Courtney Lierman served as our 2013-2014 West Central Campaign Chair after being diagnosed with Chronic Myloid Leukemia (CML) in October of 2012. It’s been nearly six years since she chaired the campaign, and in those six years, she graduated from high school and went on to complete her Bachelor’s Degree in Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Nebraska-Kearney in four years. Now, she is back in Grand Island working as a Program and State Fair Volunteer Coordinator for the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce. "The last six years have been anything but smooth, but I never once questioned putting my education or life on pause to let my disease take over," she said. "I still battle my Chronic Myelocytic Leukemia day in and day out, but I have learned to take it in stride."
Did you know that every three minutes, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with a blood cancer? September is blood cancer awareness month, during which the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society – Nebraska Chapter (LLS), one of Community Health Charities of Nebraska’s (CHC-NE) 22 member charities, raises awareness of the disease for the people that are affected by blood cancer, people like 3-year-old Gavin Norton and his family.
“On the night of Feb. 16, 2015, our 7-month-old son Gavin was not eating, and he became so lethargic he went limp. He turned as pale as a ghost,” Gavin’s mom, Tiffany Norton, said. “We ran him to the ER at Children's Hospital. Within three hours he was admitted up to the floor, where a doctor came in and told us that they believe he has leukemia.”
The doctor found that Gavin had multiple abnormalities on his lab work. His hemoglobin was around 2, when it should be 12. They started a blood transfusion, and over the next two days, Gavin would get four. Gavin also had surgery to place a central line where he could receive medicines, like chemotherapy, and get blood drawn. During the same surgery, the oncologist did a bone marrow biopsy that proved he had a type of leukemia known as AML, or acute myeloid leukemia.
“I was terribly shocked when Tiffany called and told me they had been at Children’s and that Gavin had been diagnosed with leukemia,” said Diana McDonald, Gavin’s grandma, of Grand Island.
Two days later, he started his first of six rounds of chemotherapy, Tiffany said. “Each round would last about a week and every month he would start a new round. His immune system would decrease to nothing each time and the fear of infection put us in a reclusive state. We adjusted to a new home in the hospital and became very close with all the wonderful doctors and nurses who took care of Gavin.”
Diana was able to cut back on her work schedule and drive from Grand Island to Omaha every Thursday to help relieve Tiffany and Nick, who stayed at the hospital with Gavin during the week. “They didn’t want to leave Gavin alone and because of his treatment, he couldn’t leave the hospital because of his immune system. So I could help with Gavin for the kids’ sake to give them some normalcy,” Diana said.
The next 10 months were the hardest our family has ever been through, Tiffany said. “We spent close to 200 days and nights in the hospital over those 10 months. But we were strong and did not back down. Our son is the strongest person I know and fought every day for life. Every year we celebrate the strength and courage he has shown.”
Although the survival rate for AML is only 50%, Gavin was one of the blessed ones that made it through the treatment. “With a survival rate of only 50%, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society invests so much money in the way to find a cure so that one day the survival rate will be 100%, so that all kids with AML will make it through and grow up,” Tiffany said.
The family is involved in the LLS Light the Night Walk, which this year will be held on Oct. 21, 2017, at Stinson Park at Aksarben Village in Omaha. “Once it hits your home, you are more willing to donate and see the good the research does,” Diana said. “You don’t realize how important those dollars and organizations are until you have that knowledge and realize how much they do help.”
Immunotherapy is the current buzzword in cancer research, and for good reason. Current front line treatments are usually radiology and chemotherapy. But, as anyone who has gone through these treatments will tell you, the biggest downsides are the side effects. Instead, Immunotherapy harnesses the body’s own defenses to overcome cancer.