Where were you on December 27, 2007? If you even remember, odds are it was “just another day” for you.
For Erin, it was memorable for many reasons: Two days after Christmas. One day after she turned ten. And the day her status as an All Children’s pediatric cancer patient changed from “in remission” to CURED.
Telethon viewers may remember Erin as a precocious three-year old who could tell you she was bald because she had leukemia— which, she pointed out in a whisper, is a type of cancer. (View Erin's 2003 Telethon Video)
Her family’s education in pediatric cancer began shortly after Erin turned two, when their energetic toddler suddenly couldn’t walk.
They spent July 4th, 2000 at All Children’s Hospital learning that Erin had acute lymphoblastic leukemia—ALL, the most common form of cancer in children. And with findings from All Children’s cytogenetics laboratory, they learned Erin’s cancer had a better than 90% chance of cure.
Great odds—unless it’s your child.
“We wanted to hear 100%,” remembers dad Michael. “But of course, you don’t get a choice. Your only choice is in how you deal with it.”
They chose to be positive. Erin faced two-and-a-half years of treatment, 130 weekly visits to the hospital or its outpatient hematology/ oncology clinic. Every Thursday, Erin and one of her parents would make the trip from Sarasota to St. Petersburg. Despite the nauseating drugs and painful procedures, mom Donna recalls, “Erin would wake up each Thursday and ask—do I get to see Dr. Barbosa and the nurses today?”
As with any patient, the staff of All Children’s pediatric hematology/oncology program did its best to reward Erin’s positive attitude and courage. Each clinic visit always ends with a trip to the “treasure chest” for a small toy or game. Before long, her big sister Lindsey wondered how come Erin always came home with something new and fun. “So I asked my dad if I could go along and watch,” Lindsey now recalls. “When I went in and saw what Erin went through—all the needles and stuff—I told my dad I didn’t want to see any more.”
...until the whole family gathered for Erin’s clinic appointment on December 27, 2002. It was her last day of chemo, and a celebration for everyone involved. Five-year old Erin was “totally excited!” Her parents were understandably grateful.
But everyone knew that this day was simply a milestone along the way to their ultimate goal. The cancer must remain in remission for five years after treatments end before a patient can be considered “cured.”
That day finally came—on December 27, 2007.
“I asked Erin this morning if she woke up feeling any different,” Michael said with a smile. “And she said—nope. I said that’s a good thing. But I haven’t been able to think about anything else all day. I just kept thinking—she woke up this morning CURED!”
Erin’s family and friends celebrated the occasion in style, watching a hockey game from the VIP Suite of Tampa Bay Lightning star Vinny Lecavalier. Lightning hockey is a shared passion for the whole family, especially since the team and several players like Lecavalier graciously open their suites to pediatric cancer patients throughout the season. It’s a safe outing for families of kids with weakened immune systems to get together and forget their worries, if only for a few hours.
For Lecavalier, who met with Erin and her family after the game, it was also a special thanks for his support of All Children’s Hospital. His $3-million dollar commitment to the new hospital will create the Vinny Lecavalier Center for Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders. And on this one night in December, he was able to share the best celebration in any young cancer patient’s life.
“He gets to see the end result,” Michael said, appreciatively. “Here’s a child who went through years of treatments and this is what you hope for. This is the day that you wait for, the day they’re cured.”
“What Vinny’s done means more children are going to be helped. For families like ours, it’s hope—and that’s priceless.”
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