Jonathan, Age 16, T-Cell Lymphoma

Teen cancer patient is wise beyond his years

Dreams of playing high school hoops were dashed for 14-year-old Jonathan two years ago when the young man learned that he had cancer.

“I was devastated for him,” recalls Desi Jonathan’s mother.  “Seventy kids tried out for the basketball team and only a handful of them made it, including Jonathan.  The first thing he asked his doctors was when could he get back on the court.”

Unfortunately, Jonathan hasn’t been on the basketball court for two years. In December of 2003, doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital’s Cancer Center diagnosed him with T-cell lymphoma. Lymphomas are the third most common type of cancer among children and adolescents.   These types of cancers affect the lymph nodes, thymus, liver, spleen and sometimes can spread to other organs such as the lungs, brain, bone and bone marrow.

Instead of wallow in self-pity and wonder “why me?”, Jonathan faced his cancer head on and did what the doctors told him, all the while reassuring his mom that things were going to be OK.

“Jonathan was my strength,” said Desi.  “He constantly reassured me that he was going to be all right and that we were going to get through this.”

And they did with the help of the physicians and nurses at Texas Children’s, including Dr. ZoAnn Dreyer.

“Dr. Dreyer is incredible,” said Jonathan.  “She genuinely cares for her patients, as well as their families.  She’s of course, interested in how I’m doing medically, but she’s also interested in other aspects of my life – my family, school and my hobbies. She let me see that my life is not determined by my cancer diagnosis.”

Desi says that Dr. Dreyer brings her a sense of hope and reassurance that is so critical when facing so many unknowns.

Jonathan and his mom faced one of these unknowns recently.  Jonathan began experiencing back pain – similar to the type of pain experienced when he was first diagnosed.

“I didn’t tell my mom because I didn’t want to worry her,” said Jonathan.  “Luckily, the MRI showed that I’m OK. The pain was a side-effect of chemotherapy.”

“For the last two years, Jonathan lived in fear of a relapse,” said Desi.  “It’s a fear that our family will live with for the rest of our lives.”

But for now, Jonathan is taking it one day at a time and has become involved in the adolescent support group recently developed by the Cancer Center.  It is here that he is able to interact with others his same age that have gone through similar experiences.

He also is learning to drive. Normally, mothers of teenage boys might be scared to death of their sons getting behind the wheel – but not Desi – she’s seen scary with spinal taps, blood draws and chemotherapy.

“Although only 16, Jonathan is wise beyond his years, like so many of our cancer patients,” said Dr. Dreyer.  “These kids have to grow up quickly and because of this, gain an appreciation for life.  To them, everyday is a blessing and no day is taken for granted.”