Young and Resilient Fighters: Advanced Childhood Cancer Treatment Close to Home

By: Ally Gravina

March 02, 2022

Hands holding yellow gold ribbon

Austin was five years old when he was diagnosed with leukemia. A fever and pale looking skin prompted his mom, Brenda, to bring him into his primary care physician in Carson City. After doing some blood work, the fight to beat Austin's cancer began.

The initial shock of learning your child has cancer is traumatic and can feel like a whirlwind. Then the questions begin – will my child survive, what happens next, how will we tell his siblings, will we have to travel out of state for quality care? The list of questions feel endless.

While grappling with the news, Brenda brought Austin to Renown Children’s Hospital for an additional check-up. This weeklong hospitalization started with a series of tests to confirm Austin’s diagnosis and ultimately it led to treatment for the leukemia.

Dr. Jacob Zucker, a pediatric oncologist at Renown Children's Hospital, was with Austin every step of the way, even meeting him in the parking garage on his first day of treatment.

Brenda is eternally grateful that Dr. Zucker was on staff at Renown Children's Hospital, which allowed them to keep Austin's care in Reno. The alternative was to travel out of state for care.

"Dr. Zucker was the best thing to ever happen to our family. I consider him a part of our family now," said Brenda. "His kindness and knowledge gave us faith in him."

Treatment for Childhood Leukemia

Austin’s treatment was broken into a number of stages with the first eight months of therapy being the hardest. He would receive almost weekly therapy at Renown Children’s Infusion Center as well as frequent spinal taps with chemotherapy. After eight months, and for the next three years, Austin would receive a maintenance phase therapy. This meant oral chemotherapy every day, IV chemotherapy once a month, spinal chemotherapy every three months and steroids for the first five days of every month. After more than four years of fighting cancer, Austin, now 10, is free of any disease. Currently, he has blood work every two months to ensure he is on the right track.

Seeking Advice from Children’s Oncology Groups

Throughout Austin's treatment, Brenda regularly sought advice from Children's Oncology Group (COG) members. COG is the world’s largest organization devoted exclusively to childhood cancer. Renown Children's was not a member of COG at the time of Austin's treatment -- with the closest facilities located in the Bay Area and Salt Lake City – but it is /now.

“When faced with pediatric cancer, the last thing parents should worry about is traveling great lengths to receive the best in cancer care," said Larry Duncan, Vice President of Pediatrics and Surgery and Administrator at Renown Children's Hospital. "We are proud to now offer the most advanced childhood cancer treatment options here at Renown, close to home and convenient for area patients and their families.”

This membership allows Renown to enroll our youngest patients – just like Austin – in the latest clinical trials, including groundbreaking treatments, studies to understand these diseases better and in addition, this program will focus on supportive care and survivorship.

"The COG allows Renown providers to access treatment plans that were not available to non-COG hospitals when Austin was receiving treatment," said Brenda. "It comforts me to know that not only can children receive cancer treatment right at home, but their parents can now elect for them to participate in trials and plans that are at the forefront of cancer treatment today."

How You Can Help Make a Difference

Renown Health is focused on being the destination for all your family’s health and healthcare needs. As a not-for-profit health system, Renown relies heavily on community funding. If you are interested in supporting Renown Health, and kids like Austin, please consider giving to Renown Health Foundation. Donations are accepted through the following ways:

  • Make a gift at www.renown.org/give
  • Call Renown Health Foundation at 775-982-5545
  • Mail a check to Renown Health Foundation, 1155 Mill St., 02, Reno, NV 89502
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