Wisdom: Learning About a Childhood Cancer Diagnosis

Six-year-old Richie has always marched to the beat of his own drum and his parents describe him as being wise beyond his age. But the one thing this ambitious and happy-go-lucky little boy couldn’t see coming was a cancer diagnosis. 

In October 2022, Richie started vomiting in the mornings. His parents, Desiree and Robert, worried that he may not be eating right or not eating enough. In January, he started getting sick more often and vomiting multiple times a week. His pediatrician suggested high vitamin and electrolyte breakfast items, also thinking it might be a nutritional issue. In early February, Richie was getting sick non-stop and his family headed to the emergency room. Doctors thought it was a viral infection and Richie was admitted for dehydration and later released to the care of his pediatrician. His doctor thought it might be more than a virus and ordered an MRI on February 21. By the time the family got home, the doctor sent them to emergency room at Penn State Health Children's Hospital for additional imaging. His parents wanted answers that night and pushed for immediate imaging. As they waited in the early hours of the morning, they awoke to a room full of doctors who informed the family that Richie had cancer, specifically group three medulloblastoma. Richie had numerous tumors in his brain and on his spine.  

Doctors recommended immediately removing the tumor that was causing Richie’s hydrocephalus, the cause of his vomiting. The surgery was successful with 90% of the tumor removed, and Richie started his first of five rounds of chemotherapy to date. Richie has also been participating in a clinical trial called the Head Start 4 Protocol. According to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, this randomized clinical trial is to determine if the treatment in the protocol will improve the quality of survival and cure rates for young children (age 10 years or less) who are newly diagnosed with the most common types of malignant brain tumors in childhood.

Using Wisdom During Cancer Treatment

After three rounds of chemotherapy, all of Richie’s tumors remained but 50% of his tumors had reduced in size. After the fifth round of chemotherapy, many of the tumors had disappeared, no regrowth was found and all that remained were some nodules. Throughout his treatment, Richie has had his ups and downs including a yeast infection after his third round of chemotherapy that caused him to become septic. He was on a ventilator for three weeks but seemed to return to his normal demeanor a week after being removed from the ventilator. 

“We always talk about if we are going in the right direction,” said Desiree. “Group three medulloblastoma is not a good diagnosis. For Richie to show progress with his tumors shrinking, we knew as parents that we were heading in the right direction.” The wisdom of Richie’s parents and doctors led them in this right direction, which will include stem cell transplants, followed by proton therapy to make sure the cancer is eliminated.

“When your child is being treated for cancer, Four Diamonds is there. Social workers like Heather, getting help with specialized shoes, connecting you with other organizations, they are just always asking what they can do for us,” said Desiree. “Just being there and knowing that if we need something, the Four Diamonds team is just an email or a phone call away.” Robert agreed, saying, “our car broke down during Richie’s first month of treatment. Our car needed towed, and Four Diamonds paid for the tow and the repair. The financial help that Four Diamonds provides to parents so we can spend our time being dedicated parents and keeping things as normal as possible is just amazing.”

A Loving Heart is the Truest Wisdom

Desiree made a promise to Richie when he was diagnosed. She promised him she would find out what was making him sick and make him better. Richie remembers his mom’s promise. Because of spending a month in the ICU, Richie has been unable to walk and continues to use a wheelchair. However, Richie just walked about twenty feet for the first time in a long time. It was not easy for him, but when he made it those twenty feet, he said, “thanks Mommy.” In the words of Charles Dickens, “A loving heart is the truest wisdom.”

To learn more about childhood cancer, visit our website at: www.fourdiamonds.org/about-childhood-cancer/

You can also follow Richie's cancer journey through their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/groups/1001167784181295