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“I'm never giving up no matter what the doctors or people say. I know I'll beat this cancer.” - Nathaniel

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it is devastating for the entire family. Runway to Hope hears constant stories of children going through the unimaginable. These incredibly brave children go through surgeries, daily medications, chemotherapies and radiation treatments, which all end with life changing side effects and battle scars. When the child has completed their initial treatment, the next step for them is to wait in fear for years to come and hope that the cancer does not return. Unfortunately, for Nathaniel his cancer has returned, not once, but twice. Nathaniel was twelve years old when he was suffering from allergies, headaches, and back pain. After several visits to the pediatrician and multiple medicines to bring him some relief, Nathaniel’s mother, Samantha, knew something else was wrong. She decided to take Nathaniel to Nemours Children’s Hospital’s Emergency Room. Samantha thought they would be discharged in a short period of time with new antibiotics, however they remained there for several hours. After several scans and tests later, the emergency room doctor notified Samantha that a few lesions were found inside Nathaniel's head as a result of the CT scan. Instantly Samantha was asking a million questions: “Is this cancer? He will be okay, right? Did I do something? Could I have done something different?” Samantha says she remembers wandering the halls, walking outside around the hospital, and continuously sobbing. The first few weeks were a blur for Nathaniel’s family. Many doctors, nurses, child life specialists and social workers became a constant presence for Nathaniel’s family. In addition to tests, scans, treatment options and more, their time in the hospital was overwhelming. By the end of the week, Samantha learned that Nathaniel was diagnosed with Stage IV Rhabdomyosarcoma and had a 15% five-year survival rate based on where the cancer had spread. The cancer was not only in his skull, but also in his bones, spine and bone marrow.

Nathaniel’s odds were stacked against him. In order to have a round of chemotherapy administered, a child must have a high absolute neutrophil count (ANC). A drop in ANC can occur when chemotherapy is administered, which is why a child’s count must hit a certain number to be treated. A neutrophil is a white blood cell that is important for fighting infection. Nathaniel completed 54 rounds of chemotherapy, which occurred over 16 months instead of 13, because he did not always meet his ANC count each week. Additionally, Nathaniel completed radiation to four parts of his body including his head, neck, and two spots on his spine. He had a gastrostomy tube several times due to not being able to eat. Nathaniel had surgery to remove a lesion that was on his liver and completed bone marrow testing three times.

During all of this, Nathaniel had solid dead cancerous tissue removed which was considered his first relapse. In Nathanial’s second to last week prior to finishing chemotherapy, his scans revealed he has relapsed again. Nathaniel is still not done fighting. A new tumor has formed and wrapped around his carotid artery. The next step for him and his family is to travel to a doctor that is able to remove this tumor. There is also the hope to find a clinical trial that can help save his life. The family is thankful they are able to spend quality time at home, instead of at the hospital, until they have their action plan.

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a type of sarcoma, which is cancer of soft tissue, such as muscle, connective tissue (tendons or cartilage), or bone. Rhabdomyosarcoma usually begins in muscles that are attached to bones and that help the body move. Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common soft-tissue sarcoma of childhood cancers. Approximately 250 new cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Children ages 1 to 9 have a better prognosis than younger patients or older patients. Patients under one and over 10 years of age have a less favorable prognosis

In the meantime, Nathaniel has the most wonderful outlook on life and tells everyone, including his doctors, “I'm never giving up no matter what the doctors or people say. I know I'll beat this cancer." His mother believes every word he says! Nathaniel loves big trucks, fast cars and his phone! He spends a lot of time on his xbox playing games and watching movies, but nothing is better than being in the kitchen cooking dinner with his mother. He asks to do every night! Nathaniel is a happy kid, who enjoys being outside. Nathaniel wants to be an architect when he grows up. His mother is most proud of his selflessness. When Nathaniel turned 13, he asked for toys for the children in the hospital instead of gifts for himself. He collected over 1,200 toys and gave them to many children being treated at Nemours Children’s Hospital. Nathaniel does not want people around him who will bring negativity. He absolutely loved coming to Runway to Hope’s Spring Fashion Soiree. Joey Fatone and Mark NeJame both complimented him on his fashionable white suit! Samantha shared that Nathaniel lived in the event memories for weeks as if cancer did not exist and all of the children were able to have a cancer free night. Runway to Hope’s Family Assistance Program was honored to help Nathaniel and his family by paying for their first month’s rent for their new apartment. Nathaniel’s end of treatment goals were to have a puppy and his own room. Runway to Hope was delighted to help him have his own room!

Runway to Hope wants Nathaniel to know, we are on his side! He is remaining positive and will be here when he needs us. His mother says, “Sometimes bombs in the road just means we’re getting to where we need to be. We have all laughed and cried together. I hope other parents going through this make memories and are never scared to cry. Your children will be stronger than you could ever imagine.” We are looking forward to seeing Nathaniel and his family join us on May 18th, 2018 with his next stylish look and incredible smile.

Runway to Hope / 189 South Orange Avenue, Suite 1800 / Orlando, FL 32801 / 407.802.1544