Liam’s Cancer Story: “I think of the good more than the bad”

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Liam (L) and his brother Elliott (R)

It all started with a persistent bump near Liam’s eye. It was spring 2020, and amid the chaos of a global pandemic, Liam was preparing to graduate from eighth grade and hoping for a fun, active summer ahead. But the bump – which looked like an infected bug bite – was cause for concern.  

At the recommendation of his pediatrician, Liam underwent a scan at his local hospital. Upon receiving the results, he was rushed by ambulance to Lurie Children’s. 

“You feel like you’ve been hit by a truck,” his mother, Lisa, said.  

Doctors at Lurie Children’s diagnosed Liam with a rare form of acute myeloid leukemia. His medical team began coursing out a thorough treatment plan tailored to meet his needs. Right away, Liam began the first of three rounds of chemotherapy. He also needed a stem cell transplant to replace damaged bone marrow with healthy blood stem cells. All three of his brothers underwent testing to be his stem cell donor – and his brother, Elliott, was a match.  

With Elliott’s help, Liam underwent a stem cell transplant in December 2020 and spent the holidays in the hospital, beginning a long, complicated recovery. He continued chemotherapy, requiring week-long hospital stays every month.  

As a side effect of the stem cell transplant, he was diagnosed with Graft vs. Host Disease (GVHD), an autoimmune condition that results from the donated stem cells mistaking the recipient’s cells for a threat and attacking the cells. To treat GVHD, he had to stop chemotherapy and begin a high-dose steroid. He also started a lengthy course of treatment known as ECP, or extracorporeal photophoresis – a procedure in which white blood cells are exposed to ultraviolet light to activate a photoactive drug.  

Care for the whole person

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Even while in the hospital, Liam maintained straight As in school, thanks in part to the regular support of Teacher Scott from Education Services. 

At Lurie Children’s, a multidisciplinary team offered support from every angle. To cope with the difficulty of his treatment and social isolation, Liam received behavioral health support from a psychologist specializing in the treatment of kids with chronic conditions.  

Even while in the hospital, Liam maintained straight A’s in school, thanks in part to the regular support of Teacher Scott from Education Services. After high school, he hopes to pursue a career in medicine, like his Advanced Nurse Practitioner, Kim, or his oncologist, Dr. Jennifer Schneiderman. He also worked with an art therapist to create greeting cards for his friends and family, and received spiritual and emotional care from a hospital chaplain.  

Because GVHD limited his ability to move on his own, he worked on pulmonary rehabilitation, occupational therapy and physical therapy to regain strength and mobility. 

“Throughout it all, Liam’s nurses were just incredible,” Lisa said. “I just can’t even tell you how much admiration and love I feel for them.”  

Reaching the finish line  

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After finishing chemo in summer 2022, Liam began attending school in person again for the first time in over two years.  

In July 2022, Liam finished his final round of chemo and celebrated with a bell-ringing at the hospital. That fall, he began attending school in person again for the first time in over two years.  

In March 2023, Liam crossed the finish line for ECP. He’ll stay close to his medical team as they monitor his health, and will enjoy spending more time at home, with friends, and at school, where he thrives in the drama club, scholastic bowl and student government. 

After several years of treatment, Liam reflected on his experience in a speech at his bell-ringing ceremony:  

“I’d like to dedicate the ringing of this bell to everybody affected by a cancer diagnosis – not just the patients, but the families, the friends and the medical team. To all those who listen to the people in treatment, who wait in anticipation of test or scan results. To those who are there when they hear the terrifying words of being diagnosed with cancer, who help them cope with it through the whole journey, who make you laugh when you want to cry and feel better even if they don’t know what it’s like to go through treatment. To those who stick with you during the good times and the bad times. They are the ones who help pediatric cancer patients get through this absolutely terrible experience. These compassionate and caring people helped me get through this, stay positive, stay motivated and keep going.  

“Many people say things happen for a reason, and I’d say they’re right. As I look back at the past three years, I think of the good more than the bad: All the help and support people have given my family and me. All the amazing people I’ve met at Lurie Children’s who make treatment and appointments better. The bond I’ve formed with my brothers, who I became extremely close with once I was diagnosed. The love and care I’ve received from my whole family. Everything does happen for a reason – you just have to wait until you realize it.”  

About Hematology, Oncology, Neuro-Oncology & Stem Cell Transplantation 

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Liam celebrated his final day of treatment in March 2023 with his care team, pictured, and his family.

The Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Lurie Children’s treats more children with cancer and blood disorders than any other hospital in Illinois. Although cancer is rare in children, we treat 220 new patients each year for a wide range of childhood cancers. The center is nationally-ranked by U.S. News & World Report for pediatric oncology. We also have the region’s most complete array of programs and services for children with blood disorders such as hemoglobin disorders, hemophilia, thrombophilia and sickle cell disease. 

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