journey that brought them to CHoR earlier that month – a journey that has included multiple imaging tests, inpatient and outpatient cancer treatments and an invitation for Wesley to be the 2024 LemonAid Ambassador. 

As Ambassador, Wesley will represent CHoR during Anthem LemonAid, a weekend event where lemonade stands are set up across the region to benefit the hospital’s hematology and oncology services. Wesley, who will turn 5 in May, will help promote the 24th annual event, which is scheduled for July 19-21, by visiting local stands and encouraging others to support the hospital.

The journey begins

In December 2023, when Wesley began limping, Jade and Roland thought he may be experiencing growing pains. But when the limp returned with pain, Wesley’s pediatrician requested an x-ray, which showed a lesion on his leg bone. Within a few days, the family traveled from their Fredericksburg home to CHoR where Wesley saw orthopaedic specialists and had a CT with sedation, a common practice to keep children still during the procedure. 

“We were worried it could be cancer or a bone infection,” Jade recalled. “When doctors said they were going to do an unplanned MRI, we had an inkling that maybe it was something more.” The two tests showed a mass on his adrenal gland, a lesion on his leg and spots on his lungs. Doctors scheduled a biopsy for the next week. “We were so worried,” remembered Jade. “We knew it wasn’t good."


Getting a diagnosis

To determine exactly where the cancer was located in Wesley’s body, doctors scheduled a PET scan, an imaging test to examine the function of tissues and organs, for December 26. 

While Jade described the holidays as a “waiting game,” she said, with support of extended family, they made the best of the situation, and Wesley had a great Christmas – even though the PET scan required him to limit sugar the day before. 

On December 27, Wesley was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, the most common soft tissue cancer in kids. He was immediately admitted to CHoR and received his first dose of chemotherapy the next day. While Wesley’s initial treatment plan was 54 weeks, within a month, Roland said, “his cancer mutated in a favorable way, and his treatment plan was reduced to 42 weeks.” 

Wesley receives weekly outpatient chemotherapy and is admitted to the inpatient unit every three weeks for more intensive treatment. During the overnight stays, Jade and Roland are able to stay with him in the Children’s Tower’s private rooms. Every 12 weeks, doctors reassess his condition to determine if he’ll need radiation or surgery.


Putting kids first

From the playdoh, Lego bricks and Spiderman pillow case in the pre-op suite before his sedated procedures to the activities provided in the outpatient clinic, Jade and Roland appreciate the kid focused environment at CHoR. 

“At Children’s Hospital, they are kids first and patients second,” Roland stated.

To support parents, a nurse navigator is assigned to all hematology and oncology patients to coordinate appointments and answer any questions families may have. For families who have to travel for care, being able to schedule multiple appointments on the same day is especially helpful. 

“When you hear the word ‘cancer,’ you don’t know where to start,” said Roland. “Our nurse navigator handled everything. From day one, we’ve been in good hands.” 

Less than two months after coming to CHoR, Wesley was chosen as LemonAid Ambassador. Describing Wesley as an “entertainer and people person,” Jade said he’s excited about his role and being featured in the Young at Heart magazine. 

Despite having days where he’s tired or has a poor appetite, Wesley has had minimal side effects from his treatment. That gives him more time for the things he loves, including playing outside, building with blocks and enjoying all things related to trains. He loves to talk about riding the Santa train last year, visiting the train station and knowing the difference between passenger and freight trains – “passenger trains have schedules.” 

“Wesley’s energy has been through the roof lately,” Roland said this winter. “We can tell his treatments are helping. He’s doing what a 4-year-old should be doing.”

Photos by: Eva Russo, CHoR
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