Young acute lymphoblastic leukemia survivor benefits from childhood cancer programs
When Elijah “Eli” Delgado first started experiencing stomach pain, doctors told his mom, Leanne, it was most likely a gastrointestinal issue. She knew it had to be more than that because stomach problems runs in the family and Eli’s symptoms were different than those of his older brother.
“As a parent, you have that gut feeling you know something’s wrong with your child,” Leanne says.
Eli’s stomach pain continued for another year. Leanne still had no answers, even after visiting multiple doctors. One morning after Eli was screaming and crying about his pain, Leanne followed her instinct and took him to an emergency room.
It was there that Leanne finally felt like somebody was listening to her. The doctor told her that Eli’s bloodwork suggested he might have leukemia and that they should go to a hospital for additional tests.
“I was like what? Not my child. He’s so active!” Leanne recalls. “I kept thinking, ‘I don’t want to go through that. I don’t want to have to lose him!’ and ‘How do I tell my kids that their brother is sick?”
An acute lymphoblastic leukemia diagnosis
In February 2019, a week after Eli’s fifth birthday, doctors confirmed his diagnosis: acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He was transferred to MD Anderson to receive the treatment he needed, led by a team of childhood leukemia experts, including Branko Cuglievan, M.D., and Cesar Nunez, M.D.
Eli immediately started chemotherapy, but because his white blood cell count was high, he developed tumor lysis syndrome from the cancer cells breaking down. He was placed on temporary dialysis while undergoing chemotherapy to clean the blood and control his electrolyte levels.
As a result of the chemotherapy, Eli has had neuropathy from the knees down. For a while he was in a wheelchair, and he’s had to attend physical therapy to re-learn how to walk.
“It’s hard to see him go through everything,” Leanne says. “But we just have to stay strong. If I feel like I can’t do this, then he’s going to feel that, too.”
MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital provides comfort and support
Even though they’ve only been at MD Anderson for a few months, Leanne says Eli looks forward to coming to his appointments because of the activities offered at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital.
“They do so much for the kids. They have something going on in the Pedi Dome almost every day. It helps you forget about being a patient,” Leanne says.
Thanks to MD Anderson’spediatric support programs, Eli has been able to enjoy being a kid despite his cancer diagnosis. He participated in the MD Anderson back-to-school fashion show in August, and he’s gone to Camp Star Trails and prom. He even had the chance to meet Houston Dynamo soccer players.
“Eli’s favorite thing to do is play soccer, so he was very excited to meet the Dynamo players at prom. He loves the Dynamo,” Leanne says.
She’s especially grateful that Eli has made new friends during his time at MD Anderson -- something he missed out on when his leukemia diagnosis forced Leanne to pull him out of Mother’s Day Out to protect his immune system. This also caused Eli to miss out on enrolling as a kindergartener in the new school year. Leanne’s hoping to give Eli even more normalcy by enrolling him in the K-12 school at MD Anderson this year.
Celebrating more tomorrows, thanks to Stripes Convenience Stores
Many of the pediatric support programs Eli has benefitted from have been made possible by companies like Stripes® Convenience Stores, which fundraise for MD Anderson. Since 2014, Stripes® Convenience Stores have raised $4.8 million for MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital through the “Stripes® Stores Celebrates Tomorrows” campaign.
This year, Eli is the campaign ambassador and is featured in more than 515 stores across Texas and Louisiana during the month of September. Stripes customers can choose to donate at the register by purchasing a paper pin-up for $1 each.
Funds from the campaign have benefitted research and new therapies. In addition, funds have supported the Pediatric Education and Creative Arts Program, which gives our youngest patients like Eli an opportunity to maintain a sense of normalcy during treatment.
“I love MD Anderson. This is the place to be,” Leanne says. “Here, Eli’s not just a kid with cancer. The kids can just be kids. I’d love to tell anybody that donates thank you because it has helped us.”