How do you explain to a 7-year-old child they have cancer?
It’s a question no parent wants to be confronted with. But on March 14, 2018, Mike and Patti Sexton faced such a dilemma. That was the day their son Mikey, age 7 at the time, was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a type of cancer that causes genetic changes to take place in red blood cells, platelets, and most types of white blood cells.
“My emotions and Patti’s were so out of control, we had to get ourselves in check before we could even attempt to explain it to him,” recalled Mike, a corrections officer near Albany, New York.
The Sextons, who live an hour north of New York’s capital city, took Mikey to the Albany Medical Center after he complained of not feeling well. A physical revealed an enlarged spleen, and doctors thought he could still be recovering from a case of mononucleosis from the year before.
It was only after conducting an ultrasound and blood test that Mikey’s white cell count was found to be in the 160,000 range, well above the normal average of 5,000.
“On the drive home, they called us and said his white count was elevated,” said Patti, a social work associate. “We’re like, ‘OK, what does that mean?’ They [said] he has leukemia.”
Doctors sent Mikey to Albany Children’s Hospital, where he spent the next week receiving IVs and various medications to help bring down his white cell count. Outpatient treatments followed for the next year before he and his parents were referred to Dr. Andrew Place, a pediatric CML specialist at the Dana Farber Institute in Boston. The Sextons immediately fell in love with the facility and staff and continue to take Mikey there for visits.