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Survivor Squad: Alex

NAME: ALEX

AGE: 17

STATUS: CANCER FREE

FUN FACT: ALEX LIKES TO SPEND HIS TIME FLYING SMALL PLANES

It was pretty strange when Alex started to get winded just from climbing a flight of stairs. At 16, he was an active athlete, playing soccer four or five nights a week and doing CrossFit. Even other kids’ parents could tell something was off, that he was running slower during the last soccer game of the season for the Chili Shamrocks, a year-round premier-level soccer team. It had been an extremely hot summer, so he attributed his problems to that.

Just two minutes into tryouts for his school’s soccer team about a month later, he almost passed out. He was sent right to Strong Pediatric Emergency, where blood work showed that he had leukemia — acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He was immediately admitted to start treatment at UR Medicine Golisano Children’s Hospital, where he received many blood and platelet transfusions along with intense chemotherapy right away.

He didn’t get back to school all year after that.

His doctor felt that the leukemia would be curable, at least. But Alex says, “I really didn’t know what to do. Because I couldn’t do anything to help myself get better other than just sit there and let them do what they were gonna do.”

Alex had to have chemo and a bone marrow transplant (BMT*), which also involved radiation. He tried to focus on getting from one day to the next, because the chemo and BMT left him feeling sick a lot. So he kept his thoughts on the positive. His family and thinking about the things he would do with the rest of his life got him through treatment. Another thing that helped was visits from his friends.

“A lot of kids from school came and went, visited me from time to time. A lot of people kept in contact with me through the phone and stuff. The varsity soccer team all dyed their hair blond right after I was diagnosed, so that they matched my hair color. Some even had my initials shaved into the sides of their head. That was something different I didn’t know they were gonna do. It showed the support and how much they cared about me. Everybody looks so different, but you know they did it for you.”

After eight months of treatment and isolation, Alex was declared cancer free. His body’s bone marrow is now completely his donor’s. These days, he likes to go boating on Conesus Lake and play video games with his brother. He also likes to fly. He’s a student pilot, having started with a program called Young Eagles. He hopes to get his pilot’s license one day.

Living in Rochester, Alex found out about 13Thirty Cancer Connect, a cancer support organization that brings together teens and young adults who are cancer patients or survivors. Bald for Bucks raises funds to benefit 13Thirty. Alex wasn’t sure he wanted to go to their meetings at first because he didn’t want “to sit in a circle and talk about my feelings and stuff.” But he went anyway, and “it turned out to be a blast. I met a lot of the other kids. They know what it was like to go through it, so you immediately connect.”

Having cancer has taught Alex to look at the positives in life. “You’re always gonna have challenges in your life, but just persevere, and there’s always good things that come out of everything.”

 

*When important cells in the bone marrow stop working, a BMT replaces them with healthy cells that get things operating again. The cells might come from the patient themselves but often have to come from a donor.

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